Major League Baseball, Women, Augusta National, and Ball Size

Major League Baseball, Women, Augusta National, and Ball Size
Justine Siegal made Major League Baseball history when she threw batting practice for several major league ballclubs in 2011, including the Cleveland Indians and the Oakland A's,. She runs Baseball For All, a nonprofit group supporting inclusion for the National Pastime.

When you think about it, baseball and golf share much in common:

*They've both been popular since the 19th century.

*The praises of each sport have been sung by some of our most respected poets....

“Golf, like measles, should be caught young. ”- P.G. Wodehouse

"I see great things in baseball.... It's our game--the American game." - Walt Whitman

*Both games are played with smaller balls, as compared with the big balls of basketball and football.

Over the glorious holiday weekend, I had a great seat at two of my favorite sporting events. From the comfort of my couch at home, I reveled in the Opening Weekend of Major League Baseball and the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. For me,  both events harken back to a simpler, more genteel time, when all was right with the world...

STOP RIGHT THERE! What am I saying? What, again, was right with the world?

It was a simpler time because I was younger, and not as adamant about what I saw on the greens, or on the field. And the song remains the same:

NO WOMEN ON THE GREENS. NO WOMEN ON THE FIELD. NO WOMEN AS MEMBERS OF THE CLUB

Speaking of the "little balls" that determine the course of the games....

Both the Masters Golf Tournament and Major League Baseball as still off-limits to women, it seems. There are rules. Augusta National is famous for its men-only policy.  Despite protests organized in 2002 and 2003 by Martha Burk, then-National Council of Women's Organizations, the leadership of Augusta National have always stood pat in their no-women-allowed outlook. When sponsors took a walk, the Masters Tournament ran without sponsorship for two years.

The tournament's been played in the Bobby Jones-founded course since 1934.  And the club members have always espoused conservative values. As cited by the Christian Science Monitor,  no African-Americans were allowed there until 1990, a scant 22 years ago, when they offered a membership to the the chief of Gannett Publishing, Inc.

Well, this year, there was one woman who had the right to be offered membership at Augusta: new IBM chief Virginia "Ginny" Rometty. And as reported by ABC News  and the Associated Press, IBM is one of the longtime sponsors of the tournament.  Traditionally, Augusta has offered a membership to its sponsor CEOs.  Until now.  Augusta National's chairman, Billy Payne,  just like Hootie Johnson, his predecessor, has refused to provide a substantive answer, saying the club's membership decisions are private.

I ask you, if a woman is found fit to lead a Fortune 100 corporation in 2012, might she also have earned her place as a member of Augusta National? Especially if she replaced a man as the head of the corporation? Clearly, the IBM Board of Directors could have hired another man. But they didn't.

Why wasn't the same courtesy extended to Rometty?

Rometty was at the Masters. But her suit jacket was not of the grass-green hue of the Augusta National membership. She wore pink, sitting on the 18th hole.  And held her head high. Kudos to her.  And let's hear a shout in the Amen Corner on her behalf.

And now, about that national pastime and its rule....

The Sporting News reported on one baseball ruling 60 years ago that apparently, still stands today:

"In 1952 Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick sent notice that women are not to play on major league teams, stating his 'purpose was to prevent teams from using women players as a publicity stunt. In June 1952 the Harrisburg Senators of the Class-B Inter-State League announced that they were going to sign 24-year-old shortstop Eleanor Engle.

Before she could take the field, the league president stepped in and banned the signing of women. On the 21st Commissioner Ford Frick went one step further and formally banned the signing of women on all teams in organized baseball.

The ruling stands today."  (Source: baseballhistorian.com)

I became an equal rights activist because of my own experiences of baseball discrimination. I came of age to play T-ball just prior to the passage of Title IX, and it took another four years to implement Title IX in our local public schools. As a Cubs fan, my dream was to be Ernie Banks (now a Facebook friend) or Ron Santo. I marched into my local Park District to sign up for T-ball, just like my buddy Paul (who later played pro baseball in Europe) and my brother Roger.

The woman behind the signup counter told my mother and me, "Girls play tennis. Boys play T-ball."

"Can boys play tennis, too?" we asked. "Yes, they can," she said.

