Lets Hear it for the Girls

At 7:00 pm yesterday evening, I knew exactly as much about A League of Their Own as 99% of the people who’ve never seen it: the fact that it features the immortal line…

There’s no crying in baseball!

Fundamentally untrue.  But I’ll cover that closer to Opening Day.

A combination of absolutely nothing on TV and an unwillingness to brave the St. Patrick’s Day bar crowds sent me to my Netflix Instant Queue.  My heartbreak at Team USA’s early World Baseball Classic exit and my general giddiness at baseball’s fast approaching start led me to choose the 1992 feel-good nostalgia flick, whose opening credits got rolling just as dinner was coming out of the oven.

Sunday night baseball movie, frozen pizza, green frosting cupcakes.  What can I say?  I enjoy the little things in life.

The movie brought up a hodgepodge of feelings and emotions for me.  Cliffs Notes version: During World War Two, a small league of women’s professional baseball was assembled and traveled the south and midwest to entertain baseball fans whose mens teams (particularly minor league teams in rural areas) had been decimated by the need for soldiers to fight overseas.  A League of Their Own covers the trials and (mis)adventures of some of these women, bookended by a somewhat sappy present-day story featuring the players attending the opening of a Cooperstown exhibit about the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).  Probably the neatest thing about these scenes is that the women in them are actual former AAGPBL players, whose numbers are dwindling fast as “The Greatest Generation” passes away.

The image of Rosie The Riveter everyone remembers from American History looked like this…


But if I taught the class, it might look a little something like this…


I don’t generally use this blog as a way of furthering any kind of social agenda, but it’s a tough pill for me to swallow that women haven’t had the opportunity for advancement on the diamond the way they have in business and politics.  When our boys came home from the war, women who had taken their place in the factories were told to head back to the kitchen and return the keys to the country to the men.  The same was true in baseball; with enlisted superstars like Joe Dimaggio, Ted Williams, and Hank Greenberg being honorably discharged from their respective terms of military service and making the stadium turnstiles click again, the AAGPBL folded in 1954, and even their star players faded into relative obscurity.

It’s taken a long time, but women in most of the world now have career opportunities that their grandmothers wouldn’t have dreamed of.  But for some reason, we can’t bring ourselves to let them play ball professionally, even in their own league.  It’s not as if the caliber of play is any lower; Sophie Kurys, 9 year veteran of the league and 3 time all star, stole 201 bases in 1946.  Her closest male competitor, Rickey Henderson, considered the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, trails her by 71 (130 stolen bases for the Oakland A’s in 1982).  To this day, her single season record stands as the mark for professional baseball players.  This is just a taste of the talent we’ve missed out on.

I know a lot of awesome women who are also baseball fans.  And really, seeing A League of Their Own got me to thinking…they’re more understanding of an unfair circumstance than I would be.  If I’m watching a game, I can run down the list of reasons why I’m a spectator rather than a participant.  And every single one of them is my fault.  Boys throughout the world have applied themselves, worked hard, and made it to the big leagues.  I could have been one of them.  But if a girl grows up to be a phenomenal softball player, the best she can hope for is to pay for her college education with a scholarship.  Hell, softball isn’t even an Olympic sport anymore.

So what?  “Girls of America, follow your dreams, as long as those dreams aren’t on the diamond”?  I’m not saying that allowing women to play professional baseball alongside men is an easy move logistically, but it is at odds with what we tell ourselves about equality. You probably don’t need to be told that I hold fast to the belief that baseball is the greatest game in the world.  And though it sometimes fails, our country always aspires to give everyone a fair shake.  Let’s connect the dots here.

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