Women in baseball

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Women playing baseball at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1928.

Women have a long history in American baseball and many women's teams have existed over the years. Baseball was played at women's colleges in New York and New England as early as the mid-nineteenth century;[1] teams were formed at Vassar College, Smith College, Wellesley College, and Mount Holyoke College.[2] An African American women's team, the Philadelphia Dolly Vardens, was formed in 1867.[3]

A number of women's barnstorming teams have existed,[4] and women have played alongside major league players in exhibition games. On April 2, 1931, 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell (originally known as "Virne Beatrice Mitchell Gilbert") of the Chattanooga Lookouts struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game. Commissioner of Baseball Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract as a result.[5]

In 1946, former player Edith Houghton became the first woman to work as an independent scout in Major League Baseball when she was hired by the Philadelphia Phillies of the National League.[6] In 1989, NBC's Gayle Gardner became the first woman to regularly host Major League Baseball games for a major television network. In 2015, Jessica Mendoza was the first female analyst for a Major League Baseball game in the history of ESPN, Margaret Donahue was the first female front office executive in Major League Baseball who was not an owner.

Early history[edit]

There is some evidence that women were playing base ball (as it was then called) as far back as the 1860s,[7] but it was not normal for young ladies to play what was considered a man's sport. In fact, until the early 1890s, when the bicycle craze hit America, women who wanted to get some outdoor exercise were usually discouraged from doing so.[8] But in the late 1890s, there were some organized efforts to have all-female baseball teams, several of which enjoyed success. One of the most successful was the Boston Bloomer Girls baseball club; they took their name from the comfortable pants that some sports-minded young women had begun to wear instead of a long skirt. Young women who went against traditional fashion norms and chose bloomers were often called "bloomer girls".[9] While in some cities, local authorities banned women's baseball teams, including the Bloomer Girls,[10] in other cities, the club was welcomed by curious fans who had never seen female ballplayers.[11] The Bloomer Girls toured the United States in 1897; the press referred to them as the "champion women's club of the world",[12] although this may have been marketing hyperbole, given that the team often seemed inexperienced and did not play very well. One regular standout for the Bloomers was pitcher Maud Nelson, whose talents as a player were praised by reporters; but her teammates did not seem to have as much polish or skill as she did.[13] As they gained more experience, they began to play with more confidence; while still regarded as a novelty, the club often drew large crowds of appreciative fans, many of whom came to see Maud Nelson and her curve ball.[14] The Boston Bloomers were still touring and playing baseball in the early 1900s; by 1907–1908, their team also included several male players, but the majority of the team continued to be female.[15]


Although female teams like the Bloomers were always considered a novelty, by the early 1920s, there were several female players who were attracting attention at the amateur and semi-pro level and were considered talented enough to play for all-male teams. Perhaps the best known young woman playing baseball in the early 1920s was Rhode Island's Lizzie Murphy. A first baseman, she played for the Providence (RI) Independents, and was praised by newspaper reporters for her fielding skills. Sportswriters said she was every bit as talented as a male player, and noted that she was paid $300 a week, more than many minor league players of the 1920s received.[16] Murphy, who had begun playing baseball when she was only ten, had dreams of becoming a major league player, but she was not able to achieve that goal.[17] She was, however, able to have a long career in the semi-pro leagues, leading a touring team that played all over the eastern United States. According to newspaper accounts, she developed a loyal following, with numerous fans who came out to watch her and her team play.[18] Lizzie Murphy's baseball career lasted from 1918 to 1935, and included one charity exhibition game in which she was part of a team of all-stars who played against the Boston Red Sox.[19] While Murphy was perhaps the best-known woman playing for an all-male team in the 1920s, there was at least one other woman athlete whose abilities included playing baseball. Philadelphia's Betty Schenkel not only played baseball with the boys during high school, but she was said to be adept in other sports, including basketball, soccer, and cycling.[20]

World War II[edit]

