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The Women in Baseball Panel at #SABR49

The Women in Baseball Panel at #SABR49

Wow, has this panel has grown in stature as the field of women in baseball has grown. I was on this panel myself at a SABR convention back in the 2000s… over ten years ago. (I retired from playing women’s baseball when I turned 40, so it had to be around 2006… this blog probably has an entry on that panel but I’m having connection issues and can’t load my own blog…) The panel has upgraded drastically from me (a women’s park-league player and occasional baseball instructor for the AAU and Girl Scouts) to multiple women who have both played and coached actual professional men’s baseball.

On the panel:

Perry Barber, well-known former pro umpire

Janet Marie Smith, who now works for the LA Dodgers, best known for leading the design and building of Camden Yards in Baltimore, as well as the renovation of Fenway Park and the conversion of Turner Field from Olympic venue into baseball stadium

Ila Borders, former professional pitcher with the St. Paul Saints and other men’s independent teams

Justine Siegel, founder of Baseball for All and coach for several men’s teams including the Oakland A’s

Kelsie Whitmore, current pro pitcher with the Sonoma Stompers and member of USA national women’s baseball team

Jewel Greenberg, documentary filmmaker, just finished a documentary on women in baseball (now called “Hardball: The Girls of Summer” coming out September 24th)

Moderator: Jean Ardell, author of several books relating to women in baseball

(What follows is a partial transcript of the panel discussion, which I typed in real-time as the women spoke. This only captures about half of what was said. Any errors are mine.)

Jean: In 1993 I attended my first SABR convention right here in San Diego. There were exactly 2 women presenting, me and Barbara Gregorich. [*Note: there are enough this year I couldn’t count them easily. 6-8 at least.] Where were all of you in 1993? Well, Kelsie you weren’t even born yet…

Kelsie: Yeah, I was born in 1998. I grew up playing baseball since I was 6 years old. It was always fun for me. My dad really got me involved and I stuck with it ever since. I was not looked at differently at the youth level. I felt like one of the guys. But later the boys started to realize I was different. They see hey, that’s someone with long hair.. that’s different. It was mostly positive, but there were some negatives as well as positives growing up.

Perry: In 1993 I was working NCAA baseball games and high school double headers and I was about to get married. I told my husband I needed to be on dry land on the weekends because he wanted to be on his boat! By then I was 12 years into my umpiring career and I was realizing I was never going to break what I called the “stained grass ceiling” of baseball. I wasn’t going to make it to the big leagues, but I thought someday someone would and I could be a part of that.

Janet: In 1993, Camden Yards had just opened! Baltimore was going to be hosting the All-Star Game that year. When I first started working in baseball, I didn’t think it was going to be a career trajectory for me. My work was about civic architecture and urban planning. I am about cities and civic spaces, and creating ballparks that are civic spaces. I thought after the Orioles I’d move on to other urban planning, but I stayed with baseball.

Ila: I was a senior in high school and I was all about baseball, and playing golf and so on to stay in shape. I had my coach Charlie [missed the last name] sign my letter of intent and give me recommendations. I applied to a lot of places and most didn’t even get back to me. Only one gave me a free ride.

Justine: I just learned that Kelsie was born the same year was my daughter. I was playing high school baseball as a senior, at the same Ohio school where they wouldn’t let me even try out as a freshman. I pitched against them at Bucky Dent’s baseball school and [after beating them] then they let me play.

Jewel: I was growing up in Saudi Arabia and discovered baseball as this very “American” family thing. We’d get all out family together in these gatherings and that was how I found out about it.

Jean: I’m struck by the recent opening of the play about Toni Stone that just opened in New York off broadway. Baseball is full of rich stories and literature. What stories have resonated with you?

Kelsie: It’s always been America’s pastime sport. Whether you play or just watch, it’s always there. Baseball creates friendships, it creates relationships. It’s about how you speak the game and it lets you connect. It’s a way for me to get away from the old world and focus in on a new world. Baseball has opened a lot of doors for people and is a cultural gathering.

Jean: When I started writing, I wanted to be like Roger Angell. Who are your favorite authors?

Perry: Larry Gerlach! He’s right there! (points at Larry in the audience) I was reading his book about umpires and my mother decided that meant I wanted to be an umpire. Funny, she didn’t think that when I read a book about serial killers… (laughter). I also read a book on baseball so I could beat a friend and baseball trivia.

Janet: I worked on baseball parks and it’s noteworthy how special they are. Other sports don’t refer to their places to play as cathedrals. Think of the audacity of that. We resonate with baseball parks as more than just a home of a sport. That each outfield is shaped by the city it’s in makes it unique and civic in its grounding. It draws it to literature and poetry. You never become an expert in a park except from fans who go to dozens of games a year, they know it all and you better listen to them. How do they eat, how do they do the natioanl anthem… All that is part of the experience.

