Wander along the canals, headphones on, Martin’s Amsterdam on
Crimson windows float by; shame quietly covered with glittering lights
Your drunken patrons stumble through the night
These words were originally penned for the beautifully aged cobblestone streets of Amsterdam, a striking disparity from the trifling theme-park nature of the Opryland hotel. The similarity of feelings came unexpectedly as I worked my way through the hotel designed to keep you inside. The last thing my consciousness could imagine was recognizing the plight of others. My aim for the week was driven purely by self-serving ambition, it shames me to admit.
Something was out of place. As much as I tried to put it out of my mind, it was impossible to dismiss. In any other pub in America—or the world, for that matter—she would have garnered more attention than any one person could desire. Not here, not tonight. A scene littered with men and devoid of women, save just a few. Yet there she stood, unapproached, for seemingly endless amounts of time. After finishing up my conversation, my curiosity overtook me as I walked up and asked who she was waiting for; she told me she wasn’t waiting on anyone, she just wanted to talk baseball.
It took me several moments to realize what was transpiring, but when I did, an incredulous reality settled over me. For no other reason than the fact that she was a woman, she was being completely ignored. Not just overlooked, but blatantly ignored in a setting where it was perfectly normal and acceptable to walk up to a stranger and ask them to tell you about how they earned their living. Five minutes of casual conversation revealed her deep knowledge and love of the game, but tonight it was of no use, the people and their prejudice had already spoken.
The Winter Meetings are a showcase for front office types, agents, scouts, reporters, and anyone else looking to make their mark in baseball. Fresh-faced youth flock through the grounds by the hundreds seeking even the slightest hint of opportunity. For a baseball lover, it is the ultimate chance to embrace everything you dreamed of as a kid. The atmosphere is light and joyful, no one seems to take themselves too seriously, especially considering the gravity of what is transpiring beyond mostly closed doors. However, one should not let the merriment fool them, this is nothing but a thinly veiled (predominately white) boys club.
Baseball is a game beloved and lauded for its generational and cultural transcendence. Enter any establishment worldwide and strike up a conversation with a fellow baseball lover, and you’ve instantly bonded with a friend. It marries speed with strength, agility with precision, and strategy with ability. It does not discriminate between body type; All-Stars Jose Altuve and Chris Davis can attest to this fact. It’s vividness makes it a game arguably best consumed on the radio, something no other sport can claim. A 70-year-old grandfather can enjoy playing catch with his granddaughter, the same way 20-year-old college buddies can. It’s a sport made for the people.
The game faces a crisis: there are painfully few women in the game. No players or umpires at the highest levels, very few coaches or scouts. Only a handful of reporters. Even when we are treated to an eminently qualified and talented woman—such as Jessica Mendoza—in a major broadcasting role, it also comes along with ardently trite comparisons to men and complaints that her voice “just doesn’t sound right.” The discrimination exists, but it was never so painfully obvious until the moment hundreds of men ignored an attractive woman in a bar, simply because it was assumed she had nothing to offer them in regards to the game itself.
This isn’t an issue that will change quickly, as the causation is decades of neglecting an inclusionary mindset. My own sister frequently reminds me that my brother and I did not include her on regular summer trips to Wrigley. I will long regret failing to get her in the right-field bleachers to witness her favorite no. 21 race out to the screaming faithful. If baseball wants to avoid turning into golf—a game played and followed by a relatively narrow audience—it must realize that interest and talent exists among both genders and all races, in every facet of the game.
I have the pleasure of writing for a company that takes this message to heart and employs multiple brilliant female baseball writers, but the troubling fact remains that even the readership of Baseball Prospectus is 97 percent male. Multiple generations are responsible as they have failed to include their sisters and daughters in the game. Let’s begin a paradigm shift in this dynamic: Take your little sister to games. Play catch with your daughters in the backyard. Insist on evaluating female broadcasters with an equitable pen, regardless of whether their vocal pitch is what you’re accustomed to. This is a game for the people. All people.
There are many women who have felt the inequity of being a woman in sports, and I am positive that one day my time to encounter such struggles will come. My opinion on the matter is this: there’s a lot of those type of men—and even other women—out there, but for every one that believes you are under-qualified, there is someone whose background and experience merits your value of their opinion. Listen to them, learn from the others. You’ll never completely quiet or satisfy the opposition, but you can chose to cherry-pick who’s opinions you value most.
- Catherine Garcia, BP-Wrigleyville contributor
Lead photo courtesy of Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports