In lieu of writing another angry diatribe about the Rockies being swept by the Marlins, I decided to take a step back and acknowledge a huge milestone in history that affects everyone in the baseball world.
Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of the passing of Title IX, the famous chunk of the Education Amendments of 1972, aka the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, that was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon.
The law reads “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
At the time, many colleges and universities had quotas for women or simply did allow them to attend, especially in law and medical schools. The law was designed around ending this discrimination. While it’s mostly attributed to sports today, giving women more opportunities in the world of athletics was more a fortunate side effect than the direct intent. Youth, high school, and college sports were dominated by men. It’s not that women didn’t play or want to, they just had fewer opportunities, especially the older they got.
The passage of this bill, in a multitude of direct and indirect ways, is responsible for helping more women crack into the world of baseball. Whether it was baseball players and lovers or softball converts, Title IX deserves credit for helping more women be in the MLB world, from fans and broadcasters to coaches, scouts, and GMs. Just this year, the Rockies hired Emily Glass as the first female scout. Alyssa Nakken became the first woman to hold a coaching position on a big league team when the Giants hired her in 2020 and the Yankees Rachel Balkovec became the first female manager on an affiliated team this season when she took over the Low-A Tampa Tarpons. All three women played softball in college. There are many just like them getting jobs throughout professional baseball.
After the Rockies 3-2 loss to the Marlins on Thursday, AT&T SportsNet took a moment to recognize the importance of Title IX, led by Jenny Cavnar, who made history in 2018 as the first woman to do play-by-play for an MLB national TV broadcast in 25 years. She said she’s been moved by seeing tributes to Title IX by different women in sports on social media and wanted to give one of her own.
“I grew up playing sports and athletics — all the things that it teaches you and just how important having that in my life was,” Cavnar said. “I am not saying that [Title IX] led me to the job here, but having those opportunities, getting to work in sports, be around sports, it definitely opened the door. So I am definitely grateful for that day.”
She also then wondered what her mom, who graduated in 1971, might have been able to do with the same opportunities. While the generational changes have slowly percolated to more women working in professional sports, lots of us think about our moms and what they could have done with chances to play youth sports and more in high school and college. I for one am very confident that my mom would have been one heck of a baseball or softball player — I saw when she played with me and at family gatherings in the park.
Cracking into MLB
Finding out how many women worked in MLB in the 1970s is no easy task. They were there, but few and far between. An NPR article cites former MLB infielder Greg Pryor who played from the mid-1970s to 1986: “‘I came through baseball when it was very rare to see a woman in the front office or very visible as they’ve been in regards to a baseball,’ said Pryor, who remembers when women in the media were just being let into clubhouses. The only woman he said he dealt with from a team standpoint was Nancy Faust, the organist at Comiskey Park in Chicago.”
There are many more now, but not as many as one would hope 50 years after Title IX. An Institute for Diversity and Ethic is Sport report that says, “22 women held on-field coaching or player development roles in MLB during 2021.” This is up from nine in 2016, a year that saw 106 women in baseball operations and 12 in director positions or higher, according to ESPN. The number of women in baseball operations jumped to 225 in 2020, including Kim Ng becoming the first woman GM in MLB. However, there are numerous doors that remain locked to women, despite the tenacity, passion, and talent of many trailblazers.
Victories and setbacks
There were two other noteworthy events in 1972 that remain historic for women in baseball. Like Title IX, Maria Pepe also smashed barriers for women. As a kid, her dream was to be a Yankee one day. She played a Little League team in Hoboken, New Jersey, but the baseball world was so threatened by an 11-year-old girl playing with boys, that Little League threatened to take away the team’s charter. As a result, Pepe’s coach benched her, but she did not go down without a fight. She sued Little League and won, paving the way for women to play in 1974. By then, Pepe had aged out, but her victory allowed me and thousands like me to play baseball.
The numbers prove the impact of Title IX and Pepe. In 1972, 15% of NCAA athletes were women, according to an in-depth report by the Women Sports Foundation that analyzes Title IX’s impact. In the 2020-21 academic year, that number was at 44%. When Title IX passed, 294,015 girls in the United States played youth sports. In 2018-19, 3,402,733 girls were active in youth sports. Over 100,000 of those girls play baseball.
The other event didn’t have a happy ending. Also in 1972, another woman was trying to crack into baseball named Bernice Gera, whose story is featured in a great article by Christopher Kamrani in The Athletic. Gera loved the game, so she went to umpire school and graduated in 1967, becoming “the first woman accepted in the National Association of Baseball Umpires and the first to be certified by the National Baseball Congress.”