Wondering, then, why such a double standard existed, we asked, "Could you make an exception? Maybe just try?"

"We don't do things like that," the woman stated, flatly and resolutely.

So, despite numerous attempts to change the rules, I ended up playing tennis for the next six years. There was nothing wrong with tennis. But my heart and soul were in the church of baseball.

Redemption for me came in the form of a federal ruling....not coincidentally, like the Civil Rights Act. U.S. Congress passed Title IX, which declares that "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." This opened up a world unlike any other for aspiring female athletes.

This year, as I have cited in previous articles, Title IX is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of its passage on June 23 of this year.

And yes, I and other activists were bullied, privately and publicly, by those who didn't agree with us.

In baseball, the gap is getting smaller between the skill level for women.  In 2011, 36-year-old Justine Siegal, the founder of Baseball for All, threw batting practice at Spring Training for several major league teams. The groundbreaking event attracted worldwide media attention. Like me idolizing Ron Santo and Ernie Banks, Siegal idolized her hometown Cleveland Indians of her time, particularly pitcher Orel Hershiser. Hershiser is a good choice. While I was working for UPI Radio network in the early 1990's, covering a Cubs-LA Dodgers series, he defended MY right to be in the locker room when a few of his teammates loudly objected. I have never forgotten his kindness and graciousness.

Siegal's journey, according to the New York Times and other outlets, began when she made her first pitch in a letter-writing campaign to all 30 major league general managers. They whiffed the opportunity. Her second pitch, a signature fastball presentation to the GMs at the winter meetings in Florida, scored a double for Team Siegal. The Oakland A's Billy Beane was on base with Siegal's first successful pitch. Then, Cleveland's Chris Antonetti, presumably inspired by Beane and possibly influenced by the fact that Siegal's father and grandfather were still Indians season ticket holders, invited Siegal batting practice.

How did she do? The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Catcher Paul Phillips wanted to tell that she threw like a girl. He couldn't because she didn't. Siegal faced four minor leaguers at 11 a.m. and three of the Tribe's catchers in big-league camp at noon. Siegal received passing grades from both. "She would have fit right in if you hadn't seen her two pony tails," Phillips said. "When she threw a couple of balls, she stopped, gathered herself and threw a strike. That's just what you're supposed to do." It was estimated by several news organizations, including the Associated Press, that her pitches ranged from 65 to 75 mph. 

Indians Manager Manny Acta told the New York Times that her work was "pretty impressive." On Wednesday, with the Oakland A's, Siegal threw B.P. for Oakland Athletics hitters Coco Crisp, Daric Barton, David DeJesus (now with the Cubs) and Brandon Powell. According to the Associated Press, She apparently made an impression on Crisp, who told the AP that he'd "take B.P. off of her every day." When he was asked if girls belonged in baseball, he said, "Why not? If they have the right abilities and the right skills why couldn't they?" 

Japanese knuckleballer Eri Yoshida, also the subject of a previous Token Female article, broke another barrier when she was signed by several independent league teams for her pitching prowess, including the Hawaii Warriors.  I said last year that the knuckleball, which lengthened the careers of many major league hurlers, including Tim Wakefield and Hoyt Wilhelm, would bring women into baseball into their own right.

If some of my friends and colleagues find my all-out embrace of equality in sports annoying,  I wonder what they would say about Siegal, who has been playing baseball since the age of 5. With boys. Until a Little League coach told her at the age of 13 told her not to. Undeterred, the Cleveland Heights native pitched and played third base on the boys high school team. She spent three years as the only female assistant coach in the country for a men's collegiate team at Springfield (Mass.) College and was the first woman to coach first base for a men's professional team on the Brockton Rox in 2009.  Currently, she is working toward her doctorate in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Springfield College

"I want girls baseball across America," Siegal told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2011. "When I throw, all of a sudden we have a dialogue, about how much girls and women love baseball and how they want to be a part of it."

Siegal was asked by the Christian Science Monitor about Rometty.

 "Rometty’s job is to do her best to lead IBM and do a great job at that,”Siegal told the Christian Science Monitor. “If she whines about Augusta, it will be taking away from what she needs to do."

