On Caring for One Another

I’d like to beg your indulgence to reflect on community. Specifically, our community. Our community here at FanGraphs, sure, but the community of people who care about the rigorous analysis of baseball, too. Communities are home to all kinds of folks engaged in different bits of sin and kindness, all experiencing different stakes. We’re knit together by our sins and our kindnesses, sometimes quite uncomfortably. One such sin is the everyday kind, the sort of casual meanness and lack of care we all wade through all the time. It’s a smaller kind, but we still find ourselves altered by it. I suppose you’ll have to forgive me for worrying on such things; I know we can be suspicious of feelings around here. But don’t fret. There’s another bit of sin, too, a baseball sin.

Earlier this month, Sheryl Ring published a piece called “Can Major League Baseball Legally Exclude a Woman?” The piece considered whether the exclusion of women from baseball, both as players and umpires, was legally permissible under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, Sheryl, while acknowledging that it wouldn’t be an easy case to make, argued that being male was not a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification for playing Major League Baseball and that the failure to scout, much less hire, women could potentially violate Title VII.

The response in the comments was resoundingly negative. That isn’t in itself a bad thing. It wasn’t a perfect piece, though what piece is? We here like debate. We don’t always get things right, or express our ideas as well as we ought to. Our job as writers is to convince you or move you or both. The issue isn’t that the comments were critical. Rather, what struck me was how quickly some of the voices escalated, from skepticism to certainty to what read, at least to me, as a barely repressed anger that other commenters seemed less sure and more open, that the question had been posed at all.

Communities fight. Communities committed to finding right answers may fight more — and harder — than most. For years, we fought others, fought against bunts and batting average, but we mostly won. Now the lines are less clear; the field is muddy and murky and full of fog. We’re still a community, but we’re changing. We’re having to make room for new folks in our digital neighborhood. But as strangers, unburdened by the potential chance encounter at the corner store, we have an odd relationship with the idea of care. The literal distance between us has resulted in a high tolerance for gruffness; I never have to see my barbs land, never have to watch your face color with anger or embarrassment. I am free to forget your stakes, and you are free to forget mine.

But I wish we would remember them. The idea of a woman playing in Major League Baseball means something to me. It stirs something. I long for it, in a way that is embarrassing to talk about in my place of work, which this is, but those are my stakes. They aren’t the only stakes I have, but they’re important ones. I suspect seeing someone who looks like me play the game will make me feel that I belong in a way I don’t quite now. I want it to be real, even as I’m not sure it ever will be.

Others may not have liked the piece or found it convincing. Perhaps the post ought to have lingered longer on the institutional barriers girls and women face when playing baseball. Maybe certain readers thought it didn’t express adequate appreciation of the great distance we have to close. But they could have been nicer about it; they could have shown greater care. They could have appreciated that what means very little to them means a great deal to me and mine, and tempered not their criticism but their ire. They could have thought for a moment about what else we might worry that ire is meant to say: that we are not welcome. They could have remembered our stakes, as members of their community.

That was the everyday sin, the sin of disrespect and unfeeling. It is what makes our community less than perfect and less than perfectly welcoming. It is troubling, this lack of care. I’ve worried every day since then who we might have driven away, who might only ever lurk at the edges of the comments, blistered by those who think the only means by which to disagree is to trample. To ignore others’ stakes.

The baseball sin was the certainty.

Because of course, we don’t know if a woman can play in Major League Baseball. We don’t know! I don’t know, and neither do they, the doubters, and what struck me as odd in the reaction to the piece was all the knowing folks saw fit to do, all the sureness. We should be wary of certainty. Not because it is never earned or ever right, but because it represents a closing off: of possibility, of new discovery, of imagination. Over and over and over again, the comments filled with calls to produce a woman, just one woman, any woman, who was ready now, right now, for entry into a major-league system, into a major-league game. And of course, we can produce no such woman. If we could, we’d be writing that story.

