Women in the game of baseball

A while back, there was the following exchange in a Baseball Prospectus chat hosted by Ben Lindbergh:

thatjerkjames (Manhattan): Ballpark % likelihood of a female holding these positions in MLB in the next 30 years: general manager, manager, position player, pitcher, umpire.

Ben Lindbergh: Good question! And probably a good podcast topic. Okay, I’ll guess: 85, 20, 2, 8, 90.

My initial reaction was that Ben was quite optimistic with his percentages. Upon reflection, I think Ben was quite optimistic with his percentages.

Sure, 30 years is a long time, and our biases and stereotypes have changed greatly over the decades, but there will continue to be numerous roadblocks in the path of any woman who tries to make inroads into Major League Baseball.

I’d like to delve a bit deeper into each of the positions mentioned in the question above and come up with my best guess at the percentage chance of each of these roles being filled by a female at some point in the next three decades.

General manager

This may be the best chance for a woman to hold one of the five positions under discussion. A good role model for anyone—male or female—pursuing a GM position, and the woman currently most likely to land such a gig, is Kim Ng. She worked for the White Sox after graduating from the University of Chicago and then transitioned to a role in the American League offices. In 1997, Ng became the assistant GM for the Yankees, and four years later, she moved on to the same position with the Dodgers.

Now 45, Ng has interviewed for GM roles with the Dodgers in 2005, the Mariners in ’08, and the Padres in ’09, losing out each time to other candidates. Her current position is senior vice president of baseball operations for MLB, reporting to Joe Torre.

While there are other women in front-office roles, Ng remains the highest-ranking and, therefore, the woman currently most likely to get a shot at a GM position. Given Ng’s multiple interviews for such a role, her youth, and also that we’re talking about the overall odds of any woman landing a GM gig in the next 30 years, I have to side with Ben on this one and say the chances are very good.

There certainly will be more and more good candidates working their way up major league teams’ chains of command over the coming years, and despite the latent (and sometimes blatant) male chauvanism in sports, a woman general manager is pretty likely, and sooner rather than later.

Chance of a female GM in the next 30 years: 75 percent

Manager

This may be the position that’s least likely to be filled by a woman. It’s not that there aren’t females with the baseball acumen, leadership qualities and media savvy necessary to perform well in the role. It’s that there are 25 players, several coaches, upper management, ravenous media members and millions of fans who would have to be considered.

Sure, you can argue that these other people simply would have to adjust, that it’s their issue, their problem if they don’t like the idea of a female field manager. And that’s true, but it’s also far from truly honest.

The reality is, the manager has to relate to players—kick their butts, sympathize with them, and spend more than half the year with them day in and day out. There is bound to be push-back from some players—not to mention their wives and girlfriends—were a woman to be barking orders in the dugout and walking around the clubhouse before and after a game.

The media circus such a hiring would create is another big consideration. This would be big news from the initial press conference announcing the hiring to every pre- and postgame interview in every city the team visited.

The best chance for such a hiring probably would be with a team that clearly had little chance at contention in the woman’s first year on the job. In addition to setting reasonable expectations for her debut campaign, the team could deal with the focus being more on its manager and less on its on-field performance. It might even be viewed as a nice distraction for a team destined for a rough stretch.

May I Have Your Autograph, Please?
The payoff of being polite.

A contending team likely would be unwilling to throw this type of twist into an already highly stressful environment. This might not be fair, but it’s most likely true.

Chance of a female manager in the next 30 years: one percent

Position player

If manager is a highly unlikely role for a woman by 2043, position player would give it a run for its money in terms of improbability. Along with the off-field drama and the dugout and clubhouse atmosphere, there’s the significant issue of on-field performance.

With today’s rosters split roughly 50-50 between position players and pitchers, this means a major league fielder is one of the 500 or so best players in the world. That’s an incredibly high standard to achieve, and there is an inherent physical advantage for men in most sports, including baseball.

Certainly, I’m not saying it’s impossible for a woman to break into the bigs, just that the mountain of obstacles—both societal and physical—make the odds quite slim. I was wrong about the manager role; this would be the toughest spot for a female to reach the majors.