Siegal further said, that "It is up to society and others within IBM to fight this battle over membership,” adds Ms. Siegal, who is now director of sports partnership for Sport in Society at Northeastern University

"It is up to society and others within IBM to fight this battle over membership,” added Siegal.  

The debate about women's place in the world of sports  has lasted since the 1890's with the advent of the "Bloomer Girls," barnstorming teams, to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL, aka, "A League of their Own") to the Colorado Silver Bullets professional team in the 80's...to Siegel's Baseball for All.

As a society, where do we stand with integrating men and women? Where do you stand in this argument? Please post your comments below.

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    Couldn't someone use Title IX in a lawsuit to FORCE baseball to be open to women? MLB is on thin enough legal ice regarding its monopoly status that it might have a difficult time defending itself on this. Or, alternatively, maybe use Title IX to FORCE integration of school teams at least? By the way, I think it should be described as "integration" that is being sought, and the present state should be called what it is, "segregation."

  • @ Patrick --

    Title IX --- "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance..."

    MLB is not an educational institution and receives no federal funding (scholarships). Its a private entity that is not subjected to such federal guidelines.

    Justin's Siegal's 65 to 75 mph fastball might make for some interesting batting practice discussion but considering the average major league fastball is around 90mph, there's no way she could compete against the likes of players like Albert Pujols.

    Women should have the right to play Major League Baseball, provided they have the necessary ability to compete. Political correctness aside, I just don't see that happening because of the size and strength disparity. The differences in male / female depth perception is also a factor.

    In conclusion, if we forced schools to integrate sports teams, very few women would make the cut because the best athletes are usually male.

    This country is based on equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.

  • In reply to KMFDM72:

    Fair enough, KMFDM72....we did ask for equal opportunity, not outcomes. But with the likely exception of white males, most of the individuals in this country have needed federal orders simply to have equal opportunity.

    As to our supposed physical deficits: in the past, men have been accepted on sports teams with supposed physical deficits...one example: baseball player Pete Gray of the St. Louis Browns had a career despite only having one arm. He was fast and learned how to stop the ball with his stump, then transfer the ball lightning-quick to his good hand to throw. Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb both had careers in basketball despite being shorter than 6' tall; their swiftness and ability to meet taller players at their waist and arms were valuable in steals and driving to the net. Future WNBA draftee Brittany Griner at 6'8 is taller than most players in the NBA today; she can dunk, her defense is great, and she can hustle. I believe that when women learn how to play effectively using their own strengths, this will propel a more equal look at the opportunities available to women.

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    KMFDM72, you make some cogent points about Justine Siegal's lack of speed on her pitches not measuring up to the "average major league fastball," and about the "size and strength disparity" that is a major impediment to women with men competing on a level playing field. But you also omit, or fail to recognize, that the average major league fastball is not so average when it's delivered by, say, 49-year-old Jamie Moyer, who seldom throws above 75 miles an hour - the same speed Ms. Siegal's BATTING PRACTICE pitches have been clocked at. And size and strength are indeed factors that play some role in determining who is able to compete at the major league level, but they are not the only ones. Players like Jamie Moyer have carved out a niche for themselves on the baseball field that could just as well be filled by a capable woman, but the current pro baseball paradigm does not include any such innovation - for no good reason other than that the barren, estrogenless status quo seems to be perfectly fine with the powers-that-be. Progress has always butted heads with the neanderthals among us, and it has always eventually won out, just as it will in baseball. The women who are talented, dedicated, and driven enough to forge their own unique identities as ballplayers will NOT be the first wave of a raging torrent of estrogen-crazed banshees bent on feminizing the baseball landscape; they will, instead, represent a small, steady flow of skilled, hard-working women who deserve the chance to play professional baseball if they want to and are willing to do what it takes to achieve that goal. Women don't want to take over the ballfield; we just want to join in the fun!

    You are absolutely correct about equal opportunity and equal outcomes. Just provide such opportunity to ALL who deserve it equally, regardless of gender, and the outcome will only improve as a result. That is all we're saying, and all we're asking.

  • In reply to Perry Barber:

    I love your comment, Perry! Thank you for responding with such clarity and passion. And please keep commenting. I like your voice.

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