The Next Market Inefficiencies: Women In Baseball

Consider Alex Remington’s excellent pieces on Kim Ng and Justine Siegal and Marisa Ingemi and Kate Sargeant my preamble.

On April 2, 1931, a 17-year-old girl struck out two of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Jackie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig swinging and then walked Tony Lazzeri. Shortly thereafter, baseball’s then-commissioner and all-around inflexible gentleman, Kenesaw Landis, disallowed Mitchell’s contract, ending her tenure with the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts.

By all accounts, Mitchell threw one pitch throughout her career — a “dropball” or sinker, reportedly taught to her by Hall-of-Famer Dazzy Vance. Despite her incredibly young age, she located the pitch effectively and worked as a middle-reliever during her career (which included chiefly independent league and barnstorming appearances following her departure from MiLB).

Babe Ruth, physiologist extraordinaire, remarked after the game:

I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.


In all fairness, Ruth didn’t have the advantage of watching Venus Williams play tennis. If I were to approach Ms. Williams and suggest she lacked the endurance to consistently play professional sports, I’m fairly sure she could — and would — slice me into little cubes with her tennis racket.

I am here to posit an addition to Remington’s theses: Women should not only be allowed to participate in baseball, they should be encouraged to do so.

Allow me to anticipate some of the obvious and historical protests: Yes, men and women do indeed have different physiologies. I don’t forecast a female Randy Johnson anytime soon. I also don’t expect a male Randy Johnson anytime soon, either. High-heat lefties with long careers come only every couple of decades. Still, very few men, much less women, are capable of throwing destructive, mitt-melting fastballs. At the same time, though, Major League Baseball has its fair portion with successful, soft-tossing pitchers and shorter, less-muscle-bound fielders.

Consider J.P. Howell, the Tampa Bay Rays reliever who throws a Bugs Bunny fastball at 85 mph. That’s a great speed for my semi-pro league, but in the majors, we should anticipate he — and Jamie Moyer (81 mph) — would have short, laughable and unpleasant careers.

Yes, as any good high school coach will tell you: Pitching is not about speed, it’s about location and movement. Consider Eri Yoshida:

Eri’s time with the Chico Outlaws didn’t last long. In the Arizona Summer League leading up to her contract with the Outlaws, Ms. Yoshida pitched 16.1 innings of 3.62 FIP baseball. But when the season began, she became a walk machine and allowed 21 walks in eight starts. The results were a less-than-impressive 7.37 FIP.

So how does an 18-year-old, independent league BB-bot help women get into baseball? Well, first of all, let us put Yoshida in proper context:

1. She was nine years younger than the league.

2. She started only eight games.

3. The Golden Baseball League (now the North American League) is one of the top tiers of independent baseball.

More importantly, Yoshida gives us an excellent picture of baseball’s future: She didn’t set out to imitate Randy Johnson. Instead, she took lessons (literally) from Tim Wakefield. She developed a knuckleball and a sidearm delivery. Her 5-foot-one frame necessitated creativity; it didn’t disallow her to participate.

Eri is not the first woman to play baseball, nor is she the only woman playing right now. She is, though, the greatest middle finger in the face of Ruth’s misogynist assumptions. (Perhaps The Babe thought women couldn’t ingest enough beer and hot dogs to succeed?)

As I noted in previous parts of this series, the average MLB team is happy — nay, eager! — to find a 2 WAR player. Teams employ hundreds of minor leaguers with the hope that a few of them will become a Michael Cuddyer or a Jhonny Peralta. I am fairly certain the female Luis Castillo or Paul Maholm is already playing softball.

Women in baseball will be among the next great inefficiencies. Why? Because the first wave of female athletes to make it to the majors will be taken in the later rounds of the draft. And that’s exactly the reason why women haven’t gotten a chance at the big-league level — yet: Too few men take them seriously.

***

(For those interested, Eri Yoshida recently signed with the Na Koa Ikaika Maui, Chico’s divisional rivals. She will be making her first start for them this Saturday, I think.)





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Clarity
11 years ago

NOPE

Sensual Sharting
11 years ago
Reply to  Clarity

Fuck yea!

Ted
11 years ago

Serena Williams got destroyed by a male player ranked over 300, and the guy said he went easy on her…

Just sayin’

Neil S
11 years ago

Serena plays a power game, though, which probably wouldn’t translate to the men’s game. A female player whose game is premised on finesse or guile would probably make more sense to try taking on the men. (Let’s not forget that Billie Jean King beat Bobbie Riggs, too.)

Wade8813
11 years ago

Serena is currently ranked 175 http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/07/07/2302862/navratilova-dont-count-out-serena.html.

Which can indicate a lot of things – rankings are often dubious at best, all sorts of temporary factors can affect rankings, Serena wasn’t ranked #1 even before her rankings plunged,etc. Besides, just like with any sport, there’s a lot of variability. How big is the sample size of Serena VS that other guy?

* * *

We all know that from time to time players crop up that completely dominate their peers – the Babe Ruths, Michael Jordans, etc. I find it hard to believe that a woman who is Babe Ruth when compared to other women wouldn’t even be good enough to make an MLB roster.

TF
11 years ago

Rigby was like 60 and Billie Jean King was the best women’s tennis player in the world.

west
11 years ago
Reply to  Clarity

Agreed, but saying that makes me a bad guy and not a realist.

west
11 years ago
Reply to  west

I will leave open the possiblity there could be a knuckleballer, but even then it is highly unlikely.

kick me in the GO NATS
11 years ago
Reply to  Clarity

I saw a HS age girl throw an overhand pitch clocked at 91-92 mph multiple times on a radar gun to win the female part of a pitching contest at Shea stadium in the early 80s. She was fairly tall over 6 foot.

Now imagine that same girl if she had actually played baseball during HS at a competitive level (I am assuming she didn’t), then went to rookie ball. With all that good coaching then I could see her possibly developing into a quality MLB pitcher.

Ivdown
11 years ago

There are scores of males who throw 91-92 that don’t pan out, so one woman actually making the majors and being successful is such a low possibility.

RC
11 years ago

“I saw a HS age girl throw an overhand pitch clocked at 91-92 mph multiple times on a radar gun to win the female part of a pitching contest at Shea stadium in the early 80s. She was fairly tall over 6 foot.”

And how many guys in the US can do that? 5 Million?

Thats the whole point here, yes, there are a handful of women who would have the physical attributes to do it, but there are millions of men who do.

Large Numbers
11 years ago

But the main point is, there are millions of women playing sports in the US, and if even only a small percentage of those women were directed toward baseball, we’re still talking about big numbers. The chance that person A makes the majors is slim. The chance that ONE OF a million people makes the majors is high.

With overwhelming population numbers, the chance that one is freakishly different enough (in a good way) to make it goes up significantly.