2021 SABR/IWBC Women in Baseball Conference schedule

SABR/IWBC Women in Baseball Conference logo

Here is the schedule of events, along with presenter bios and abstracts, for the third annual SABR/IWBC Women in Baseball Conference, which will be held virtually on Zoom on September 10-12, 2021. The conference is open to all baseball fans.

Note: All times listed are in Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).

Friday, September 10  |  Saturday, September 11  |  Sunday, September 12

Friday, September 10

4:15-4:30 p.m.: Welcome Remarks and Conference Overview

Dr. Kat Williams is a Professor of Women’s Sport History at Marshall University, author of The All-American Girls After the AAGPBL: How Playing Pro Ball Shaped Their Lives, and Isabel “Lefty” Alvarez: The Improbable Life of a Cuban American Baseball Star. She is a lifelong baseball fan, and former shortstop. It is her sincere belief that she accomplished all the former goals because of the latter. Through her teaching, scholarship and advocacy she has dedicated many years to the preservation of girl’s and women’s baseball history. She continues that work as president and a founding member of the International Women’s Baseball Center.

Scott Bush is SABR’s Chief Executive Officer. He joined SABR in 2018 after serving as the Senior Vice President for Business Development with the Goldklang Group. Since graduating from the University of Minnesota, Bush has held positions with increasing responsibilities in both sports and media, including a five-year stint as Assistant General Manager for the St. Paul Saints, where he played a key role in establishing CHS Field in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Dr. Eric Fulcomer has served as Rockford University’s president since 2016. Previously, he was the Vice President for Enrollment Management at Rockford University since 2013 and has more than two decades of leadership experience in higher education. He served for 19 years at Bluffton University in Ohio in several leadership roles, leaving as the school’s Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Life. Dr. Fulcomer received his doctorate in Higher Education Administration from the University of Toledo, his master’s degree in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University, and his bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature, cum laude, from Eastern Michigan University.

4:30-5:00 p.m.: Callie Batts Maddox and Lauren Osmer, “That Which the Boys Do: Taishō Baseball Girls and the Women’s Game in Japan”

First released in 2007 as a series of short novels written by Atsushi Kagurazaka, Taishō Baseball Girls was adapted into a Japanese anime television show in 2009 and ran for twelve episodes. Set in 1925 at the end of the Taishō period, the series tells the story of two Japanese high school students who decide to start a girls’ baseball team to challenge prevailing beliefs about the role of women in society. As part of a growing collection of Japanese sports anime centering girls and women, Taishō Baseball Girls offers a reading of how popular cultural texts can interpret the past and comment on the present. In this case, the series helps to broaden understandings of the history of women’s baseball through a creative medium with worldwide popular appeal. As such, this presentation will examine Taishō Baseball Girls as a significant cultural representation of girls and women in baseball and contextualize it within both the historical time period in which it takes place and the contemporary moment when Japan is arguably the global leader in women’s baseball. By linking this anime series to wider histories of girls’ and women’s baseball, we aim to celebrate the global diffusion of the game and deepen the analysis of its portrayal in popular culture.

Callie Batts Maddox is an assistant professor in the Department of Sport Leadership & Management at Miami University in Ohio. Her teaching and research focus on the critical sociocultural study of sport and physical activity, with particular interest in women’s baseball, the globalization of sport, and American yoga culture. She is the founder of the Miami Women’s Baseball Club and serves the club as a faculty advisor, coach, and occasional middle infielder.

Lauren Osmer is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Sport Leadership & Management at Miami University in Ohio. Her teaching focuses on sociocultural aspects of race and gender in sport, as well as broader cultural meanings of leisure and sport, and her research focuses on media narratives and acculturation processes of international athletes, with a strong focus on baseball.

5:00-5:30 p.m.: Keith Spalding Robbins, “Geraldine R. Dodge”

Recently I presented at my local SABR chapter a survey of the fifty-year history of one semi-pro baseball league in Suburban Northern New Jersey called the Lackawanna League. This baseball league is unique for New Jersey as it encompassed teams from four different counties, but their common link was most were towns located along the tracks of the old Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad.