During World War II, over 500 baseball players, including super-stars like Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio, were drafted.[21] This left major league rosters depleted and severely diminished the level of talent in the league. The owner of the Chicago Cubs, Philip K. Wrigley formed a committee to come up with ideas to keep baseball financially afloat during the war. The result of that committee was the organization of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which operated from 1943 to 1954. At the height of its popularity, it had teams in twelve cities.[22] One of the most successful of the teams in the league was the Rockford (IL) Peaches, which won four championships. The Peaches, and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, were commemorated in a 1992 movie, A League of Their Own, starring Geena Davis.[23]


Ila Borders pitched professionally from 1997 to 2000. As a female pitcher in men's leagues, Borders achieved numerous baseball milestones at the college and professional levels, including being the first female pitcher to start a men's professional baseball game. In four seasons from 1997 to 2000, she appeared in 52 games and posted a record of 2–4 and 6.75 earned run average while recording 36 strikeouts.

In 2008, Eri Yoshida, at 16 years old, became Japan's first professional female baseball player to play in a men's league by signing a professional contract with a new Japanese independent league. In April 2010, she signed a contract with the Chico Outlaws, becoming the first woman to play professionally in two countries. In 2009, Justine Siegal became the first female coach of a men's professional baseball team.[24] In 2011, she was the first woman to throw batting practice to an MLB team, the Cleveland Indians at spring training.[25] She also threw BP to the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, and New York Mets.[26][27][28][29] In 2015, Justine Siegal became the Oakland Athletics guest instructor for their Instructional League Club, thus making her the first female coach in major league baseball history.[30] For one day in May 2016, Jennie Finch was a guest manager for the Atlantic League's Bridgeport Bluefish, thus becoming the first woman to manage a professional baseball team.[31] The team played and won one game that day.[31]

In 2008, Mamie "Peanut" Johnson was drafted (at age 72) by the Washington Nationals in a special Negro leagues honorary draft that preceded 2008 Major League Baseball draft, marking the first time a woman was drafted in the MLB's yearly new player draft.


In 1989, NBC's Gayle Gardner became the first woman to regularly host Major League Baseball games for a major television network. In 1990, CBS Sports' Lesley Visser became the first woman to cover the World Series, serving as their lead field reporter. In addition to working the World Series from 1990-1993 for CBS, Visser covered the 1995 World Series for ABC Sports via The Baseball Network.

On August 3, 1993, Gayle Gardner became the first woman to do television play-by-play for a Major League Baseball game. It was the Colorado Rockies vs. Cincinnati Reds on KWGN-TV in Denver. Also in 1993, CBS' Andrea Joyce became the first woman to co-host the network television coverage of the World Series. Joyce co-hosted that particular World Series with Pat O'Brien.

In 1995, NBC's Hannah Storm not only became the first woman to serve as solo host a World Series game, but also the first woman to preside over the World Series Trophy presentation. In 2009, New York Yankees broadcaster Suzyn Waldman[32] became the first woman to work a World Series game from the broadcast booth.

On August 24, 2015, Jessica Mendoza was the first female analyst for a Major League Baseball game in the history of ESPN, during a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Arizona Diamondbacks.[33] John Kruk, Dan Shulman and Jessica Mendoza called the 2015 American League Wild Card Game on October 6, and Mendoza became the first female analyst in MLB postseason history.[34]