But they should have given us a little credit; that’s a small act of care, too. We can’t produce a major leaguer. We never claimed we could. All we’ve ever claimed to be able to produce is a detailed inventory of the barriers, institutional and cultural, which make it so hard for girls to play baseball and keep playing it. In answer to the claim that women can’t play competitively against men in basketball and hockey and tennis, what we seek to point out is that baseball is importantly different than those sports. We can point out the aggressive funneling of girls into softball. We remind them that there simply has not been enough time or effort or resource devoted to girls’ and women’s baseball for us to know. We must also admit, as those affording uncertainty its proper place, that the answer may well be that us women can’t play with the boys, and that a separate league is the answer. We admit that, even though it stings. We are not unreasonable.

I am glad that we know so much more about baseball now than we did when Bill James and his ilk were getting their start. But I sometimes envy them their era. With all that testing and invention, they had to sit with their uncertainty, unable to rush to the end. I wonder if they weren’t more comfortable with that uncertainty than we seem to be now. It’s a shame, because settling into the unknown, holding it close, requires you to exercise your imagination. We don’t say enough about what a kindness imagination is, the room it gives to those who haven’t had it before. It animates all the data collection, all that testing. And isn’t that what this community used, in the beginning of all its fighting? Wasn’t that the inspiration behind our rigor, animating statistics and strategies that hadn’t been invented yet? That spark! It let them see beyond what they knew for sure.

I started by begging your indulgence. I like when writers ask favors of their audience; if used to proper effect, it makes a text feel a bit more lived in, as if you and I are sitting next to one another at a bar, enjoying a drink together, and I am about to tell you a long story. To beg your indulgence is to give you a sense that we are about to depart from our usually scheduled programming; perhaps things are about to get a little messy, or complicated. Perhaps I am about to ask you to be momentarily uncomfortable.

The problem with asking is it assumes that you are willing to accept your companion’s answer. I suppose I am, on some level. After all, whether it is explicitly stated or not, every act of writing carries with it the question of, “Will you please read this?”, a question we alter (“Will you please keep reading this?”) then repeat over and over, paragraph to paragraph, until you, the reader, get to the end, or turn your attention to something else.

Except sometimes, it just won’t do to ask. Before, I begged your indulgence, or at least your forgiveness, and I meant it, but I won’t ask now. A third person has joined our party, a regular not content with shouting from across the room. He sidles up to the bar, full of false certainty, and refuses us the generosity of exercising his imagination. He talks over me. But I will not quiver.

In light of this rude guest, I will not ask a question. Rather, I will grab this interloper’s beer right out of his hand, a bit rude myself I suppose, and make a statement: we aren’t going anywhere. We women, us not-men for whom the idea of a woman in Major League Baseball means so much. There’s no turning us out of the community. We’ve been let in; we’ve forced our way here. We watch this game, spend our time and treasure and summers on it, teach our daughters and nieces and friends its moves and details. We catalogue its faces. We study it and analyze it and quantify it. We report on it. We sometimes announce it, and we always love it.

What’s more, we are playing it. Some of us are getting pretty good. And when we see little girls throw a ball around, when we see one more steely-eyed pip, another little one who doesn’t yet know what to do with her limbs, but does know that whatever it will be, it will be baseball, baseball over all other games, when we see that, we can imagine a great many things. We’re back at the beginning, holding close our uncertainty. And somewhere between what we know, and what we’ve yet to prove impossible, we can see her. The first one.

We can see that day she’ll make the majors. We hear the PA crackle. The details shift, as the details in dreams often do. One day, her hair is pulled back in a ponytail; the next day, it’s a short bob, tucked behind her ears. Her nose, her lips, her cheekbones, they move, scaffolding that holds up skin of variable hues, offset by different colored eyes. She could come from anywhere, from all sorts of people. But we can see her.

And that’s what he’s discounted, this rude fellow at the bar, now eating my fries without asking. In his haste to fill comment box after comment box and assert expertise I doubt he has, he’s forgotten that spark. Perhaps it ought to make him a little nervous. Along with hard work and education, support and kindness, guile and patience and dumb luck, along with all those things, we’ve gotten through our whole lives on imagination. It’s what we’ve survived on. Not just in baseball, but everywhere in the world. In moments and stretches of years that are good, fine, and terrible. The imagination to think we might be seen, might be thought serious, might be thought of at all. That we might one day be safe, be something.