What makes the Lackawanna Baseball League special was its proximity to half of the MLB teams of that era. Playing well in the league lead many fine players to get seen by MLB scouts thus be invited to stadium tryouts or actually get signed by the clubs. Well over three hundred players in the MLB have some type of Lackawanna League team connection.  Moreover, proximity to MLB teams lead to many MLB stars to barnstorm within these teams or for MLB teams to play in-season exhibition games. Moreover, given the quality of baseball, the major Negro Leagues teams regularly played against Lackawanna league teams, all-star teams or formed ad-hock teams comprise of individual players. Nearly twenty Baseball Hall of Famer inductees have some relationship to the teams or towns in this league.

The premier town team of the Lackawanna League was the Madison Dodgers, and they were owned and run by a woman, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge.  Today, her legacy is the Geraldine R. Dodge foundation, a major philanthropy in NJ. While Mrs. Dodge is better known for sponsoring a Dog Show that was perhaps the Nation’s best. While the foundation’s website fails to present her sponsorship of the baseball team, she did run and own a baseball team. Thus, the purpose of the presentation is to show the membership of the IWBF and current women involved in baseball that women have be primary owners of baseball clubs.

The box scores and game descriptions of this town favorite team filled the local papers every summer week for almost 50 years and throughout the nearly thirty-year ownership tenure of Mrs. Dodge. It was the best performing, longest lasting team in the league that survived two world wars and great depression. This teams’ success on the field was achieved because of Mrs. Dodge’s personal involvement in all aspects of running this club. Playing for her and against her team in Madison New Jersey was stepping stone on the road to the show. Geraldine R. Dodge breaks new ground for women as an owner of baseball club. Thus, the purpose of the presentation is to focus on her role in running this team as a historical role model for future women owners of ball clubs.

Keith Spalding Robbins, from Wake Forest, North Carolina, has been a SABR member since 2013. He is a global sports business consultant who holds an MBA from Elon University. He has presented at the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the Baseball Hall of Fame and writes regular baseball history columns around the Internet.

5:30-6:00 p.m.: Peter Rutkoff, reading from his new novel Pinstripes

This story is a fable set in the near future, when in the wake of the collapse of major league baseball, a new structure has emerged that offers for new participants on teams based under municipal control, not unlike the Green Bay Packers. In this case the new New York Yankees have a female general manager, Nica, who reports to the major of New York, and a new female starting pitcher, Ellie Ford 9 (granddaughter of Elston Howard and Whitey Ford). We will see and hear the story from the point of view of Beth, female scribe on PMNew York, an urban daily who has been reassigned from crime reporting. These three women provide the focus for the story of baseball and New York as it moves across a year timeline.

The author will read a section from the end of the first chapter where Nica has gathered the team in a Bronx tavern to prep them for the season to come. Beth observes the players as they interact, schmooze, jostle, and jibe, oblivious to the entrance of a new commercial, Ellie, who Nica introduces as the team’s newest pitcher.

6:00-7:00 p.m.: Personal Stories, with Laura Hirai and Suzie Hunter

Our first panel of the conference will highlight the personal stories of journalist Suzie Hunter as she traveled to all 30 ML ball parks in one season and observed female fans enjoying a baseball game. Our second presenter is pitcher Laura Hirai talking about her experience at the 18U European baseball championship in 2016. Moderated by Kat Williams.

Laura Hirai is a rising Senior at Swarthmore College, double majoring in Arabic and Spanish. I’m a curious linguist seeking a career in the British Foreign Services. I am from the UK, but my family is partly Japanese, and I’m currently studying in the US. Traveling has always been a part of my life, and that is how I was introduced to baseball, when I lived in Japan for 5 years during my childhood. I hope to share my unique experiences with you and the world, so I can help to be a voice for women’s participation in baseball.