Bernice Gera never intended to become a crusader, writes @chriskamrani.— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) June 23, 2022
She simply loved baseball too much to give it up.
Many conspired to keep her from becoming the first female umpire in professional baseball.
Then #TitleIX happened.
Then she tried to work and was rejected by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. For years, she battled, through the courts and on the field. Congressmen, baseball executives, and journalists all said she’d ruin the game. Finally, in 1972, the same year Title IX passed, she finally got to work as an umpire in a Class A pro game in New York. She worked the double header with lots of applause from the fans, but also with endless harassment from the rest of her umpire crew. It was so bad, she quit. As Kamrani puts it, “Gera never umpired another game in pro baseball. She could win in the courts, she decided, but she couldn’t change peoples’ minds.”
She eventually got a job with the New York Mets in the community relations department in 1974 and worked there for five years. After she died of cancer in 1992, her ashes were spread at Shea Stadium, proving her love for the game until the end. Her cleats from that 1972 game remain in the Ball Hall of Fame.
To this day, MLB has yet to see a female umpire. Title IX didn’t help Gera, but it certainly cultivated more baseball and softball players that could try to expand on the door she opened.
However, the barriers remain. In May, MLB sent out a memo to teams that their work environments and facilities “fall embarrassingly below the high standards.”
When Coors Field hosted the 2021 All-Star Game, one of the events was the All-Star Futures Game, which showcases rising Minor League stars. Balkovec was named as one of the coaches, but she was denied entry into the clubhouse, despite wearing her full uniform. Like the patient and resilient barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson before her, Balkovec has the temperament to deal with the treatment she encounters.
“There’s still confusion,” Balkovec told Fox Sports of the incident. “But I don’t get mad about it. Change is change, and nobody likes change — it’s uncomfortable, it’s new, it’s different. So it’s my job to change somebody’s mind. And what an honor that is.”
★ ★ ★
In my opinion, clubhouse culture is one of the most overlooked and underreported elements of a successful organization. With the significant turnover the Rockies have had in the last few years, Purple Row’s own Mac Wilcox checked in with Rockies like Brendan Rodgers, Jhoulys Chacín, Ryan McMahon, and Kris Bryant, who is set to rejoin the team for the series against the Twins, which starts today. This is an interesting article that talks about the vets, the new core, and the newest star.
★ ★ ★
On the Farm
Sam Hilliard hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie and it was enough to put the Isotopes over the Aviators on Thursday night. It was one of only three Albuquerque hits, but all three happened to be home runs as Dom Nuñez and Alan Trejo both added solo shots. Even though Las Vegas recorded eight hits, five different pitchers held the Aviators to a 2-for-11 mark with runners in scoring position. Julian Fernández got the unique stat line of a blown save and a win after giving up a solo homer in the sixth that erased Alburquerque’s lead. Justin Lawrence pitched two scoreless innings and Chad Smith threw a scoreless ninth for his 10th save of the season.
Hartford’s eight-game winning streak on the road game to an end on Thursday when the Patriots hit three home runs to out-do a four-hit, two-RBI night by Ezequiel Tovar. Mitchell Kilkenney gave up two runs on four hits, but Riley Pint took the loss when he gave up the go-ahead three-run homer to Somerset’s Josh Breaux. Michael Toglia and Daniel Cope each added solo homers for Hartford.
Drew Romo and Grant Lavigne each had two hits, while Colin Simpson and Cristopher Navarro drove in two runs apiece as Spokane posted a victory to cap off the first half of the season with a 34-30 record, including a 23-11 showing at home. Evan Shawver gave up three runs on five hits and four walks with four strikeouts in five innings to record his first win of the season. The Indians took the lead with a three-run fourth inning — highlighted by Simpson drawing a walk with the bases loaded and Navarro connecting for a two-run single. It turned out to be just enough to hold off late rallies by the Aquasox that shrunk a 6-3 to 6-5.
Finding themselves down 3-0 after four innings, the Grizzlies did rally back when Benjamin Sems hit a solo homer in the fifth and Bryant Quijada hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth to score Zach Kokoska. Four different Nut pitchers combined to hold Fresno to three hits on the night.McCade Brown dropped to 0-3 on the season with the loss. He gave up a solo homer in the first and a two-run single in the fourth, but still made it through six innings, only giving up four hits while striking out 10.
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!