Morais: Jessica Mendoza and breaking into baseball’s ultimate boys’ club

From Betsy Morais at The Atlantic on August 16, 2016:

On April 3, in Kansas City, Jessica Mendoza put on a blush-pink blazer and settled into the announcing booth for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. She had tied her long brown hair, with curls like birthday ribbons, in a low side ponytail. This was Opening Day, and the Royals and the Mets were meeting to resume their World Series rivalry. Mendoza was returning too, having auditioned her color commentary during a few games last season. But this time she was taking her spot as a regular in the booth, the first female analyst for Major League Baseball on national television.

ESPN is the sportiest network, and for a long time this has meant also being the manliest. In the booth, Mendoza was positioned between two guys: The veteran sportscaster Dan Shulman, on her left, would handle the play-by-play; on her right was Aaron Boone, another addition to the show this season, and a third-generation ballplayer known for hitting a memorable 2003 home run for the Yankees.


Mendoza’s visibility makes her an easy target, yet the abuse hurled at her is routine for female sports journalists—a cohort that has grown in number, if not in favor. Baseball, the only form of amusement still called a pastime, is particularly conservative. Women were allowed inside MLB clubhouses starting in 1978, only after a female reporter for Sports Illustrated, Melissa Ludtke, fought for admission in court. Even today, a woman’s arrival in the booth is momentous.

Mendoza might have mentioned, though she shouldn’t have had to, that she was referring to her career in softball. She was recruited by Stanford, where she was all-American all four years, and holds team records in career batting average (.416), home runs (50), and hits (327). In 2006 she was named USA Softball’s Athlete of the Year, and as a member of the Olympic softball team she won a gold medal. (As it happens, Yoenis Céspedes’s mother also played softball in the Olympics.) If a mistake had been made, it was not Mendoza’s. She told me later, “We get in these moments—and I had quite a few of them last year—when your heart is racing. And you can’t say, ‘This is not a big deal,’ because it is. Not just for me, but for my entire gender. If you screw this up, Jess, this door is gonna close.”

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Originally published: August 16, 2016. Last Updated: August 16, 2016.