Suzie Hunter is a journalist from Philadelphia. She most recently worked for the ABC affiliate in New Haven, Connecticut, covering breaking news, Hartford Athletic soccer and, her personal favorite, the Hartford Yard Goats. She is driving across the country while raising $30,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Saturday, September 11

11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m.: International Umpires Panel, with Lisa Turbitt, Sophiyah Liu, Eva Moo, and moderator Perry Barber

There’s never been a sports panel like this one: four umpires with international experience spanning decades at the highest levels of amateur baseball — and they all happen to be women. Each of them has traveled the globe umpiring USA Baseball events, Women’s World Cup championships in Taiwan, Venezuela, Canada, and the US, and they’ve all given back to the craft in significant ways that they’ll tell us about, such as the creation of national recruitment and training programs, and outreach specific to girls and women that’s been lacking in amateur umpiring organizations until fairly recently but that’s finally beginning to bear fruit, in large part because of the dedication and hard work put in by each of our esteemed panelists. We’ll get an inside look at what umpiring some of the world’s most prestigious amateur baseball events is like from the women who have lived that special euphoria, and find out if what they envision for the future of baseball and umpiring involves robots before women.

1:00-1:30 p.m.: Becky Jenkins, “Ladies Day Riot of 1897”

Baseball was born in Victorian America, when women were discouraged from participating in the public sphere. Despite strict gender roles, women have been making themselves at home in the ballpark since the earliest organized matches. Though often banned from participating directly in game play, women used public baseball parks as a center for early feminist action.  The so-called Ladies’ Day Riot of 1897 and the Suffragette Games of the late 1910’s are but two examples of the ways women have been gathering and using baseball parks as hubs for both excitement and social change for more than a century.  One of the first public spheres where women could exist freely outside of the home or church, baseball games became a space where women could interact with each other outside of the watchful eyes of their husbands, parents, or churches, and so they immediately became early sites for progressive women’s work in the US.  This paper uses the Ladies’ Day Riot of 1897 and the Suffragette Games as examples that help us see the early male-gendered historical record and narrative of baseball in America, and women’s place in baseball parks at the turn of the 20th century.

Becky Jenkins is a PhD Candidate in the American Cultural Studies program at Bowling Green State University. Her dissertation, titled “Reclaiming the Game: Baseball’s difficult relationship with women and girls,” explores the gender gap in professional sports, specifically baseball.  We have called baseball ‘America’s National Pastime’ since the 1860’s, yet half of our population is actively discouraged from playing the game.  Becky’s research looks to understand the historical roots of the separation of women from baseball, and its continuing impact on American culture today. She also holds a graduate certificate in Public History and is an adjunct professor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

1:30-2:00 p.m.: Jay Hurd, “Lizzie Murphy: Breaking Barriers”

Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Murphy was born in Warren, RI on April 13, 1894, and lived her extraordinary life there until her death on July 27, 1964.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the town of Warren, a center for textile mills also became a center for baseball where mill teams thrived, ball fields prospered, and the townspeople found diversion. Lizzie did work in the mills as a young girl, but by the age of sixteen it was clear that her natural athletic abilities contributed to fine baseball talent. To be near the game, and perhaps even be allowed to play, she often carried her brothers’ baseball equipment to sandlot games. In time, she did play, developed her skills, and became nationally known as one of the finest, if not the finest, “girl” baseball players. She turned baseball into a career, from 1910-1935. Lizzie played on men’s teams and was accepted as a teammate. She played in hundreds of games throughout the northeast and Canada, including an appearance in an All-Star game, vs. major league talent, at Fenway Park on August 15, 1922. If Lizzie knew that, in 1911, A.G. Spalding commented, in his America’s National Game, that “…Base Ball is too strenuous for womankind…”, she ignored it – she did, indeed, break barriers.

Jay Hurd relocated from Medford, Massachusetts, to Bristol, Rhode Island, in 2016. Since coming to Rhode Island, he has studied the state’s history, and its remarkable baseball history and mythology. Jay is a librarian and museum educator. He presents on the history of baseball, with a focus on Negro League Baseball and Women in Baseball. A longtime SABR member, he contributes to the SABR BioProject and SABR publications, and is the co-chair of SABR’s Baseball and the Arts Committee. Jay is a Red Sox fan.

2:00-2:30 p.m.: Kat Williams, “Edith Houghton”

Edith Houghton was born in Philadelphia on February 12, 1912, and according to her, she was “born with a baseball in her hand.”  Her father taught Edith to play and together they often attended local games. At age eight she became the mascot for the local police teams, and at nine she performed hitting and fielding displays before games.  Edith caught the attention of Mary O’Gara who in 1922 formed an all-female team called the Philadelphia Bobbies. So impressed was O’Gara she named Edith her starting shortstop. That was just the beginning though. Her baseball life spanned many decades and included playing, coaching, and scouting. Through the lens of that long career and within the broader historical contexts of her life, it is possible to explore how societal changes effected women’s baseball.

