These are historic times in Major League Baseball. From the dugout, to the front office, to scouting talent on diamonds worldwide, women are making that history.
In 2020, Alyssa Nakken became the first full-time female coach in MLB history when she joined the Giants coaching staff. Two years later, she became the first on-field woman coach in the league’s history when she took over as first base coach. In 2022, Rachel Balkovec became the first woman to manage a MLB Minor League team when she took over the Yankees Low-A Tampa Tarpons.
Miami’s Kim Ng not only became the first woman MLB general manager when she assumed the post prior to the 2021 season, but also became the first woman GM of a major North American men’s professional team. Heading into the 2022 season, the Rockies hired their first female scout, Emily Glass.
In 2022, 11 women worked in “on-field coaching roles” in either the Major or Minor Leagues and the number is already growing in 2023. This season, Ronnie Gajownik will be the first woman to manage a High-A squad when she debuts as the Hillsboro Hops manager in the Diamondbacks system.
To be clear, women have always been there, behind the scenes, cheering in the stands, playing in different leagues (like Mamie Johnson, Toni Stone, and Connie Morgan in the Negro Leagues), scouting (like Edith Houghton for the Phillies in 1946), or even owning the St. Louis Cardinals, as Helene Britton did in 1911.
Since it’s Women’s History Month, it seems like a good time to celebrate these history-making moments and toast the women who are blazing these trails, while also acknowledging the progress yet to be made.
On Tuesday night, legendary sports trailblazer, Becky Hammon, was back in Colorado to talk about breaking glass ceilings and to pay tribute to Title IX, the landmark 1972 legislation that prohibited sex-based discrimination in education, therefore paving the way for an explosion of women’s college sports teams and scholarships, at History Colorado as part of its series Bold Women. Change History.
An inspiring evening with a basketball legend, @BeckyHammon, at the Bold Women. Change History Speaker Series. @Romi_Bean @PaccioneDr @CBSNewsColorado @HistoryColorado #BoldWomen pic.twitter.com/43KRtdUssE— Elaine Torres (@ETorresDenver) March 1, 2023
The former Colorado State University basketball star, Olympic medalist, and six-time WNBA All-Star became the first paid female basketball coach in the NBA in 2014, six years ahead of Nakken’s milestone in MLB. In 2020, Hammon broke another barrier as she became the first woman to act as a head coach in an NBA game in 2020 when head coach Gregg Popovich got ejected in a Spurs-lakers game. Since Hammon started coaching in the NBA, 14 more women have joined the coaching ranks in the league and many more hold other staff roles.
Needing a chance
Because of Title IX, many women are all able to continue their athletic careers in college, which then creates a situation Hammon referenced several times: opportunity.
“It kind of had a snowball effect on my life in the sense of Title IX,” said Hammon, who’s now head coach of the reigning WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces. “[Without Title IX] I probably don’t get a college scholarship, and I don’t get to be a pro. Then [San Antonio head coach] Gregg Popovich never sees me.”
Glass has also worked hard and seized opportunities to earn her position with the Rockies. She played baseball growing up, and then made the common switch to softball in high school, which led her to play at Pomona College. She studied policy and politics with a minor in Spanish at Pomona, helping her win a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which she used to design her own program to analyze international baseball player development. That took her to seven countries around the world to learn more about the game. She then served as an intern with Major League Baseball International in the Dominican Republic and then worked with the Miami Marlins as education coordinator before joining the Rockies.
With so many firsts for women in pro sports, it can be easy to just see the positive. But for these barrier breakers, it’s not all fame and glory.
“I gotta tell you something about trailblazers and people that are the first and the only ones in the room: It’s exhausting. It’s tiring,” Hammon said. “… the nicks and cuts and bruises that you get along the way, whether it’s a slice here, this, that. You have to handle it very gracefully because you’re the only one in the room. So, how you handle these little challenges and these comments, or whatever it might be, it starts to take a toll.”
When each piece of history is made, it holds the door open for the next wave. Each milestone generates inspiration for women already in the trenches, as well as for the next generation to enter the fray.
“Everybody is building on the shoulders of the ones who went before them,” Hammon said. “… Everybody makes it a little easier for the next person.”
Along with strides in gender equality, structural change is also happening in the sports world. Literally.
After MLB laid out requirements in March 2022 for ballparks to have “a clean locker room space that is close to the main clubhouse, is private and includes a restroom and shower” for various women staff including coaches, analysts, trainers, and more, the league office then issued a scathing letter to teams in mid-May reprimanding them to follow the regulations.
Coors Field now has facilities for visiting teams’ female coaches and baseball ops staff in the same tunnel as all the visiting facilities. To do so, the organization repurposed and upgraded existing rooms.
Maybe someday, women coaching on the field, broadcasting in the booth, making choices in the draft, and finding the next great talent won’t be history-making events. It will just be baseball. Hammon believes that gender doesn’t matter in her job duties and that the NBA players aren’t been the problem.
“Honestly, the guys are great. The guys are the easiest part of it. It’s kind of everybody else,” Hammon said. “If you can lead a group of women, you can lead a group of men. … leadership, character, empathy, these things are not, these are genderless. If you can lead, you can lead.”
Until that day, we can tip our caps to the women who continue to shatter more glass ceilings. First up, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain and Root Sports Northwest are teaming up to host their first-ever, all-woman broadcast when the Rockies take on the Mariners in a Spring Training showdown on March 11. Jenny Cavnar will be doing play-by-play.
.@ATTSportsNetRM @ROOTSPORTS_NW— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) February 2, 2023
Our first ever all-female broadcast March 11 vs. the Mariners. #NGWSD | https://t.co/kT6Ysnnkwt pic.twitter.com/OeKwezMfWw
★ ★ ★
Brendan Rodgers and Lucas Gilbreath have potentially season-ending injuries | Purple Row
The bad news came out Thursday morning that Brendan Rodgers’s shoulder separation looks much worse than initially thought. He’s waiting for more medical opinions, but it looks as if he’ll have to have surgery and it could cross 2023 off his MLB career calendar. Lucas Gilbreath, a valued lefty in the Rockies bullpen, is likely headed for Tommy John surgery, which would also mean no action in 2023. Rough news for the Rockies.
Kiszla: With Brendan Rodgers down and out, Kris Bryant could become $182 million face of worst team in Rockies history | Denver Post ($)
This is a usual rant by Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla, criticizing Dick Monfort and the Rockies front office for not building a better team, but also lamenting the loss of Rodgers. He points out that the team has a better chance of losing 100 games than being .500, which was true before Rodgers separated his shoulder, but he also posits an interesting solution: Kris Bryant at third base and have him bat cleanup, and move Ryan McMahon to second base. It’s an interesting idea, especially when trying to keep Bryant healthy.
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!