Our minds have lifted us into rooms and conversations we’ve been told aren’t for us. We make statements now. Not with the rising sing-song of a false question, not with a desire to avoid bothering anyone, but with a purpose. With demands. We’ve imagined it until parts have come true, emboldening us to imagine more. We did all that because of our smarts, and our friends, and an increasingly not-bad world, but animating it all has been imagination. Imagination that lets us see her. Imagination that will always outlast that rude fellow.

Our community is a weird, happy little place much of the time. It’s so nice to rest a bit after fighting for so long. We’ve had great, demanding, exacting debates. We’ve made room in the neighborhood; we’ve exchanged waves at the corner store. But we still commit our sins; someone rushes in from across the bar. We forget each other’s stakes, don’t respect them. We’ve assumed those stakes are the same all the time, for everyone; we’ve failed to practice care, to embrace our uncertainty.

It’ll be work. It’ll mean letting in a bit of sentiment. Not in the way of RBI or bunting, but as feeling for each other. I’d like to ask us to try, in this community of ours. I suspect trying is part of care, too.

We hoped you liked reading On Caring for One Another by Meg Rowley!

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Meg is the managing editor of FanGraphs and the host of FanGraphs Audio. Her work has appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Lookout Landing and Just A Bit Outside.

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bjs2025
Member
bjs2025

Why would people have a problem with a woman playing in MLB?

HappyFunBall
Member
HappyFunBall

There are lots of “Why would people have a problem with ____?” questions out there that stir up a hefty amount of unexpected emotion against them. We live in a great big world peopled by a great deal of unhappy campers.

funkmon
Member
funkmon

I don’t think many people do. The internet, confident in its own self knowledge, often with good reason, is simply dismissive. Because women lack the power, size, and speed of men, as a rule, the notion is dismissed out of hand. As a result, the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. That is, the people dismissing the idea of a big league woman player thereby dismiss everything else; such as the institutional gendering of some sports, like field hockey, baseball, and so on, as not important, because the end goal of the writer is to see a pro woman baseball player, which is rationally considered unlikely, but isn’t a known quantity.

Nobody really cares, they’re just being buttheads.

Oil
Member
Oil

You make some good points, funkmon, but I take issue with this: “Because women lack the power, size, and speed of men, as a rule…” This is not wrong, per say, but it’s not exactly correct, either. We could see a current MLB player come out as a trans woman tomorrow, and this whole “unlikelyhood due to physical constraints” arguement goes right out the window. We simply don’t have data on the future of gender identity. So when we talk about men vs. women, are we talking about biological sex (observable, but not entirely clear-cut categories) or gender (correlated with sex but ultimately entirely invented, changeable, and ever-shifting?) I, personally, don’t care what my favorite player’s genitals look like. I feel all this talk of physical characteristics of men vs women is distracting and maybe even irrelvant to the more important lessons we can learn from this debate. Thanks for writing this, Meg! I finally signed up for fangraphs after all these years in order to join this important conversation!

Geebs
Member
Geebs

Even thou you have engaged in a form of reductio ad absurdum I’m going to address the difficult topic anyway.
In general woman are smaller in stature and not as powerful as men, (I’ve never read anything to indicate the female gender is slower then male) this is due to the differences between estrogen and testosterone. Testosterone is responsible for bulk muscle mass as well as a denser bone structure, when a trans gender woman introduces estrogen and eliminates testosterone her bones become more porous and brittle and her stature becomes “daintier” for lack of better word. A woman that transitioned from being a male to a female might be the ones that make the worst ball players because they have to take synthetic estrogen which magnifies the affect both physically and mentally.
Skill-wise could a female play in MLB? I see no reason why not, I have played baseball/softball with many woman over the years, both with and against and I have been giving no reason to think that the ratio of good/great/bad players between genders aren’t equal. Physically I also see no reason to believe woman cant play at the highest level in any position. I wonder about longevity and injury concerns due to the smaller muscle mass and liter bone density but that’s certainly no reason for exclusion.
I understand that for a small group of people – a very loud minority – this is about if your sex organs tangle or not but for the majority this argument is really about the product. Would the female presence raise the product or lower it? As far as I can tell every time baseball integrates another group the product gets better, you name it, whether it be integration of African, Asian, Cuban, Dominican etc… the product got better so it goes to reason that more integration would provide a better product.