From the popularity of the Bloomer Girls to the acceptance of women’s baseball in the 1920s, to the 1930s when even the origins of baseball were revised to help men claim the game as their own, through World War II, the socially conservative 1950s women’s baseball mirrors the ups and the downs American women experienced in the twentieth century. This paper uses the baseball life of Edith Houghton to show how societal changes aided in the rise, the popularity, the eventual demise and ultimately the erasure of women’s baseball in the United States.

2:30-2:45 p.m.: BREAK

2:45-3:15 p.m.: Michael Ruscoe, “Women on the Ballfield: Breaking Baseball’s Ultimate Barrier”

Major League Baseball is undergoing seismic changes as it seeks broader appeal to an increasingly elusive audience. Rule changes and the game’s recent devotion to analytics, however, have proven inadequate in MLB’s pursuit of this goal. In order to become the best version of itself—one that will most effectively represent and attract 21st century spectators—baseball must shatter its ultimate barrier. For the sake of the game’s future and as a matter of national pride, women ballplayers must be permitted to take the field beside their male counterparts, and this change must happen as soon as possible.

Allowing female athletes on the diamond will bring about the changes that baseball needs to retain its fan base, while allowing the game to be played in a way that satisfies both the casual fan and the die-hard afficionado. It’ll help baseball maintain its rich history of inclusion and diversity, one that has seen innumerable contributions from African-American ballplayers, athletes from around the world, and even differently abled players from Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown to Jim Abbott. Finally, as a matter of national pride, Major League Baseball must take the lead in this area. The society that saw Jackie Robinson break the color barrier can’t sit idly by and watch as leagues in other countries shatter the gender barrier in the 21st century. Rest assured that someone, somewhere will make this permanent change to the game. That someone must be us, the ones playing and watching the game in the land where it was born.

This paper will give historical context to the idea of allowing women to play major league baseball. It will reveal how their inclusion will enhance a sport struggling to retain a grip on its audience. Finally, it will show how the inclusion of women in baseball will bolster America’s standing in the world, propelling the sport into a position of dominance for generations to come while still maintaining its finest traditions. In the stands, in the front offices, and on the field, women are the future of this sport. Move over Casey—it’s time to give Kasey her turn at bat.

Michael Ruscoe is a writer, editor, teacher, journalist, SABR member, and lifelong baseball fanatic. He’s the author of the book Baseball: A Treasury of Art and Literature and the paper “The Bad Guys Wore Blue: The 1986 Mets, the Elements of Story, and Why We Watch Sports,” which was presented at Hofstra University’s conference on the 50th anniversary of the New York Mets. Ruscoe lives in central Connecticut, where he and his cat Doc root for the Mets and the Hartford Yard Goats.

3:15-3:45 p.m.: Cathy Headley and Joanna Mladic, “Breaking Barriers at Rockford University: Looking Back to Look Forward”

Through this journey, the history of athletics and wellness at Rockford University, we hope to unearth a relationship between Rockford Female Seminary, Rockford College and the AAGBL league.  We feel with the locale, Rockford Female Seminary and later Rockford College located downtown on the Rock River was close to Beyer Stadium, a connection may be revealed.

Anna Peck Sill was a pioneer of her time, raising funds to start building the college downtown Rockford.  Anna Peck Sill (Principal from 1849-1883) broke barriers through her persistence and resilience as a teacher and administrator at Rockford Female Seminary.  “Throughout the rest of her life, whether teaching or administering Rockford Female Seminary, she battled against poverty, ill health, and obscurantism to overcome the sexual barriers to higher education.” Mary Ashby Cheek served as the president of Rockford College 1937-1954 during the boom of the AAGBL and the Rockford Peaches.  We will be researching the archives at Midway Village, scrapbooks and yearbooks, and interviewing souls.

Joanna Mladic is the Electronic Resources Librarian and Archivist at Rockford University in Illinois. Joanna is a 2013 graduate of Rockford University and received her Master’s in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her Master of Science in History from the University of Edinburgh. She is, currently, working on her doctorate in Higher Education and Leadership Studies at Edgewood College. She wrote her senior seminar and master’s thesis on the curricular history of Rockford University and has completed two short-term study abroad programs in Scotland and Italy. When she isn’t conducting research for her dissertation, Joanna enjoys reading and working in the garden.