Chance of a female position player in the next 30 years: 0.1 percent

Pitcher

It’s been nearly three years since Justine Siegal became the first woman to throw batting practice to major leaguers, first performing the task in Indians camp in the spring of 2011. The previous season, Japanese knuckleballer Eri Yoshida pitched for the independent Chico Outlaws. And more than a decade earlier, Ila Borders made headlines as a left-handed hurler in non-affiliated leagues from 1997 to 2001.

So multiple women have taken the mound for pro teams, but the jump from the independent leagues to the majors is a massive one. And many of the same barriers present for position players exist for pitchers, with one exception.

Hitters generally need to have the bat speed and strength to smack balls with authority. Absent that, the few Juan Pierres in the game use their blazing speed to provide value. And once in a while you’ll find a Brendan Ryan who can pick it but can’t hit a lick. But in general, you have to provide at least some thump with the stick.

While many pitchers fit the mold of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound flame-throwing beast, there are numerous exceptions. Bartolo Colon and David Wells have succeeded despite having the physiques of couch potatoes. Tim Collins has been getting people out as a member of the Royals bullpen for the last three seasons in spite of his listed size of 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds.

And of course there are R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield and the indelible history of knuckleball specialists throughout the game’s history. In short, pitchers can be quirky, creative, and successful.

In this manner, a woman would not have to rely on pure brawn for success. Guile, excellent command, and changing of speeds could be as viable a path to the bigs as a 98-mph heater.

Will it be done in the next three decades? I don’t know, but it would be very interesting to see some women take a shot.

Chance of a female pitcher in the next 30 years: two percent

Umpire

We’ve gotten close with this one in the past, and umpire ranks up there with GM as the likeliest role to be filled by a female.

The most recent example of a woman getting close to an MLB umpiring job is Rita Cortesio, who worked a spring training game in 2007 and the 2006 Futures Game. Previously, Pam Postema worked games in spring training of 1988 and the Hall of Fame game that same year.

These opportunities don’t exactly indicate females will be knocking down the umpiring door tomorrow, but at least it shows a willingness by the powers that be to broach the subject. Still, there are similar gender barriers as with the other positions.

However, there is the advantage of a certain degree of anonymity in being an umpire. It’s not as high-profile a role as a player or exec, so the media circus would be smaller—still at least the two-ring variety, but that’s better than a three-ring one. Baseball is never going to sneak a woman into any of these roles, but umpire would be one of the paths of least resistance.

Chance of a female umpire in the next 30 years: 70 percent

What do you think? Am I being optimistic, pessimistic, or just about right with my guesses? I’m very interested in what everyone else thinks, so add your thoughts in the comments below.


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Greg has been a writer and editor for both The Hardball Times website and Annual since 2010. In his dreams, he's the second coming of Ozzie Smith. Please don't wake him up.
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Carl
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Carl
Interesting topic.  I would like to see the female pitcher occur during my lifetime.  Would be very similar to Jackie Robinson as far as boosting interest and attendance and would require the “right type” of woman just as Jackie had to be the “right type” of African American.  In time, records will wind up adjustments for pre-gender integration the same way pre-1947 records are adjusted downward by modern analysts. As far as female position players, would probably occur not long after the first female pitcher as a whole generation of girls will grow up idolizing her and trying their hand… Read more »
Tom H
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Tom H

If by “making it in the big leagues” we mean “more than a cup of coffee / brief stunt”, the %s of the umpire/GM/manager may be pretty good, but a position player of pitcher on a roster for a year? What % of class A and independent league players are there that are female? Is it more than 10e-5? I would say, because of the knuckleball, maybe .01% for a pitcher, and .0005% (1 in 200,000) for a position player.

Nick
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Nick
I think it would be great to see a female in any of those spots in the future. But I do think that cultural/psychological barriers will provide substantial obstacles for females. Managing a team requires cohabiting with a strong male culture. A male locker room can have a lot of testosterone (like in the shower scene in the movie Bull Durham). While I think that it can be possible for a female to “fit in” or manage in such an atmosphere, I think that a male-dominated locker room culture would prove an additional challenge. Current umpires benefit from an aura… Read more »
Jim
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Jim

Carl says that pre-1947 records are being adjusted downward.  How can that be, they’re based on facts, you can look it up.  Maybe someone at THT should write a story about this.

