Rather than write another angry diatribe about the Rockies being overrun by the Marlins, I decided to take a step back and acknowledge a major milestone in history that affects everyone in the baseball world.
Thursday was the 50thth Anniversary of the passage of Title IX, the famous portion of the Education Amendments of 1972, also known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon.
The law reads: “No person in the United States shall be disqualified from participating in, denied benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal funding because of their gender.”
At the time, many colleges and universities had quotas for women or simply allowed them to attend, particularly in law and medical schools. The law was designed to end this discrimination. While it’s mostly attributed to the sport today, it was more of a fortunate side effect than a direct intention to give women more opportunities in the world of athletics. Youth, high school, and college sports were male-dominated. It’s not that women didn’t play or didn’t want to play, they just had fewer opportunities, especially as they got older.
The passage of this bill is responsible in many direct and indirect ways for more women to enter the world of baseball. Whether they were baseball players and enthusiasts or softball converts, Title IX deserves credit for helping more women in the MLB world, from fans and broadcasters to coaches, scouts and GMs. Just this year, the Rockies hired Emily Glass as their first scouter. Alyssa Nakken became the first woman to hold a coaching position on a major league team when she was hired by the Giants in 2020, and Yankees Rachel Balkovec became the first female manager on an affiliated team this season when she won the Low-A Tampa Tarpons took over. All three women played softball in college. There are many like her getting jobs in professional baseball.
Following the Rockies’ 3-2 loss to the Marlins on Thursday, AT&T SportsNet took a moment to acknowledge the importance of Title IX, led by Jenny Cavnar, who made history in 2018 as the first woman to win play-by-play for played an MLB national television show in 25 years. She said she was moved when she saw tributes to Title IX from various women in sport on social media and wanted to do one of her own.
“I grew up watching sports and athletics — all the things you learn from that and how important it was to have that in my life,” Cavnar said. “I’m not saying that [Title IX] got me into the job here, but having these opportunities to work in the sport, to be in the sport, definitely opened the door. So I am definitely grateful for this day.”
She then also wondered what her mother, who graduated in 1971, could have done with the same opportunities. While generational change has slowly resulted in more women working in professional sports, many of us are thinking about our mothers and what they could have done with the chances to play youth sports and more in high school and college. I, for one, am very confident that my mom would have been a hell of a baseball or softball player – I saw it when she played with me and at family gatherings in the park.
Heading into the MLB
Figuring out how many women worked in MLB in the 1970s is no easy task. They were there, but sporadically. An NPR article quotes former MLB infielder Greg Pryor, who played from the mid-1970s to 1986: “I got into baseball when it was very rare to see a woman in the front office or as visible as she is related one was baseball,” said Pryor, who recalls when the media let women into clubhouses. The only woman he said he had anything to do with from a team perspective was Nancy Faust, the organist at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.”
There are many more now, but not as many as one would hope 50 years after Title IX. A report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethic is Sport states, “22 women held on-field coaching or player-development roles in MLB in 2021.” This is an increase from nine in 2016, a year that saw 106, according to ESPN women in baseball operations and 12 in director positions or higher. The number of women in baseball operations rose to 225 in 2020, including Kim Ng, who became the first female GM in MLB. However, despite the tenacity, passion and talent of many pioneers, many doors remain closed to women.
victories and setbacks
There were two other notable events in 1972 that remain historic for women in baseball. Like Title IX, Maria Pepe broke down barriers for women. As a child, she dreamed of one day becoming a Yankee. She played on 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 the Little League threatened to strip the team of its charter. Pepe’s coach then put her on the bench, but she didn’t go down without a fight. She sued Little League and won, paving the way for women to play in 1974. By then Pepe had grown old, but her victory allowed me and thousands like me to play baseball.