3:45-5:30 p.m.: BREAK

5:30-6:30 p.m.: Pylon Unveiling and Awards Ceremony

6:30-7:30 p.m.: Keynote Speaker: Dana Bookman, “Girls in Baseball: Together We Can Change the Game”

Dana Bookman is the founder and CEO of Canadian Girls Baseball & the founding Vice President of American Girls Baseball. Awarded a 2021 Meritorious Service Medal by the Governor General of Canada for work with CGB & named one of the top 100 most influential people in Canadian baseball. Dana is a strong advocate of empowering girls through sports and giving them the soft skills to become future leaders.

7:30-8:00 p.m.: Social Time

Sunday, September 12

1:00-2:00 p.m.: Research on Women’s Baseball Panel

Led by SABR’s Cecilia Tan and the IWBC’s Kate Haines, this panel will focus on research opportunities and resources available for work on women’s baseball as well as the creation of community archives to help support the preservation of resources related to the international women’s game.

Cecilia Tan has served as SABR’s Publications Director since 2011.

Kate Haines (they/she) is the International Women’s Baseball Center Archivist and Digital Content Producer and an Information Resources Supervisor at the University of Michigan Libraries. She has completed graduate coursework at both the University of Michigan and Marshall University. Starting as a dedicated volunteer with the IWBC, she now uses her education to provide her specialized skills in regards to both sports history and archives.

2:00-2:15 p.m.: BREAK

2:15-3:15 p.m.: Documentary Film Presentation: Her Game is Hardball, by Mark Durand and Selena Roberts

We have been engaged in producing a documentary film about women in baseball for the past two years called Her Game Is Hardball, which generally mirrors the theme of this year’s conference “Breaking Barriers: Women in Baseball Around the World.” Our project was inspired by a remark that John Thorn once made to Mark: “When the game began, it was as much for girls as it was for boys.” Durand thought he knew his baseball history, but was surprised by this remark and so we began to research, film and document the basic question: If the game was first as much for girls as boys, what later happened to make it so difficult for girls to play baseball, particularly on the High School, college and ultimately professional level? Since then we have filmed over 200 hours of footage, including: * 10 days of coverage and interviews at the 2018 Women’s Baseball World Cup in Melbourne, FL, including Japan (Soto), Canada, Australia, Venezuela and the leading players of Team USA, as well as Francis Ford Coppola, a strong advocate for providing opportunities for men and women to play the game together * Interviews with historians Thorn, Debra Shattuck, David Block and Jean Ardell * Coverage of 3 Baseball For All tournaments with interviews, and extended filming of The Boston Slammers, and added personal coverage of 2 of their star players * Extensive coverage of Melissa Mayeux, the only girl ever named to MLB’s Official Registry and 10 days of exclusive access to film her working out and sharing locker room, dugout and bus rides with the AA Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League * A meeting with MLB Diversity officials and requests for a yet to be granted interview with Rob Manfred * Interviews with Beth Greenwood and Alexia Jorge, both now with college baseball scholarships, and hope to include a third Luisa Gauci sometime this summer Our aim has been to cover the long arc of women’s desires and struggles to play baseball from the 1800s in England to the present and near future here and abroad as more women than ever prepare to break the last glass ceiling of a major American sports.

Mark Durand is a three-time Peabody Award-winning producer of original scripted and unscripted TV programs and films. His credits include developing the acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary film series, SportsCentury 50 Greatest Athletes series and two Vintage Games for ESPN. He also developed and wrote the earliest TV productions for Major League Baseball Productions, including This Week in Baseball with Mel Allen.

Selena Roberts spent 20 years as an award-winning writer and best-selling author at the New York Times and Sports Illustrated. In 2012, she founded a production company to develop revelatory stories. Her work includes Lance Armstrong: Stop at Nothing for Showtime in 2014, Gored, which premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival and Bannister: Everest on the Track for the BBC.

3:00-3:15 p.m.: Concluding Remarks: Kat Williams and Scott Bush

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