MLB – WHICH WILL COME FIRST: A FEMALE UMPIRE, MANAGER OR PLAYER?

I recently tweeted a question to an ESPN baseball analyst and it had me wondering about the intriguing topic I posed.

Specifically, I asked: “Which of these options do u think is most likely to happen 1st? A female umpire, manager or player”?

I didn’t receive a response, but I realized that there is not one compelling reason why women couldn’t integrate into Major League Baseball right now in each of these capacities.

Baseball is the only major non-contact sport where size and strength don’t matter as much, and there are no differences between the sexes when it comes to the capabilities of managing a team or officiating the sport.

Instead, what seems to be holding us back is state of mind.

Much like the adversity Jackie Robinson faced on April 15, 1947, breaking with tradition and finding acceptance for women in pro baseball are going to be tough nuts to crack.

But, I’m optimistic that eventually women will make a breakthrough into the majors.  It’s only a matter of time. I just hope that it’s something I can witness in my lifetime.

So, which will materialize first? 

Every big change in baseball originates in the minors.  So, it’s safe to say that is where the process will begin for the first woman umpire, manager or player.

With that in mind, its looking bleakest for a milestone to happen for a woman umpire in the big leagues anytime soon.

There has only been a handful of women umpires on a minor-league level and the last one was Ria Cortesio in 2007.

She had worked for 9 years in the minors and despite being the first woman in 18 years to work an exhibition game in 2007, she was fired later that same year.

According to a 2011 Fangraphs article, Cortesio was “the top ranked AA umpire going into the 2007 season” but was passed over for promotion for several years due to sexism and was basically run out of the league just for being a woman.

Her predecessor, Pam Postema, also faced similar adversity.  She was the first female baseball umpire to officiate a MLB spring training game (in 1988) and was highly regarded.  She was also close to gaining a contract into MLB regular season games, but after Commissioner Bart Giamatti died suddenly in 1989, her contract was cancelled by the league.  She subsequently filed a federal sex-discrimination lawsuit.

Going forward, it’s going to be an uphill battle.  Beyond the sexism that exists on a basic level, the process for those who want to officiate in the majors is a long and rigorous campaign, even for male candidates.

Prospective umpires must attend 1 of only 2 schools in the country (Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy and Wendelstedt Umpire School) and pass a tough evaluation.  From there, only the top 10-20% of students receive placement within a Single-A league and then must work their way up through the minors, which could take years.

Select candidates for MLB regular season games are then chosen from a pool of 230 and that is, if a job opens.

Thus, if a woman began the umpire training process today, it would likely take about 10 years before she would set foot on the field of a major-league ballpark.

This doesn’t bode well for a woman managing her own team in the majors since none have ever coached a team in the minors.

But, at least a couple of women are leading the charge in the independent baseball leagues.

In 2015, Jennie Finch served as a “guest coach” of the Atlantic League’s Bridgeport Bluefish and in 2016, Justine Siegal managed the Pacific Association’s San Rafael Pacifics for two days as their guest manager.

Siegal also served as a coach on the Division III Springfield (Mass.) team and was the first-base coach with the independent Brockton Rox in 2009, becoming the first female coach on a men’s pro baseball team. She’s also thrown batting practice to multiple big-league teams, served as guest instructor for a big-league club, and has attended MLB’s scout school.

Siegal said in 2015: “I was 16 when I told my coach I wanted to be a college baseball coach.  He laughed at me and said a man would never listen to a woman on a baseball field. That’s when I decided I was going to get a Ph.D., and prove them wrong.”

Since then, I’ve been able to coach at the college and pro level. They will listen to you when you know what you’re doing and you can make them a better player and show that you care about them.”

It remains to be seen if Siegal will get her big chance in the majors, but she is breaking through the necessary barriers that will make it a much more acceptable notion for others to follow in the future.

As for women ball players, this is most likely the first place where females will be punching through into MLB.

Several women have already proven to have the aptitude and desire to play ball with men and at least 2 women signed onto rosters for the independent Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs in 2016.

Kelsie Whitmore, 18, and Stacy Piagno, 26, both joined the Sonoma Stompers last year, which made the Stompers the “first co-ed professional baseball team since the 1950s”.

The Stompers’ GM, Theo Fightmaster said in a press release:

While many believe it’s only a matter of time before we see a woman playing in the MLB, I’ve learned over the past several months that there are many steps in between where we are and where we should be in terms of women in this sport. We hope this sends a message to the rest of the baseball world that there is room for women and girls in this game – from Little League to the Major Leagues.”