All I heard during the National League playoffs was how Carlos Beltran was better than Babe Ruth, maybe that is what Carl is referring to.  Except Ruth never got a chance to play against the losers bracket.  When Beltran did finally get into the World Series he didn’t show much.  Long live the Babe!

james wilson
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james wilson

0,0,0,0, and indifferent. Female umpires couldn’t be any worse.

If in fact a female GM is ever appointed that is a good sign that no matter how bad things are for a team they are about to get worse. By all means though let us see incompetent organizations replace their incompetent executives with incompetent women. I look forward to it.

Go Nats
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Go Nats
I think the right female player would be able to get a much higher on base percentage than most male players.  She would have to be as fast as a typical male baller, jump well to make up for less height on defense, and be less than average height to help with balls and strikes.  Woman are usually more patient and see fine details faster and better than men.  So a better strike zone judgement than men is very possible for a woman.  Men will usually hit the ball harder, but I think a rare woman could over come the… Read more »
srsly?
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srsly?
@Go Nats: The physical differences between men and women are vast. In track and field it is 10% for the world records between men and women; both in sprints and distance. In sports, especially at a high level, that is a sea of ability that a woman would have to traverse to reach an MLB stadium. Look at it this way, good HS sprinters are faster than the fastest woman EVER. And that is lower body; the difference in upper body strength between mean and women is even greater. Ever see women throwing 90MPH? How about 60MPH? The physical and… Read more »
TXRugger
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TXRugger
To the knuckle draggers, particularly srsly? who questions “Have you ever seen a woman throw 60mph?”, I have a 13 year old daughter in eighth grade who has only played baseball since she was five. She throws a 72-73 mph fastball, mid 60s curve, and a low fifties circle change. In between those pitches, she throws a splitter and a cut fastball. Her control and speed are that of what is expected of a freshman at the end of their first high school season. While I understand your egos are fragile, pitcher is a highly likely position for women to… Read more »
bucdaddy
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bucdaddy

Is there anything in the MLB rules that says a pitcher can’t wing it in underhanded, softball style? I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that a good size, strength-trained girl could generate some speed with a baseball throwing that way, with some movement, and adjust to the 60-6 distance. It would be a project, though, and would require the usual dedication to get through high school, college and the minors, of course.

Also, I’m old enough to have learned never to assign 0.0% probability to anything.

bucdaddy
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bucdaddy
“The reality is, the manager has to relate to players—kick their butts, sympathize with them, and spend more than half the year with them day in and day out. There is bound to be push-back from some players—not to mention their wives and girlfriends—were a woman to be barking orders in the dugout and walking around the clubhouse before and after a game.” While I agree about the likelihood of a woman manager in the next 30 years, this doesn’t seem to be an issue for the men who coach women’s college softball and basketball and crew, etc. It’s no… Read more »
Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

@bucdaddy – There’s a pretty obvious double standard regarding men coaching women.  I’m sure a woman could do the job at the MLB level, but I don’t know if any team will take the chance any time soon.

And with the number of crotchety, old-school reporters covering MLB, I doubt it would be a story that would die down in a couple of weeks.  And losing streak would be cause to question a woman’s place in the dugout.

