On Baseball’s Batgirls

On June 28, baseball media swarmed to the story of Gwen Goldman, a 70-year-old New York Yankees fan who after 60 years was finally granted a wish she’d made as a 10-year-old. In 1961, Goldman wrote to then Yankees general manager Roy Hamey asking for an opportunity to be a Yankees batgirl.

The response she received from Hamey was rife with the kind of sexism one might expect from a missive penned in 1961. “While we agree with you that girls are certainly as capable as boys, and no doubt would make an attractive addition to the playing field, I am sure you can understand that in a game dominated by men a young lady such as yourself would feel out of place in a dugout.”

While it’s hard to overlook that Hamey thought it appropriate to tell a 10-year-old that adding women to baseball would be “an attractive addition,” it’s clear that he was also dismissing any arguments Gwen might have made in favor of her merit in her original appeal, which unfortunately has not been recovered. Baseball, and especially the Yankees, were clearly important enough to Gwen to risk applying for the job, and thankfully her rejection was not enough to dampen her enthusiasm for the game.

In his invitation to Goldman, current Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, “Here at the Yankees, we have championed to break down gender barriers in our industry. It is an ongoing commitment rooted in the belief that a woman belongs everywhere a man does, including the dugout.”

He spoke of his own daughter and his hopes that she could follow her aspirations. Cashman, it’s worth noting, recruited a then 29-year-old Kim Ng to the position of assistant general manager for the Yankees back in 1998, and clearly believes that women have a place in baseball. It’s just sad that it took 60 years for Gwen to get to live out her dream.

In the wake of Goldman’s story making the rounds, other women shared similar experiences — some more recent than 1961 — of being rejected for batgirl roles with major league clubs because of their gender. Jennifer Cosey, a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, was quick to post her own big-league rejection letter, this one received in 1985:

This letter didn’t even bother with platitudes, simply informing Cosey “the stadium does not plan to employ females as bat boys.” Cosey, then 14, wrote to the Tigers prior to the 1985 season and didn’t receive a response until late July. When she still remembers how it felt when the rejection came. “I was literally enraged,” she told me. “I wrote a scathing missive back, stating how I could do just as good a job as any boy, how wrong it was to discriminate.”

At that point she’d been following the team for about two years, through the generational magic of the 1984 World Series win, and wanted to be a part of what was happening in Detroit. “I had attended my first game in 1983 and fallen in love with baseball. It was a harebrained scheme, because I lived in [Michigan’s Upper Penninsula]. My plan was to live with my grandparents in Livonia for the summer and make them drive me to the stadium every day.”

Since Goldman’s original letter was not available, I wanted to know if Cosey remembers how she pitched herself to the Tigers when asking for the job. She didn’t recall the exact details, but said, “I probably ran on effusively about Kirk Gibson and Ernie Harwell, for a start.”

Still, in spite of her lofty plan and the sting of the rejection, Cosey remained a dedicated Tigers fan, just as Goldman did with the Yankees. “Even though I was really upset, it did not dampen my fandom. I was already too deep in love. You know how it is. ‘It breaks your heart, this game.’ But we never stop loving.”

After Cosey shared her letter, the Tigers tweeted that they would be in touch, so perhaps her long-held batgirl dreams will also come true.

Goldman’s rejection came in 1961. Cosey’s came in 1985, almost 20 years later and with little progress towards including girls in one of the only baseball jobs available to young people. Today some clubs, such as the Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies, employ ball girls to field foul balls during games, but those responsibilities obviously occur away from the dugout. When, then, did MLB actually allow a girl to take on the role of batgirl? It took much longer than one might expect, and is a remarkable story accentuated by tragedy.

During the San Francisco Giants’ 2000 season, Corey Busch, a former executive with the team, asked Dusty Baker if Busch’s daughter Alexis could be a batgirl for her 15th birthday. Baker agreed to Alexis serving as a one-time batgirl, but when the team won the game, she was invited back. She ended up being a Giants batgirl for both the 2000 and 2001 seasons, the first woman to hold a batgirl position.

Contrary to Roy Hamey’s assumption that a girl would be out of place in a baseball dugout, Alexis quickly became a club favorite and was especially well-liked by Giants slugger Barry Bonds. In the 2001 season, Bonds asked if Alexis wanted anything specific for her 16th birthday. She had one request: “I really want you to wear your pants like a baseball player, up around the knee.”

High socks weren’t in cards, but at least she tried. She was close with Bonds, enough that he remembered her as a surrogate little sister to the team, and when he hit his 500th home run, Alexis was the only person there to greet him at home plate. It’s a small moment that is largely overlooked in the larger picture of his historic achievement, but as Bonds’s teammates remained seated in the dugout, it was a 15-year-old girl who gave him a fist bump as he touched home.

Sadly, Alexis’ story had a tragic ending. On April 14, 2012, she was one of five crew members aboard the “Low Speed Chase” who were swept overboard while participating in a yacht race near the Farallon Islands. Alexis and the others represent the only casualties of the Full Crew Farallones Race since it began in 1907. The Giants have since remembered Alexis and her legacy with a plaque in the dugout that reads “Forever Giant.”

It was a heartbreaking conclusion to the story of the first girl to take on the batgirl mantle. It also feels remarkable that it took until 2000 for a woman to hold that position for a major league club. Twenty-one years later, some clubs still have not had a young woman in the role. The first batgirl for the Cincinnati Reds, for example, was 60-year-old Laura Fay, who was a part of the Honorary Bat Girl initiative, which honors those fighting breast cancer and breast cancer survivors.

Part of this could simply be connection-related. Some teams post their positions, but sometimes there isn’t an official channel for youth to become a team’s batboy or batgirl. They can connect with the team directly, like Gwen and Jennifer did, but more often it seems to be about having someone on the inside who can make the initial ask to get the job, as Alexis did with her father. This obviously limits who has access to these kinds of roles.

For girls like Gwen and Jennifer, the sexism of the era and an unwillingness to see them as being as capable as their male counterparts proved to be an easy way to reject those interested in the role. Now, the Honorary Bat Girl initiative, while lovely, may close off the opportunity for young women looking to take on the job over the course of a season.

As heartwarming as it is, the story of Gwen Goldman shows that baseball still has a long way to go in making these opportunities more widely available, not just for girls, but to those who might not have someone on the inside to grease the wheels on their behalf. The availability of batboy and girl roles must be made more equitable before we hear another story of someone who waited 60 years for their chance to shag balls in the outfield and hand a slugger his bat.

Ashley has spent the last several years writing for various SB Nation sites, including Bless You Boys, DRaysBay, and Bleed Cubbie Blue. Her bylines have appeared here at Fangraphs; Hardball Times; BPro Short Relief and more. She hosts a baseball YouTube channel called 90 Feet From Home, and co-hosts the baseball podcast Who's On Worst.

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2 years ago

Well, this made me cry, thanks a lot. I’m looking forward to a better world, as painful as it is to build one.

J. T.
2 years ago
Reply to  Josh

No clue what you’re referring to….our world has never been as great as it is today.

2 years ago
Reply to  J. T.

Ah yes, because as we all know, things that are better than they have been in the past cannot improve. This is why at the end of every season Mike Trout announces “I am not going to keep working hard, because look how good I am already.”