Saturday, May 29, 2004


I was watching This Week in Baseball today before the first place Red Sox took on the last place Mariners (well done, Bavasi!), and the show featured softball "star" Jennie Finch chatting up "host" Barry Bonds. (To my eyes Finch was the host and Bonds the guest… but whatever.)

After covering the "human interest" angle of the reclusive SF slugger (Bonds was on best behaviour--obviously--very relaxed and forthcoming), Finch stepped into the batting cage, and got some pointers from Superman.

Barry's advice was outstanding--logical, direct, and free of mumble-jumble--and assuming he's as patient a man with less talented proteges, he's going to be a brilliant hitting coach should he decide to go that route.

At one point Finch drove a ball to the opposite field, leaving Bonds to joke, "You could hit for our team!"

The joke, of course, is that it isn't a joke--and no doubt Barry knows it. The Giants' offense around Bonds sucks.

So why isn't Finch playing for the Giants? Or some other club?

Blonde, slim, and very pretty, it's no secret why some network executive thought Finch might make a good impression on TV as a correspondent.

But Finch is a pitcher, and let's ignore the thornier issue of whether a woman can pitch in the majors (for now). And let's (try) to ignore the fact that 90% of male fans would agree that Finch would look a lot better on the cover of Sports Illustrated than Roger Clemens.

We're not selling jeans here.

Instead, let me put it this way: if 5'7", 165lbs David Eckstein is an everyday major league player, a career .278/.348/.356 hitter who one-hops his throws to first from short, why isn't there a woman playing major league baseball? Hell, why isn't there a woman playing minor league baseball? Because I have to believe the best female baseball player is better than David Eckstein.

It's no secret that baseball requires the least raw athleticism of all the major sports. Unlike hockey, basketball, and football, in baseball taller, bigger, stronger players hold no innate advantage over their smaller brethren if they don't have one simple skill: the ability to hit a baseball.

There's a lot of talk in some circles that the next Jackie Robinson will be the first openly gay baseball player. While I look forward to that day, I'm tempted to agree with conservatives who say that player won't be the next Jackie Robinson. Not because I don't think it'll be an important step to take as a society, but from a purely baseball perspective. It's not as if major league baseball has been ignoring gay players, and with a breakthrough suddenly the Jays will start scouting (cruising?) the corner of Church and Wellesley. There are already gay players in major league baseball. We just don't know who they are (for sure).

But the first professional female baseball player has the potential to be impact the game itself. I don't know if she can have as explosive an effect as Jackie Robinson. Maybe evoking Jackie's name isn't fair to either of them. Maybe no woman can play at an All-Star level. Maybe few women could be regulars, or be little more than utility fielders. But didn't we say the same thing about Japenese players once? Hell, Ichiro! is 5'9" and 172 lbs. You don't think there's a woman with comparable skill sets (decent power and patience, great defense, great speed, great ability to make contact) out there? Why not sign a few to minor league contracts and see what they can do?

As General Managers continue to scrounge the world for new sources of talent, 50% of it could be right under their noses. I guess the real question isn't who will be the next Jackie Robinson, but who will be the next Branch Rickey?

UPDATE: Inspired by Niles' comments, I found this piece on women in baseball called Girls of Summer at the excellent Science of Baseball website. It's a quick read, but well worth it.

I wasn't surprised to learn that minor league baseball went as far as banning women in the 50s after the AA Harrisburg Senators signed a 24-year old shortstop named Eleanor Engle, but shocked to realise that the ban was still in effect.

Also new to me was the info that three women, Toni Stone, Connie Morgan, and Mamie "Peanuts" Johnson, played in the otherwise all-male Negros Leagues. Considering that historians consider the level of competition in the league to have been quite high, it'd be interesting to look at their stats if they're available.

And I had forgotten about the Colorado Silver Bullets, the first professional female fastball team since the demise of the All-American Girls Baseball League, aka the A League of Their Own league, in the mid-90s. According to the Silver Bullets' former CF, Kim Braatz-Voisard, the biggest hurdle was simply adjusting to hitting the overhand pitch after years in softball. Considering that the team finished 23-22 in its final year before Coors pulled the plug, I don't see any reason why David Eckstein shouldn't be quaking in his boots.

The real first step seems to give girls and young women the opportunity to play baseball and not merely shuffle them off to softball.


I'm thoroughly outraged by Mondesi's decision to come back to baseball a mere couple weeks after leaving the Pirates because of "family problems".

It was one thing when we thought Mondesi's personal problems were getting in the way of baseball. I could respect that. But making up an excuse (or certainly exaggerating the severity of the problem) to get out of a contract, and then signing with a "contender" three weeks later not only debases the good-faith of his former contract but debases the sport. (Think fans were cynical about greedy ballplayers beforehand?)

No parent would put up with this kind of behaviour from a child.

Why are we putting up with it as baseball fans?

I guess the joke is on the Angels if they think they're getting anything more than an average ballplayer. It didn't take long for both the Blue Jays and Yankees to tire of him. And even disregarding his attitude problems, he's basically just an older version of Jose Guillen. That's pretty useful when he's 28, but much less so seven years later. And playing CF? Yeah, that should be good for a laugh.

This is one of those stories that brings home A) the lack of a real, independent baseball Commissioner who would intervene and prevent Mondesi from playing with any club other than the Pirates until the end of the year is glaring, and B) how much Doug Pappas is missed.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention this earlier, but Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts explains why this sets a horrible precedent (although the political climate is such that an invasion is less unlikely than you'd think).

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