Also, a French teenager, Melissa Mayeux, became the first female to be added to MLB’s internationals registration list in 2015.

Per Mike McClellan, MLB Director of International Game Development, Mayeaux is considered “a legitimate shortstop who makes all the plays and is very smooth and fluid in the field”.  He said he also witnessed her getting a hit during a 2015 tournament against a 19-year old Dominican pitcher who lobbed a 91-mph pitch at her.

From a physical and scientific standpoint, there seems to be little difference between MLB players and many elite young female athletes around the globe.

For instance, there are plenty of high caliber pro baseball players smaller in size:

  • Alexi Amarista, 2B Rockies – 5’6/160;
  • José Altuve, 2B Astros – 5’6/165;
  • Tony Kemp, LF Astros – 5’6/165;
  • Terrance Gore, OF Royals – 5’7/165;
  • Jimmy Rollins, SS Giants – 5’7/175;
  • Joe Ortiz, P Cubs – 5’7/175;
  • Marcus Stroman, P Blue Jays – 5’8/180;
  • Rafael Furcal, (former SS Braves) – 5’8/195;
  • Dustin Pedroia, 2B Red Sox – 5’8/175

In comparison, a small sampling of larger women athletes shows that not only are several women big and strong enough to play baseball, but they are even larger than some of the smallest MLB players:

  • Valerie Arioto, 1B/P Team USA Softball – 5’7/178;
  • Serena Williams, WTA Player – 5’9/155;
  • Lindsey Vonn, American Ski Racer – 5’10/160;
  • Hayley Wickenheiser, Canadian Pro Ice Hockey – 5’10/170;
  • Hilary Knight, American Pro Ice Hockey – 5’11/172;
  • Abby Wambach, Retired Soccer Player – 5’11/179;
  • Maya Moore, Pro Basketball Player – 6’0/174;
  • Venus Williams, WTA Player – 6’1/160;
  • Missy Franklin, American Swimmer – 6’1/165;
  • Kerri Lee Walsh Jennings, American Volleyball – 6’2/157;
  • Candice Dupree, Pro Basketball Player – 6’2/172;
  • Nicole Forrester, Canadian High Jumper – 6’3/154;
  • Tina Charles, Pro Basketball Player – 6’3/194.

When it comes to endurance, it has been proven scientifically that women have several physiological advantages in this area over men.

And, in a July 2016 article, I outlined research that showed estrogen’s many positive effects on a woman’s body composition.  Namely, women have the ability to burn more fat & less carbs as a result of estrogen’s effects on metabolism, it acts as an antioxidant, and protects muscles, joints, bones and tendons from “exercise-induced damage”.

So, in fact, women baseball players might actually sustain less injuries over men because of an estrogen advantage.

More Encouraging Signs

Earlier in the month, MLB hosted its first girls’ baseball tournament.  Approximately 100 girls in the greater Los Angeles area participated in a 4-day event which included “competitive play, instruction, community outreach and a visit with the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium”.

The event afforded these lucky girls the opportunities to be coached and instructed by some of the nation’s top female baseball players, including Team USA alumni while it also honored Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday.

Commissioner Bob Manfred said in a statement. “MLB and USA Baseball have listened to the growing demand for girls’ and women’s baseball by launching this unprecedented event… In memory of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball is committed to making our sport accessible and inclusive for all those who want to play, coach or participate.  It is our honor to support trailblazing young women who will be outstanding representatives of their communities.”

It’s not hard to infer that MLB could be grooming the first crop of future female big leaguers with this new “trailblazer series” while coordinating it with Jackie Robinson’s birthday.

In the very least, they seem to be trying to help young girls develop an interest for the sport from a young age and become future fans, too.

Either way, its great the organization realizes that by introducing the sport to young girls, as a group they will have an impact on the future of the game in a multitude of ways.

The Future

When I read in 2015 that the Pentagon would start opening up all positions in the military to women, “including combat positions”, it was not all that surprising.

In this modern era of advanced fitness and nutrition, the physical gap between men and women has shrunk.

Still, women may never be able to truly stand up equally in the strength department to men, but baseball doesn’t require that.

To play the game successfully and compete, ball players need to have ability, excellent hand-eye coordination, mental toughness, the willingness to train hard, and be dedicated.

Like any man, any woman can have all those things.

After all, as Ted Berg said in a June 22, 2015 For the Win article, “On-base percentage doesn’t have a gender.”

 

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.theladylovessports.com/contact.