The numbers show the impact of Title IX and Pepe. In 1972, 15% of NCAA athletes were women, according to a detailed report by the Women Sports Foundation analyzing the impact of Title IX. In the 2020/21 academic year, this figure was 44%. At the time Title IX was passed, 294,015 girls were playing youth sports in the United States. In 2018/19, 3,402,733 girls were active in youth sports. Over 100,000 of these girls play baseball.
The other event did not have a happy ending. Also in 1972, another woman named Bernice Gera, whose story is featured in a great article by Christopher Kamrani in The Athletic, was trying to break into baseball. Gera loved the game so she went to umpire school and graduated in 1967. She became “the first woman inducted into the National Association of Baseball Umpires and the first to be certified by the National Baseball Congress.”
Then she tried to work and was rejected by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. For years she fought, in court and on the field. Congressmen, baseball execs and journalists all said she would ruin the game. In 1972, the same year that Title IX expired, she was finally allowed to referee a Class A professional game in New York. She handled the double-header to much applause from the fans, but also endless harassment from the rest of her refereeing crew. It was so bad that she stopped. As Kamrani puts it, “Gera never refereed a game in pro baseball again. She could win in court, she decided, but she couldn’t change people’s minds.”
Eventually, she 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 scattered at Shea Stadium, proving her love for football to the end. Her shoes from that 1972 game remain in the Ball Hall of Fame.
To date, MLB has yet to see a female umpire. Title IX didn’t help Gera, but it certainly produced more baseball and softball players who might try to expand 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 short of 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 was refused entry to the clubhouse despite wearing her full uniform. Like the patient and resilient barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson before her, Balkovec has the temperament to handle the treatment she’s subjected to.
“There is still confusion,” Balkovec told Fox Sports of the incident. “But I’m not upset 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 someone’s mind. And what an honor that is.”
The 2022 Rockies are a team built on trust | Purple row
In my opinion, clubhouse culture is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated elements of a successful organization. Given the significant turnover the Rockies have had in recent years, Purple Row’s Mac Wilcox has met with Rockies such as Brendan Rodgers, Jhoulys Chacín, Ryan McMahon and Kris Bryant, who will rejoin the team for the series against the Twins , which starts today. This is an interesting article talking about the Vets, the new core and the newest star.
On the farm
Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 4, Las Vegas Aviators 3
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 were home runs as Dom Nuñez and Alan Trejo both added solo shots. Although Las Vegas had eight hits, five different pitchers kept the Aviators in goal position in a 2-for-11 mark with runners. Julian Fernández had the unique stat line of a missed save and a win after giving up a solo homer in the sixth game that wiped out Alburquerque’s lead. Justin Lawrence threw two scoreless innings and Chad Smith threw a scoreless ninth for his 10th save of the season.
Double A: Somerset Patriots 7, Hartford Yard Goats 4
Hartford’s eight-game away winning streak ended Thursday when the Patriots hit three home runs to surpass a night of four hits and two RBI by Ezequiel Tovar. Mitchell Kilkenney gave up two runs in four hits, but Riley Pint took the loss when he gave the three-run go-ahead homer to Somerset’s Josh Breaux. Michael Toglia and Daniel Cope each added solo home runs for Hartford.
High-A: Spokane Indians 6, Everett AquaSox 5
Drew Romo and Grant Lavigne had two hits each, while Colin Simpson and Cristopher Navarro each had two runs as Spokane notched a win to close out the first half of the season with a 34-30 record, including a 23-11 record at home. Evan Shawver gave up three runs with 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 loaded bases walk and Navarro connecting for a two-run single. It turned out to be just enough to stave off late rallies by the Aquasox, which shrank a 6-3 to 6-5.
Low-A: Modesto Nuts 3, Fresno Grizzlies 2
The Grizzlies were 3-0 down after four innings and rebounded when Benjamin Sems hit a solo homer in the fifth and Bryant Quijada hit a sacrificial fly in the eighth to hit Zach Kokoska. Four different nut pitchers combined to hold Fresno on three hits that night. McCade Brown fell to 0-3 in 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, giving up only four hits while hitting 10.
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