The Yankees were late on introducing an African-American player to their roster, adding Hall of Famer Elston Howard to the team in 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson starred for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Yankees seem determined not to repeat that bad history. Last week, they announced that Rachel Balkovec will become the first woman to manage a team in minor league baseball when she takes the helm of the Tampa Tarpons this spring.
It has been just over ten years since Justin Siegal threw batting practice to the Cleveland Guardians and five since she was the first woman to coach a MLB squad with the Oakland Athletics. Two years ago, Kim Ng became the first female General Manager of any of the four major professional sports when the Marlins hired her to run their team. In the two years since then, the dam has burst. Women have been hired to important on-field positions with professional baseball at an impressive clip. As baseball has lagged behind other professional sports in bringing women into the game, the current pace of hires indicates that baseball’s embrace of analytics and objective measures have finally penetrated the walls of one of the most enduring old boys clubs in the U.S. and given talented women opportunities they have long been denied.
Ten women will be coaching with major or minor league teams in 2022. In 2021, Bianca Smith became the first African-American woman to coach in the minors when the Red Sox hired her. Alyssa Nakken became the first woman in uniform during a Major League Baseball game when she coached first base for the Giants in a July 2020 exhibition against the Oakland A’s. Her jersey now belongs to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Cuban-American Veronica Alvarez is not only the coach of the U.S. Women’s National Baseball team, she also served as a spring training coach for the Oakland A’s.
The proliferation of women in baseball is not an accident. More girls than ever are playing baseball. Here, in the DC area, 160 girls participated with D.C. Girls Baseball in 2021. Baseball for All, an organization that supports and promotes girls in baseball, held a tournament last summer that drew nearly 600 girls who play baseball. There are more women than ever on collegiate baseball rosters. Major League Baseball has also devoted significant resources to girls and women in baseball, running several development camps for girls in baseball. Six of the women now coaching professional baseball participated in MLB’s Take the Field initiative, which is designed to help place women into baseball positions. To top it all off, the classic film about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, A League of Their Own, is getting a reboot on Amazon Prime this year.
The pace of hiring is exhilarating. Unfortunately, every report of a woman being hired is followed by predictable hateful commentary on social media. Many cannot imagine that a woman may be hired for a baseball position on merit and resort to making sexist and derogatory comments. As women in baseball, the coaches are used to that vitriol and have developed thick skin and sophisticated defense mechanisms. However, also reading are thousands of girls who are inspired by the achievements of these women and they are, sadly, learning that to achieve in baseball means enduring the sexist taunts, gross come-ons, and hurtful comments.
Baseball has a long way to go. Other leagues have women officiating games, so it should be reasonable to expect that baseball will have women umpires in the near future. The possibility of women playing professional baseball is tantalizingly close as 17 year old Genevieve Beacom made history last week as the first women to play Australian professional baseball, when she threw a scoreless inning against the Adelaide Giants.
We are watching a revolution in baseball unfold before our eyes.