Oil
Member
Oil

I agree with your what you said about the “product” of MLB baseball getting better with higher levels of integration. Great point! And obviously any potential integration would need to be profitable or else it simply won’t happen, that’s reality.

But in regards to the conversation about trans women playing baseball, your speculation about estrogen negatively effecting performance ignores the fact that plenty of trans people don’t take hormones. Many do, but many don’t. It’s not like it’s some sort of requirement. One can transition male to female without surgery or hormone treatments. You can’t just dismiss the idea out of hand.

Geebs
Member
Geebs

Yes in fact in this context taking hormones and a surgery is a significant difference because otherwise your talking about a man that socially identifies as female but is otherwise completely male in all aspect that matter for physical challenges, we called these cross-dressers.
You damn well know exactly what I’m saying and introducing the “identifies as” argument muddies the waters, I don’t give a crap how people identify, male, female identify as a hot pink donkey for all I care but if you have all the characteristics physically as a man then its a man or the physical equal of playing which isn’t the argument and you know it.
This is just a continuation of you’re reductio ad absurdum.

Oil
Member
Oil

Yes, I do know what you’re saying. Trans people existing in the world complicates your understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman. I’m sorry, but the waters are muddy and they always have been. I’m honestly not trying to be petty or to derail the conversation here. It seems like you and I are coming from different perspectives on this. I happen to know a bunch of trans people personally, and so, to me, totally dismissing their relevance to this conversation — will a woman ever play in the mlb– seems pretty silly. I’m sorry that the idea really seems that absurd to you.

Geebs
Member
Geebs

No in fact I have a very strong understanding of transgender for personal reasons that are non of your business but it does non the less give me a certain amount of intellect on the topic. What you are doing is muddying the waters of understanding by using an umbrella term to satisfy an argument. The term “Transgender” is an umbrella term these days however it used to simply mean someone that was transitioning in gender from male to female and visa versa and men or woman that dressed like the opposite sex were cross-dressers. The issue is that this term became a term of inclusion, now transgender means inclusion of anyone that isn’t cisgender, so for this exercise I’m using the term transgender wrong I suppose and using it with its historical meaning.
If you’re saying that a transgender person that isn’t doing sexual reassignment surgery and isn’t taking hormones but was born and assigned the sex of male but never really felt that they are (regardless of predetermined physical attributes) and at some point came to the conclusion that they wanted to live life as a female and made it to MLB? That’s what it sounds like you’re saying and if so yeah I completely agree that that woman would likely be the first. What I’m saying which I thought was very clear even if I did use a retired term to simplify it is that if a person born of the male gender with male genitalia at some point came to the conclusion that they are of the female gender AND decided that they were going to go through with all of the surgeries necessary and was taking estrogen, that particular female would have a very hard time because estrogen does a number on the bones.
A female baseball player that was born female I see no reason she can’t make it to MLB given the same opportunities as her male counterparts.

Oil
Member
Oil

Okay, thanks for the more detailed explanation. And yes, your particular usage of the term transgender (well, that and the fact that you were calling my argument reductive and absurd) definitely was what I was reacting against. I appreciate the thoughtful response, and it makes more sense to me within the context you just provided.

Estella
Member
Estella

It isn’t just a strength thing, women are slower than men, too. According to the other thread, male high school sprinters regularly beat women’s world records. Probably not an issue if she’s a pitcher, but it’s one more hurdle for female position players to contend with.

There’s a lot of interesting data in the comments of the other post, I recommend reading at least a bit of it to see where people are coming from on this.

evo34
Member
evo34

“I’ve never read anything to indicate the female gender is slower then male)”

One google search away:

https://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/22/sports/olympics/22women.html

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives

To any man (or woman) who has ever said that women can’t play major-league baseball because they don’t have the arm strength, the power, or the athleticism, RA Dickey says hello.

