By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
WOMEN IN (OR OUT OF) BASEBALL
It’s been seventy years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. Now
everyone can aspire to being a big league player – except for that fifty percent of the
population that happens to be female.
In 1952 then commissioner Ford Frick issued a ruling officially banning women from
competing in organized baseball. That ruling has never been officially rescinded.
Here’s how it came about. The Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Senators of the then Class B
Interstate League were having trouble drawing fans to their games, so they signed a local
woman, Eleanor Engle to a contract. On June 22 nd Eleanor suited up and even took
batting practice with the team, but Frick and minor league commissioner Goerge
Trautman got wind of what was happening and quickly voided her contract. Trautman
went so far as to say that any team that tried to sign a woman in the future would be
“severely punished.” Frick later formalized the ban, which stands to this day.
Eleanor Engle never got into a game.
The reasoning behind it was that Frick and Trautman were afraid that clubs would sign
women as publicity gimmicks to draw more people to the games. God forbid that more
people should go to baseball games!
Don’t you think that it’s time for baseball to pull its head out of the sand and get itself
into the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first century?
This is not to say that everyone connected with baseball has a bias against women in the
game. Both the Red Sox and Yankees sponsor highly successful women’s fantasy camps
at their spring training sites every winter. In fact on Memorial Day the Red Sox hold a
fantasy camp reunion at Fenway Park for both the men’s and the women’s fantasy camps.
Imagine mixing the sexes like that. Ford Frick must be spinning in his grave.
It’s been almost a hundred years since women have been able to vote. A woman can
aspire to be president of the United States, but cannot aspire to play third base for the Red
Sox. That’s crazy – especially when you consider the problems the Red Sox have had at
third base this year.
In the long history of professional baseball only one female has been allowed to compete
for major league teams against major league teams, and that was in 1934, more than
eighty years ago. Babe Didrikson, then the most famous woman athlete in the world and
perhaps the greatest woman athlete in history, appeared on March 22nd in a spring
training game pitching for the Phillies against the Dodgers. She went one inning, giving
up a walk, no hits and no runs. Two days later she pitched an inning for the Cardinals
against the Red Sox and got shelled, three runs on four hits. But she was back at it again
on March 25 th for the minor league New Orleans Pelicans against the Cleveland Indians;
she pitched two scoreless innings and lined out in her only plate appearance. Not too
They were only exhibition games and Didrikson, already a two-time Olympic gold medal
winner and later to be the greatest woman golfer of her time, was famous. Neither was
she on any team’s official roster so the baseball powers looked the other way.
The same was not true for Virne “Jackie” Mitchell. She was signed to a contract by the
Chattanooga Lookouts and was brought in to pitch against the New York Yankees in
spring training of 1931. She struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession before
walking Tony Lazzeri (Ruth and Gehrig were remarkably good-humored about whiffing).
Mitchell’s reward was that Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis ordered her
contract voided the next day. So ended her baseball career.
It is true that most women are not big enough or talented enough to play professional
baseball. But the same holds true for most men. There are only seven hundred fifty men
on active big league rosters at any given time. The rest of us are in the stands or at home
dreaming of what it must be like to be a major leaguer.
Let women have those dreams, too.
GIVE THE GIRLS A CHANCE
Women compete in tennis and track.
Tee up a golf ball, they’ll give it a whack.
Soccer and swimming, a marathon run;
Show them a sport and they’ll join in the fun.
There is one exception, a game they have missed.
Why isn’t baseball high on that list?
Baseball’s never welcomed them, held out its hand.
Females in pro baseball are in fact banned.
Colleges, high schools, don’t have women’s teams.
Where can a girl player fulfill her dreams?
Sure, there is softball, but that’s not the same.
Let them compete in America’s game.
They can play hardball, that’s already known.
After all, they once had A League of Their Own.