There is evidence that at least one woman, Amanda Clement, was umpiring semi-professional games as early as 1905.[35] "Mandy," as she was called, grew up near a ballpark in her hometown of Hudson, South Dakota, where she was introduced to baseball by her brother Henry.[36] Miss Clement began umpiring while a student at Yankton College, and gained fame nationwide for her knowledge of baseball and her accuracy in umpiring the games. She was paid between $10 and $15 per game, which helped pay her tuition.[37] She umpired games in North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota until at least 1909, and later became a physical education instructor for high school and college women's teams.[38] She still would umpire an occasional semi-pro game in South Dakota even during the 1910s.[39] There were several other woman umpires in the early 1920s: one was Mrs. Deana Ernest of Toledo, Ohio, who umpired semi-pro games in the area, and also managed a city league team there.[40] Another was Nina Belle Hurst, a resident of Sawtelle, California, who umpired in the Southern California Baseball Managers Association.[41] During World War II, there were also some women who umpired, including some the press jokingly referred to as "WUMPS" (women umpires). Among them was Lorraine Heinisch, of Kenosha WI, who umpired semi-pro games in 1943, including a championship game in Wichita, Kansas.[42] The first woman to umpire a professional game was Bernice Gera. A former Little League coach and a passionate fan of baseball, she entered umpiring school in 1967 (the first woman ever to attend the Fort Lauderdale Baseball School).[43] After a lengthy court battle with major league baseball, she finally won the right to umpire. Her first pro game was in the minor leagues in June 1972—a game between the Auburn Phillies and Geneva Rangers in the New York-Penn League, but after several disputed calls, she decided to resign and never umpired another professional game.[44]


The first woman to own a baseball team was Helene Hathaway Britton, who owned the St. Louis Cardinals National League baseball team from 1911 through 1916.[45] Margaret Donahue was the first female front office executive in Major League Baseball who was not an owner. She worked for the Chicago Cubs from 1919 to 1958 and introduced marketing concepts such as the season ticket and reduced prices for children under 12, both still used in the 2000s.[46] Since then, many women have held executive positions in business and financial areas of Major League Baseball. However, there have not been many women who have become player personnel. Though there are many women who have been hired as general managers (GMs) for Minor League affiliates, these positions are not responsible for player personnel moves. This is handled at the Major League level.