Gyre
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Gyre
Unless the rules are changed, it’s 0.0% for being on the field.  Only the GM position is possible, but Ng’s been passed over a few times and probably just came along on Torre’s coattails to higher office, otherwise she’d be out by now with the new ownership in Dodgertown. I favor a lefty woman on the mound following the likes of Fernando Valenzuela, perhaps with some Nomo hide-the-ball movement.  The problem is finding a way to train such talent, there is a big dead end for most women in sports once college is over, the rules currently block women from… Read more »
jamzw@cox.net
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jamzw@cox.net
Professional hardball is a very serious, intimidating game. No one who has been around it will tell you that a single woman will ever exist who will be able to play with men. And about the time some female knuckleballer gets hit on the noggin with a screaming comebacker there is going to be a very different ending then we are accustomed to. Look at any competitive women’s softball team. Knee braces everywhere. A woman’s skeletal structure is not hung well for this type of physical activity going seven months a year; it’s hung for dropping babies.  And yes, bat… Read more »
Paul G.
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Paul G.
It is doubtful there will be a female manager on the major league level until there is a female player with a major league career or, at least, a decent minor league career.  Managers are generally selected from players and for good reason.  Throwing the uninitiated into the managerial role is not usually a good move for many reasons. Since the GM and umpire jobs do not require playing experience, though it does help, those are much more likely to open to women sooner.  And while a large umpire does have his intimidation advantages, the right woman could hold her… Read more »
SeattleSlew
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SeattleSlew

I have a better question. When are we going to see a male cheerleader coach in the NFL who is free to be in the cheerleaders’ locker room? 

Man and women are not the same and will never be.

pat cochran
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pat cochran

Interesting article about the “women”.  Good job.

Ryan
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Ryan
Wow. So many ridiculously sexist comments above.  Let me highlight my favorites. “Are there rules that pitchers can’t wing it in underhand?” “Men and women are not the same and will never be” “…if you want someone who can’t hit it out of the infield…” “If a femape GM is ever appointed it is a sign that things are about to get worse.” And the best (worst?): “women are hung for dropping babies.” Do you guys (I assume you are guys) even know any women in real life?  If you do, I dare you to show them these comments you… Read more »
aladou
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aladou

95, 0, 0, 0, 20

Ryan is not smart
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Ryan is not smart

You really don’t think that there are clear physical differences between men and women? Have a good HS basketball team play a WNBA team. See what happens.

Grab an all state varsity HS male athlete and pit him against a D1 female athlete in the same sport. Major ownage.

Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

I appreciate the well-thought-out comments that have been made, and I’m disappointed in the disparaging comments some have made.  Having an opinion on whether a woman could make it in MLB is one thing, “supporting” that opinion with sexist remarks is totally unnecessary.  Let’s try to keep the dialogue at a respectful level.

Paul G.
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Paul G.
@Ryan: The underhand question is a good one.  And, yes, it is legal to pitch underhand, like a fast pitch softball pitcher.  In the 1990s there was a professional all-women team called the Colorado Silver Bullets and at least one of their pitchers threw that way.  The TV announcers made it very clear that it was odd but legal.  It’s not the exact same motion as softball, but it is similar. More to the general point, that team was very instructive on this topic.  The Silver Bullets were not particularly good.  In their four years of existence under the tutelage… Read more »
hopbitters
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hopbitters
Until women are allowed to compete with men at all levels, I don’t think even the “outlier” women who may have the raw talent and physical attributes to compete will be able to gain the experience necessary for position play at the major league level. It’s a little tougher to predict with pitchers, but I think Greg’s estimate is as good as any I could come up with. As Paul G and others have said, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a female manager until there are at least some female players. It would be interesting to see if women could… Read more »
jamzw@cox.net
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jamzw@cox.net
Maintaining a respectful dialogue against a position which is completely undeserving of it implies that the position is in some sense respectable. It’s not. Without the use of ridicule it is impossible to make headway against the accumulated opinions of those who consider themselves morally superior to others.  A sexist is a person who believes that women exist, in spite of the most obvious evidence, who can compete with men in sport. They cannot even complete at the highest level of those sports which require no strength. Billiards, table tennis. The chances of a woman appearing in a major league… Read more »
Tony Stark
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Tony Stark

It isn’t sexist to call a spade a spade. Can women beat me in tennis? Yes, I suck at tennis. Can Serena Williams beat the D1 champion in college? HECK NO. She actually isn’t that big, she is 5’9” and 150-155 pounds, very small for a male tennis player.

I would love for women to be dropping 95MPH fastballs with movement, stealing 40 bases out of 45 attempts in the bigs, or going from home to first in 3.6 seconds. Or run 100 meters in sub 10. Not going to happen. Even with copious amounts of anabolic steroids or EPO.

Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

It’s sexist to use phrases like, “A woman’s skeletal structure is … hung for dropping babies.”  Sure, women give birth and men don’t, but the implication is that’s all women are useful for.

Personally, I think a WNBA team would destroy a good HS boys basketball team.  You’re talking two steps up from HS to the pros.  I don’t know how Serena Williams would do against a D1 champ, but I think I’d put my money on her.

And I might be completely wrong, but I’m not going to use disparaging remarks to get my point across.

SanDane
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SanDane
When the WNBA was formed I thought it was great that women’s professional leagues were starting to emerge with the hopeful evolution to eventually play along side with men.  Then I found out their basketball was smaller to accommodate their physique.  I am sure there will be a determined woman to come along that will be physically able to play someday but the majority of women is what many of the previous commenter’s said: physically they can’t match a man. To give a proper contrast about physical abilities vs. capabilities: the Japanese professional baseball league plays with a smaller sized… Read more »
james wilson
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james wilson
It is not sexist to say that a woman’s skeletal structure is hung to drop babies. It had better be. Only a mind sterilized by political correctness would think that it is not. Geeks, not to be confused with nerds, have added a great deal to the understanding of baseball through sabermetrics, destroying commonly held traditionalist perceptions and adding completely new observations. Nerds are suck-ups who ignore data and common sense to orbit progressive orthodoxy. Fact is, not a few women have been banned from Olympic sports once DNA test were required. But progressives and their nerd orbiters didn’t even… Read more »
Paul G.
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Paul G.
Uh, Serena Williams has played against a man: Karsten Braasch in 1998.  After the Williams sisters bragged that they could beat any man outside the top 200, Serena and Venus were both stomped by #203, losing 6-1 and 6-2 in one set exhibition matches.  Karsten was described by one reporter as “a man whose training regime centred around a pack of cigarettes and more than a couple bottles of ice cold lager.”  He left out the part of playing a round of golf before the matches.  Karsten also claims that he took it easy on them and that anyone in… Read more »
Tony Stark
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Tony Stark
Good HS athletes are better than the best woman ever in that discipline. Check out objective sports like running or swimming. The world’s best 15 year old male is equivalent, in track, to the best woman ever. Look up the numbers. I’m NOT saying that women are less mentally strong. Far from it. But good luck overcoming a 10% gap between men and women. 10% is BIG. The fastest woman in HISTORY was Flojo and her best 100m time was 10.49. On our, admittedly good, HS team our top guy was 10.5 and was one of the fastest cats in… Read more »
Tony Stark
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Tony Stark

@Greg simons:

I didn’t make those comments.

You probably don’t know much about tennis or basketball. I do.

Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

If not sexist, how about denigrating?

As I said in the article, I think it’s highly unlikely a woman will play major league ball in the next 30 years.  What I didn’t do is belittle their athletic abilities or call them incompetent.

Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

@Tony Stark – I didn’t say you made those comments.  I was addressing multiple previous comments at one time.

Glad you assume what knowledge I do or don’t have.  I suppose I should defer to your expertise, but since Serena Williams hasn’t played against men, it’s all speculation, and our opinions on what would happen differ significantly.

Jimmy Miller
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Jimmy Miller
Very late to this party… sorry. But I think what several people are overlooking is that baseball is not a contact sport. And the basis of success of the sport is not based on physical power and bulk. Unlike sports like football and basketball, where I would concede that men generally (but not exclusively) have a biological advantage. But very much like sports like golf or volleyball that are more games of skill and precision. When you combine pure power with skill and precision… you get Miguel Cabrera. Or Mike Trout. But guess what you don’t get? Most of the… Read more »
Dave
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Dave

But the evidence is that even in sports like golf, which depend less on pure athleticism and strength, the best women are not competitive with the best men. The best women golfers in the world – who certainly are far better than the overwhelming majority of male weekend players – haven’t even been able make the cut when playing against PGA players, much less contend.

http://golftips.golfsmith.com/lpga-women-played-pga-tour-20647.html

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