ImperialStout
Member
Member
ImperialStout

There’s gotta be an athletic Serena Williams-type build that could hold down a solid SS or something.

andypro7
Member
andypro7

Serena Williams is a good example. Everyone would agree that she’s about as good as it gets in her sport. She’s the top of the line, no doubt, and has been for quite some time.
And yet even she, in her greatness, cannot compete against the top several hundred men in tennis. This is why I have a tough time seeing a woman in the MLB, and this is why they’re talking about the Civil Rights Act instead of showing us the woman who is qualified and who hasn’t gotten the chance.
If there was a woman out there as good at baseball as say, Josh Harrison, she’d already be in the majors. And I’d be fine with that, but just don’t try to force it through the legal system.

Larry Bernandez
Member
Larry Bernandez

That’s definitely true, but I wonder about how far down the list of professional male tennis players you’d have to go before you find someone Serena could beat.

If you include the minor leagues, there are thousands upon thousands of professional baseball players. If you expand the pool of tennis players to that size, it’s not unreasonable to think Serena could beat quite a few of them.

If tennis were set up like the major leagues, I think Serena could be among the top 700 players or so, meaning she could make a major league roster. It’s even more likely she could play on a minor league club.

Dave T
Member
Member
Dave T

“If tennis were set up like the major leagues, I think Serena could be among the top 700 players or so, meaning she could make a major league roster. It’s even more likely she could play on a minor league club.”

I think that’s dubious as a statistical matter, because the rewards are very slim for putting in the work simply to peak at #200 or worse in world tennis rankings (for either men or women). The distribution of prize money in tennis is very top heavy on both the men’s and women’s tours – see http://www.protennislive.com/posting/ramr/current_prize.pdf and YTD money rankings through about a quarter of the year at http://www.protennislive.com/posting/ramr/current_prize.pdf . At #200 in the rankings, a tennis player probably isn’t even making any sort of living on the tour after considering the cost of travel and coaching. He certainly isn’t making the living of an MLB player who accumulates even a couple years of minimum salary service time in the majors, which means a bit over $1 million in pre-tax pay plus vesting in the MLB pension plan (at 43 days of MLB service time) and vesting in lifetime health benefits (at 1 day of MLB service time).

Said a bit differently, there’s quite likely a tail of a few thousand men who conceivably could have worked their way up to a ranking in the mid-hundreds but gave up that path because the financial rewards aren’t that great unless a player can peak at something like top 50 in the world.

Tea_Wreck
Member
Tea_Wreck

Dickey had an 85 MPH fastball. You’d have been better off citing Tim Wakefield and his mid-70s fastball.

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives

RA Dickey did not throw an 85 mph fastball last year (trust me), and he pitched effectively in the majors. Aren’t some women in professional leagues already throwing fastballs in the low to mid 80s ,anyway?

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

MLB would do anything to make it happen – it would be nothing but good press and lots of $$$. What team wouldn’t want all of the positive press that came with it? Speaking out against it would be taboo – I can only imagine what we would label the folks against it. I am as much of a traditionalist as there is and I can’t think of a reason why I would be against it. If I stood to profit form it, then I would want it even more. I think the press would be 100% positive. Anyone with any interest in women’s rights would support it.

Admittedly, I have no idea what we are actually talking about. I didn’t read the article to which this refers beyond a few paragraphs and I certainly didn’t pour through the comments. Perhaps they thought it was decisive – an us vs them mentality. Your last few paragraphs certainly ring of that. I don’t care to fight, but it is decisive language and it is going to upset some people. Was that a theme in the original article?

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

Thanks all for the insightful replies… as usual. There is something impressive about that many down votes without a single reply.

Oil
Member
Oil

I assume that the down votes are mostly just a reaction to you being critical of the author ‘s response while admitting you haven’t even read the whole article to which she was responding.

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

I doubt they are that well thought out. Being critical gets down votes all by itself. This article doesn’t have a lot to do with the other article. The first four and last paragraphs are, but beyond that this is a stand alone piece filled with divisive language and ideology.

Stevil
Member
Stevil

I can tell you that I didn’t see your original comment until now, but you likely got the down votes without a response because the article broke everything down perfectly and you dismissed it’s value despite admittedly having never read the original article, so some people probably didn’t feel like you deserved a response.

And your most recent response suggests you still don’t get it. You continue to be insulting, continue to miss the point, and you admit you’re proud of the downvotes. I can think of far better things to take pride in than that.