One woman who has a position in player personnel at the Major League level is Kim Ng. She first worked for the Chicago White Sox, where she successfully presented an arbitration case. After working for the American League as director of waivers and records, she was hired as Assistant GM by the New York Yankees. When she left the Yankees in 2001 for the same position with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Yankees hired another woman to replace her, Jean Afterman. Afterman still holds the same position as of July 2015. Kim Ng has since moved on to work for Major League Baseball as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations.[47][48][49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ring (2009), 33.
  2. ^ Ring (2009), 34.
  3. ^ Gems, Borish, and Pfister (2008), 145.
  4. ^ Cahn (1995), 38.
  5. ^ Ring (2009), 18.
  6. ^ Clark, Vernon (February 12, 2013). "Edith G. Houghton, 100, pro baseball's first female scout". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  7. ^ "A Female Baseball Club at Peterboro". Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1868, p. 4.
  8. ^ "Thirty Thousand Women Cyclists". New York Herald, November 20, 1892, p. 30.
  9. ^ "A Pair of Bloomer Girls in Wisconsin". New York Tribune, August 23, 1869, p. 2.
  10. ^ "Rooters Ready for Baseball to Begin". San Francisco Chronicle, October 14, 1895, p. 10.
  11. ^ "Bloomers Were Beaten". Portland Oregonian, October 4, 1897, p. 6.
  12. ^ "Bloomer Baseball Club". Seattle Daily Times, September 18, 1897, p. 8.
  13. ^ "They Hail from Boston and Can't Play Ball". San Francisco Chronicle, October 25, 1897, p. 5.
  14. ^ "Women Ball Twirlers". Fresno (CA) Weekly Republican, November 5, 1897, p. 8.
  15. ^ "Bloomer Girls Will Play at Broadway Park". Denver Daily News, July 23, 1908, p. 9.
  16. ^ "Draws Large Salary". Cincinnati Enquirer, April 29, 1923, p. 22.
  17. ^ "Sport Snap Shots". Olean (NY) Evening Herald, October 24, 1923, p. 6.
  18. ^ "Lizzie Murphy Will Play Here". North Adams (MA) Transcript, June 24, 1926, p. 15.
  19. ^ "Lizzie Murphy, 70, Former Baseball Star". Newport (RI) Daily News, July 29, 1964, p. 6.
  20. ^ "Women of Today No Longer Mollycoddles in the World Of Sports". Colorado Springs Gazette, August 27, 1922, p. 44.
  21. ^ Weintraub, Robert (2013-05-25). "Remembering the Major Leaguers Who Died in World War II". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  22. ^ "Skirting a Forgotten Era". Boston Herald, July 20, 1988, p. 94.
  23. ^ "Rockford's Baseball Past May Appear in 'Civil War' Producer's Next TV Series". Rockford (IL) Register Star, December 13, 1991, p. 29.
  24. ^ Justine Siegal (PDF), Baseball Glory
  25. ^ "Breaking down barriers, one pitch at a time", Sports, Yahoo!, 2011-02-21
  26. ^ "Baseball Video Highlights & Clips", Siegal moves onto Athletics batting practice (Video), MLB
  27. ^ Advocate for Women in Baseball Finally Gets to Be One, The New York Times, Sports, Baseball, Pitcher, 2011-02-22, retrieved 11 October 2013
  28. ^ "2011 spring training: Cleveland Indians put first woman on MLB mound — for batting practice", ESPN, Go
  29. ^ Dream Comes True For Female Pitcher, NPR, 2011-02-23
  30. ^ Lisk, Jason. "Oakland A's Hire First Female Coach in MLB History". The Big Lead. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  31. ^ a b Eisenberg, Matt (2013-07-16). "Guest manager Jennie Finch leads Bridgeport Bluefish to win". Espn.go.com. Retrieved 2016-05-31.
  32. ^ Suzyn Waldman makes history
  33. ^ "Jessica Mendoza becomes first woman to fill analyst role for MLB game on ESPN". Yahoo Sports. August 25, 2015. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  34. ^ Miller, Doug (October 6, 2015). "Mendoza makes TV history in AL Wild Card". MLB.com. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  35. ^ "Girl Will Umpire in Western League". Salt Lake City Tribune, October 1, 1905, p. 4.
  36. ^ Katie Hunhoff. "Exploring South Dakota". Platte (SD) Enterprise, July 9, 2009, p. 9.
  37. ^ "Miss Clement is Fond of Baseball". Minneapolis Journal, September 8, 1906, p. 9.
  38. ^ Bernie Barnes. "Comments on Sports". Mitchell (SD) Daily Republic, July 14, 1972, p. 8.
  39. ^ "Woman Umpire Recovering". Lincoln (NE) Daily News, January 18, 1915, p. 2.
  40. ^ "Latest in World Sport-- A Woman Umpire". Bismarck (ND) Tribune, May 6, 1922, p. 7
  41. ^ "First Female Plate Duster". Yuma (AZ) Morning Sun, May 27, 1923, p. 7.
  42. ^ "Enter the WUMPS". Newsweek, August 16, 1943, p. 99.
  43. ^ Will Grimsley. "Lady Umpire? Bernice Will Try It". Greenfield (MA) Recorder, May 10, 1967, p. 25.
  44. ^ "Woman Ump Bernice Gera Resigns After Just 1 Game". Meriden (CT) Morning Record, June 26, 1972, p. 12.
  45. ^ Joan M. Thomas. Baseball's First Lady. St Louis: Reedy Press, 2010, p. 3.
  46. ^ "Margaret Donahue | Society for American Baseball Research". sabr.org. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  47. ^ Owens, John. "Female Cubs executive left her mark on the big leagues".
  48. ^ Fluke, Cecily J. "Female Execs Step Up To The Plate".
  49. ^ Borzi, Pat. "Women GMs mean business in Minors".
  50. ^ Ring (2009), 169.


  • Cahn, Susan K (1995). Coming on strong: gender and sexuality in twentieth-century women's sport. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-14434-1.
  • Gems, Gerald; Linda Borish; Gertrud Pfister (2008). Sports in American History: From Colonization to Globalization. Human Kinetics. ISBN 0-7360-5621-1.
  • Ring, Jennifer (2009). Stolen Bases. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03282-0.

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