On April 2, 1931, a 17-year-old girl struck out two of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Jackie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig swinging and then walked Tony Lazzeri. Shortly thereafter, baseball’s then-commissioner and all-around inflexible gentleman, Kenesaw Landis, disallowed Mitchell’s contract, ending her tenure with the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts.
By all accounts, Mitchell threw one pitch throughout her career — a “dropball” or sinker, reportedly taught to her by Hall-of-Famer Dazzy Vance. Despite her incredibly young age, she located the pitch effectively and worked as a middle-reliever during her career (which included chiefly independent league and barnstorming appearances following her departure from MiLB).
Babe Ruth, physiologist extraordinaire, remarked after the game:
I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.
In all fairness, Ruth didn’t have the advantage of watching Venus Williams play tennis. If I were to approach Ms. Williams and suggest she lacked the endurance to consistently play professional sports, I’m fairly sure she could — and would — slice me into little cubes with her tennis racket.
I am here to posit an addition to Remington’s theses: Women should not only be allowed to participate in baseball, they should be encouraged to do so.
Allow me to anticipate some of the obvious and historical protests: Yes, men and women do indeed have different physiologies. I don’t forecast a female Randy Johnson anytime soon. I also don’t expect a male Randy Johnson anytime soon, either. High-heat lefties with long careers come only every couple of decades. Still, very few men, much less women, are capable of throwing destructive, mitt-melting fastballs. At the same time, though, Major League Baseball has its fair portion with successful, soft-tossing pitchers and shorter, less-muscle-bound fielders.
Consider J.P. Howell, the Tampa Bay Rays reliever who throws a Bugs Bunny fastball at 85 mph. That’s a great speed for my semi-pro league, but in the majors, we should anticipate he — and Jamie Moyer (81 mph) — would have short, laughable and unpleasant careers.
Yes, as any good high school coach will tell you: Pitching is not about speed, it’s about location and movement. Consider Eri Yoshida:
Eri’s time with the Chico Outlaws didn’t last long. In the Arizona Summer League leading up to her contract with the Outlaws, Ms. Yoshida pitched 16.1 innings of 3.62 FIP baseball. But when the season began, she became a walk machine and allowed 21 walks in eight starts. The results were a less-than-impressive 7.37 FIP.
So how does an 18-year-old, independent league BB-bot help women get into baseball? Well, first of all, let us put Yoshida in proper context:
1. She was nine years younger than the league.
2. She started only eight games.
More importantly, Yoshida gives us an excellent picture of baseball’s future: She didn’t set out to imitate Randy Johnson. Instead, she took lessons (literally) from Tim Wakefield. She developed a knuckleball and a sidearm delivery. Her 5-foot-one frame necessitated creativity; it didn’t disallow her to participate.
Eri is not the first woman to play baseball, nor is she the only woman playing right now. She is, though, the greatest middle finger in the face of Ruth’s misogynist assumptions. (Perhaps The Babe thought women couldn’t ingest enough beer and hot dogs to succeed?)
As I noted in previous parts of this series, the average MLB team is happy — nay, eager! — to find a 2 WAR player. Teams employ hundreds of minor leaguers with the hope that a few of them will become a Michael Cuddyer or a Jhonny Peralta. I am fairly certain the female Luis Castillo or Paul Maholm is already playing softball.
Women in baseball will be among the next great inefficiencies. Why? Because the first wave of female athletes to make it to the majors will be taken in the later rounds of the draft. And that’s exactly the reason why women haven’t gotten a chance at the big-league level — yet: Too few men take them seriously.
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