Estella
Member
Estella

No, you got downvoted because this piece is a sheer appeal to emotion. Any attempt to criticize it on rational grounds will thus be hated, because that’s not the approach it was written from.

Stevil
Member
Stevil

It’s not. It’s about the tone; debating respectfully, which wasn’t happening.

Estella
Member
Estella

There is literally not one person in either of these comment threads saying that women shouldn’t play in MLB. Every single one of us supports the possibility.

I dare Fangraphs to run a poll tomorrow asking that question. 95% of the respondents will answer “Yes, it is okay to have women in baseball,” and the only reason I’m hedging and saying it wouldn’t be 99% is I’m adjusting for the Lizardman Constant.

The problem seems to arise when you use results and statistics to analyze whether women could actually COMPETE in MLB, which is apparently a sacred cow, and will thus get you downvoted deep red, just as this comment will be.

awy
Member
awy

seems like you and a bunch of other people didn’t read the original article correctly, and instead are fighting various phantoms like ‘feminist entryism’.

don’t give yourself too much credit, a simple exercise of reading better will do.

Estella
Member
Estella

I guess I didn’t read it “correctly,” but I certainly read the article about these independent female ballplayers.

And I read the quotes about how great they are from a contributor to FG’s sister site.

And then I read the comments that cited the players’ stats, which were awful among any metric you want to look at, and would never draw an eyebrow from any scout in the league.

And that’s when I saw how dishonest the original article was.

What exactly do you think I missed?

Johnston
Member
Johnston

I know two women well who are in the upper 0.001% of potential female baseball players. They both started for NCAA 1A softball teams, at two universities that every college baseball fan well knows the names of. They were both all-stars. Neither one of them could ever possibly compete for an MLB spot.

Jackelder
Member
Member
Jackelder

And MLB spots come after a long apprenticeship in high school baseball, the lower minors, and the upper minors … two of which lack the revenue resources to provide adequate dressing facilities and training care (without the spectre of what has happened in US Gymnastics). Without the opportunity to play against guys from a very early age, MLB as a player becomes an astronomical longshot for anyone, not just women.

Now umpiring … that would benefit from the female perspective on human relations: listen, reason, listen again, then rule. That’s pretty rare for what we have seen in dark blue in all my life watching baseball.

Both paths should be open. But one is nigh unto impossible.

awy
Member
awy

you missed the point of a legal analysis on a hypothetical

Johnston
Member
Johnston

Real women can’t compete in MLB. Fact. But maybe some man who has decided that he is mentally a woman could.

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives

If you think that there’s no way a woman could throw a devastating 65 mile-per-hour knuckleball, then you’re unequivocally wrong. And if a woman could throw a devastating 65 mph knuckleball, then there’s is no question whether a woman could actually COMPETE in MLB. The same thing probably goes for a speedy, slap hitting second baseman in the Dee Gordon mold. There’s every reason to think that physiological barriers related to gender are not, in and of themselves, enough to prevent a woman from being a successful major-leaguer. This is patently true, IMHO.

Institutional, systemic, and developmental barriers are another matter entirely, but if physiology alone is not enough to prevent a woman from making the majors, then it’s necessarily true that a woman, given the right opportunities and development, could become a competent major-league player.

I didn’t read the comments in the earlier article to which Meg is referring, but it sounds as if many of the commenters failed to realize that deficits in strength and athleticism are not fatal for a female who aspires major-league ballplayer in the same way they might be in basketball or football.

Estella
Member
Estella

The commenters in the other thread discussed both the “slap-hitting 2Ber” and the knuckleballer in significant detail, actually, and made a strong case that the physiological barriers alone are enough to prevent a woman from making AA, let alone the majors.

Are they 100% right? I don’t know, but they brought a lot of interesting facts to the table, which was enough to rile Meg into spending six pages scolding us for being too certain about anything, oh and by the way SHE’S certain you’re wrong, bigots.

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives

The facts they brought to the table weren’t based on female physiology. Or they were bogus facts. I can’t imagine there would be any real debate about whether a woman has the strength, endurance, etc. to throw a major-league-quality knuckleball.