The Road to the Rays/Orioles All-Women Broadcast Crew by Ashley MacLennan July 16, 2021 This coming Tuesday, July 20, a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles will feature MLB’s first broadcast crew composed entirely of women. The talent running the show includes: Melanie Newman, the Orioles’ radio play-by-play announcer, and the first woman to serve in that role for the club; Sarah Langs, a writer for MLB.com, who will provide the analysis; Alanna Rizzo, formerly a member of the Dodgers’ broadcast team, who will handle on-field reporting during the game; and Heidi Watney and Lauren Gardner, established reporters for MLB Network, hosting pre- and post-game shows. MLB is not the first league to have a broadcast crew staffed entirely by women. The NBA saw its first all-woman crew take the helm in March of 2021 for a Toronto Raptors-Denver Nuggets game, featuring Meghan McPeak on play-by-play, Kia Nurse providing analysis, Kayla Grey doing sideline reporting, and Kate Beirness and Amy Audibert handling pre- and post-game reporting. The NHL, meanwhile, had its first all-female team back in 2008, when French network RDS had Claudine Douville and Daniele Sauvageau call a game between the New Jersey Devils and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then there’s the NFL, which might be the furthest ahead in terms of women-led broadcasts, with the duo of Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer working a full season together on Amazon Prime’s Thursday Night Football broadcasts. But while other sports may have done these broadcasts sooner, it’s still good to see MLB taking these steps in a more diverse and progressive direction — of women accepted and represented in more roles within baseball. We got further down that road when the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng to be the franchise’s general manager, making her the first woman to be the GM of a major league team (and the first woman to be the GM of a men’s professional franchise in any of the major North American sports). Ng is not alone in chipping away at baseball’s glass ceiling. Bianca Smith became the first Black woman to hold a coaching role with a major league club, joining the Boston Red Sox early in 2021. (On a personal note here, given my recent article about the positive nature of movies in growing fandom, I love that at the time of her hiring, Smith credited her early love of baseball to classic kids baseball movies.) She followed in the footsteps of people like Justine Siegal, who in 2015 with the A’s became the first woman to hold a coaching position for a major league club, or Alyssa Nakken, who became the first woman to serve as a full-time coach for a major league team, and the first woman to coach on field during regular play, when she joined the San Francisco Giants in 2020. But all of these firsts have come only in the span of the last six years, and Ng, Nakken, and Smith broke into their respective roles only in the last 18 months. The acceptance of women in on-field and major front office roles is recent. The road to having women participate in baseball — at least in terms of at the MLB level — has been a long, long time coming, though. There were groundbreaking women outside of MLB as well, and it would be wrong to create a list of women and not mention Effa Manley, the only woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame thanks to her incredible work as a co-owner and business manager of the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues. But if we focus instead on the history of baseball media, the women who set the tone for what we’re seeing next Tuesday include Jessica Mendoza, who in 2015 became the first woman to serve as an in-booth commentator for an MLB broadcast, as well as the first woman to work as a commentator for an MLB postseason broadcast. Her broadcaster position was made possible because of a generation of female reporters who preceded her and paved the way for women to claim and expand a space in the male-dominated baseball landscape. Melissa Ludtke might be the most prominent of those figures. A reporter for Sports Illustrated in the 1970s, she sued Major League Baseball in 1978 after she was denied access to the New York Yankees’ locker room for interviews during the 1977 World Series. Ludtke’s lawsuit claimed her 14th Amendment rights were violated because she was denied access due to her sex, which stood in the way of her right to pursue her career. Her win allowed other women the opportunity to explore careers in baseball journalism. “The biggest struggle revolved around having the same access as my male colleagues to interview athletes — if women could not get to the athletes to interview them, then editors could not rely on them to be sent out on a story in which the writer would need them to assist with reporting,” Ludtke told Ashley Oerman in 2012. “[Winning the lawsuit] increased enormously the number of young women who came into sports media — as reporters, as employees of sports teams and league offices, in agencies representing athletes and in other aspects of sports work that earlier generations of women had not been involved with, such as working as team trainers or as umpires.” Ludtke’s willingness to risk her own career laid the foundation for what we’re seeing in baseball now. Alison Gordon was one of the women who took advantage of the door Ludtke opened, becoming the first female beat reporter for a major league team when she began covering the Toronto Blue Jays in 1979. She was also the first woman to be a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, though the BBWAA viewed her as such an anomaly that the organization didn’t bother to adjust the default title on its membership card, which named her as Mr. Alison Gordon. At the same time, Claire Smith was earning plaudits for her time on the Yankees beat in the 1980s. The first Black woman to work a major league beat, she and her incredible body of work have been recognized routinely by her peers; she’s the only woman to win the BBWAA’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award for her contributions to baseball writing. Women have fought long and hard to make space for themselves at the table when it comes to baseball, and they continue to push forward with this most recent first in a primarily male space. What Newman, Langs, Rizzo, Gardner, and Watney do on Tuesday represents more than just a simple broadcast; it’s another step closer to having no more “firsts” when we talk about women in baseball. As Newman told The New York Times of the broadcast, “Having the first female tag is something that has come up in my career… and it’s something I recognize as very important. But we also want to make sure that while we are getting all these firsts in there, that we also are not the last.” The Rays/Orioles broadcast will air as the free game of the week on YouTube, which may seem like an unusual way to debut a broadcast team comprised of women. But I think there’s something smart about doing it this way. The free game of the week is a great introduction to casual fans looking to get their feet wet with the sport. The games being available only on YouTube allows for more widespread (as well as ideally easier) access to the broadcast, rather than having it restricted to the Baltimore and Tampa Bay areas. And by doing it via YouTube, it eliminates a secondary market broadcast option, meaning all fans watching will get the same audio and video feeds; everyone will get this broadcast crew. There is one important thing worth noting about this groundbreaking broadcast, however. While it’s truly wonderful to see a crew of women running the show, the majority of those involved are white. If, as MLB has promised, there will be an ongoing commitment to more diverse crews, it is essential that future broadcasts feature more women of color, both in the booth and in the dugout. Noah Garden, MLB’s chief revenue officer seemed to understand this when he spoke about the importance of including Rizzo, who is Cuban-American, and of their plans. “We have a very diverse group of players and a diverse group of fans, and we want fans to be able to relate to the people in the booth and for our people in the booth to be able to relate to the people on the field.” That acknowledgement is important, but in order for the game’s broadcasts to truly represent the women who love the sport and want to make a career in it, there must be a greater commitment to their inclusion, both in milestone moments like this and in the broadcasts to come. The inclusion of women in more and more roles within baseball shows that there is space for women in professional sports. As women’s inclusion in the booth becomes more frequent (and more fully embraces all the women who watch and love the sport), hopefully it will just be accepted as the norm, rather than something special or unique.