The Rundown: Baseball Has Good Reason to Celebrate Women’s History Month, Tough Decisions Await Ross, New Podcast Details Steroid Era

“Girls rule!” – Jimmy Buffett (in concert, Buffett will usually point out achievements of local women athletes before playing “Brown-Eyed Girl.”)

Harriet Tubman, Georgia O’Keeffe, Zora Neale Hurston, Amelia Earhart, Sally Ride, Josephine Baker, Rosa Parks, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg: These are the names most often associated with Women’s History Month, and you could add scores of others. Until recently, Major League Baseball was absent of any female pioneers, but that has changed a great deal over the past two seasons.

Women in baseball? Huzzah!

Back in 2014 Mo’ne Davis, a 13-year-old girl armed with a 70 MPH fastball, became the first Little Leaguer, male or female, to make it on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She won’t be the first woman to play for an MLB team, but she certainly made us believe that that may happen one day. More importantly, she changed a nearly 150-year-old ideology that baseball is a sport reserved for boys and men.

While the world spent the last year trying to rid itself of the scourge of its first global pandemic in a century, baseball has made tremendous strides in providing jobs to qualified females at nearly all levels of the game. Sport has been traditionally one of the most powerful platforms for promoting gender equality and empowering women but, sadly, baseball has heretofore missed the mark. That’s changed, and in dramatic fashion.

Last November, Kim Ng was hired as GM of the Marlins, 15 years after first applying for the Dodgers opening that went to Ned Colletti in 2005.  She is also baseball’s first Asian-American GM, and her MLB career has spanned 30 years. Ng is currently the highest-ranked female executive in the game, and her own experience attests to the fact that a love for one’s profession goes a long way.

“You have to love the game to be able to translate the enthusiasm for the game into working hard and long hours,” she said at her presser. “And I just love the game.”

Before Ng took the Marlins position, Raquel Ferreira was baseball’s highest ranking female executive. Ferreira is executive vice-president and assistant GM for the Red Sox, and this year marks her 23rd season with the organization. She could very likely be the game’s next female GM. Jed Hoyer has mentioned that he’d like diversification in that role once he hires a second-in-command. I’m sure Ferreira, who may not want to leave Boston, will at least be considered.

Last spring, San Francisco’s Alyssa Nakken became the first full-time major league female coach. She continued breaking barriers by coaching first base during a Giants exhibition game prior to the start of last season. Her jersey from the game was sent to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

In November 2019, the Cubs hired Rachel Folden to be their lead hitting lab tech and assistant coach for Rookie League Mesa, and last weekend, Beth Mowins made her debut as the team’s first female play-by-play announcer.

Folden was an easy hire at the time, and maybe the only right person for the job.

“She’s going to be a star,” hitting director Justin Stone said at the time. “She’s the first person I brought in for an interview. Rachel’s been working alongside me for the last couple of years, and there is nobody more confident.”

Mowins’ esteemed broadcast career spans multiple sports at both the college and professional levels, and she’s been the preeminent voice of the Women’s College World Series for over 20 years. Marquee plans for Mowins to call her first regular-season Cubs game May 8 against the Pirates at Wrigley Field, with an additional five or six games throughout the season.

After her Cactus League debut, Mowins had some advice for women who want to pursue a career in a sport that has been historically dominated by men.

“To be able to pursue your dreams and be ambitious and want to go after things and try to get them, even if that means you’re a Cubs fan and one day you want to be playing at Wrigley or you want to be calling games at Wrigley, then through a lot of hard work and some good fortune, that’s a possibility.”

As we honor past contributions of women to American history, culture, and society, it is just as significant to celebrate those who are blazing trails of their own in baseball (and other sports) today. Make no mistake, challenges and gaps remain, but a paradigm shift has started, and that’s good for the game we all love.

Learn more about each of these groundbreaking individuals here: Rachel Folden | Beth Mowins | Kim Ng | Alyssa Nakken | Raquel Ferreira | Mo’Ne Davis

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Baseball history books will one day tell of the jaw-dropping moments provided by Contreras, and Javier Báez for that matter, too.

Spring Training News & Notes

The Padres named Yu Darvish as their Opening Day starter.

Steve Cishek was granted his release by the Astros.

Shortstop Carlos Correa is unhappy with Houston’s 6-year, $120 million extension offer.

Spotrac pegs Correa’s market value at $17.7 million per year. In case you’re wondering, the salary analytics site has calculated $18.9 million per year as fair market value for Báez.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde announced that Matt Harvey, the former Mets phenom, will pitch in Baltimore’s rotation this season.

More than 1 million COVID-19 vaccination shots have been dispensed at Major League Baseball stadiums, with many sites planning to continue operating after opening day.

White Sox outfielder Eloy Jiménez, who was hurt trying to rob a hitter of a home run in a meaningless exhibition game, will miss 5-6 months with a torn pectoral muscle.

Because the South Siders haven’t learned their lesson in placing star players woefully out of position, rookie DH Andrew Vaughn, who has no outfield experience, will replace Jiménez, at least for now.

Baseball’s greatest rivalry this season is…Twins vs. White Sox.

On Deck

If you’re one of the many who watched ESPN’s “Long Gone Summer” last year, which focused on the exploits of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire during the 1998 home run chase, and felt that the 30-for-30 episode was somewhat of a puff piece, you may find a new podcast called “Crushed” from Religion of Sports right in your wheelhouse.

Host and former Sports Illustrated writer Joan Niesen is revisiting baseball’s steroid era to untangle its truth from the many myths, examine the legacy of the game’s farthest-reaching scandal, and explore what it tells us about sports culture in America. Niesen is a St. Louis native who was 10-years-old-that summer and fell in love with baseball based on the exploits of Sosa, McGwire, and others. Revisiting a pivotal period for America’s pastime, “Crushed” delves into the fallout from that scandal: What happens when our heroes let us down?

The seven-part series features candid interviews with former players, including Rick Honeycutt, Dan Naulty, Royce Clayton, Mike Trombley, and Jeremy Cummings. They’ll discuss the pressures they faced to stay competitive, baseball’s culture of cheating, and how steroids took hold of the sport. Niesen also interviews former Giants and Dodgers head athletic trainer Stan Conte; Roger Maris Jr., whose father was the previous home run record holder; and Associated Press reporter Steve Wilstein, who broke the story that McGwire was using a steroid precursor, androstenedione, in 1998. Religion of Sports dropped this teaser of the podcast ahead of next week’s debut.

Extra Innings

Some great videotape from the AAGPBL.

They Said It

  • “I believe [Willson Contreras] and J.T. [Realmuto] are the two best catchers in baseball. And that’s extremely high praise, and it’s well deserved. He’s taken many strides, and I just love watching him go about his business.” – Jake Arrieta
  • “I usually wait ’til the season to not sleep too much. But, the last couple nights, it’s one of those, you wake up and roll over and then it starts churning in your head.” – David Ross

Friday Walk Up Song

The Man by Taylor Swift – Women are changing the game and for the better.

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