Ila: I was inspired by Jackie Robinson’s story. First thing I was told when I got into baseball was “Ila, if you go out there and fail you’ll be setting all women back!” At twenty years old I just wanted to go play baseball, and I was OK with failing myself, but failing all women, everywhere? That was a lot of pressure. Neal Karlen [author of Slouching Toward Fargo, about the 1996 St. Paul Saints] gave me Jackie Robinson’s book. When you get a death threat what do you do? His autobiography was my Bible and I just tried to emulate what he did.

Jean: If we talk about story, we have to talk about voice. You’re all familiar with the few female announcers we have out there. There was just an article about the 5-6 announcers are coming up now through the minors (out of 256 teams). And we have our filmmakers like Aviva Kempner (new film on Moe Berg is The Spy Behind Home Plate) and of course Jewel Greenberg with us here…

Jewel: Documentary filmmaking is about giving other people a voice. About giving the women in our documentary a voice, from women in the 1950s up through eight year old kids who are trying to play right now. It’s their voices of experience, new and old, that is really exciting.

Kelsie: It’s funny you ask that, because I was in Jewel’s documentary and I’ve been able to share my voice through her. It’s important for me to know that young girls have someone to look up to. Growing up for me I didn’t know of many I could look up to, so I want to be that. Having a voice, whether it’s interviews or articles written about me, I hope it inspires girls and even women to be passionate with their dreams.

Jewel: We got to follow Kelsie through a couple of years and show a throughline that isn’t often seen, from Cal State Fullerton to USA Baseball and then the Sonoma Stompers.

Justine: It was painful for me growing up and always being the only girl. I had to ask to try out, ask permission to just sit on the bench. It was about always having to ask for permission to be there. My daughter also wanted to play baseball and I didn’t want her to go through that pain. So that’s why I started Baseball for All, so hundreds of girls would play baseball together and they wouldn’t be alone.

Jewel: Having a collective voice is really important. So many of the owmen we spoke to felt alone and isolated. For my stepdaughter, coming to Baseball for All was a huge boon to her, it was massive for her self confidence and her ability to be with a group of girls and play together.

Perry: I, too, was also alone, except for my twin sister I forced to go to umpire school with me so I wouldn’t be alone. I started umpiring at age 26 which was relatively late. It’s very important to have support system as an umpire because you take a lot of abuse (regardless of your gender). Most of what umpires do isn’t about that, but it’s there.

Jean: Perry, what’s changed in the umpiring world since then?

Perry: When I started, there was active resistance. 10-15 years later there was no longer active resistance, but there was passive inertia. Twiddling of thumbs, waiting for women to magically show up ready to go. They now realize there has to be active recruitment and training for women as well as for men. The infancy of those infrastructures are now being built for women in umpiring. All that is finally now being put into place. There is foreward movement. People are realizing that it is not a zero sum game and we are not going to chase men off the field like a bunch of estrogen-crazed banshees. (laughter) It’s about damn time.

Jean: Do you have some numbers?

Perry: There was one woman umpiring in [minor league] pro ball when I started. Now there are TWO. But in five or six years you might see them serving as vacation umpires going up and down between Triple-A and the major leagues. Youth ball and amateur baseball has been more progressive about it. But I think minor league and major league baseball will soon be catching up.

Jean: Ila, you started back in the 1980s. How have things changed?

Ila: Yeah, there was no one else playing in the Little Leagues or in high school besides me. Now college coaches are calling me and saying “hey, did you see anyone at the Breakthrough Series who we can recruit” or at GRIT and so on. Some of them are sending coaches to help out at these other events and they are looking for new players. We have male [pro] players coming and coaching women and girl players but I’d love to see women coaches going to the men’s Breakthrough Series and GRIT to teach the men. You have the women’s national team helping these girls. USA Baseball and MLB are both supporting it. The Breakthrough Series in Florida, Justine has seen it, and Kelsie came through that system. But I believe though we really need to infiltrate the men’s side. I’m a firefighter, obviously a male-dominated field, and I’m the captain. They listen to me.

Jewel: For those who don’t know, GRIT and the Breakthrough series are MLB-supported tournaments and series. It leads up to development camp and tryouts for the USA national team.

Justine: I’ve been talking to MLB for ten years. It’s so great to see them [finally] supporting this development for female players. I agree with Ila though, it’s important to coach men. I just came back from coaching in Japan [for a men’s team]. Those guys just want to know if you can help make them a better player. They don’t care that you’re a woman. I had my Jackie Robinson moments. Years ago, I had a coach berate me with a bunch of swear words who didn’t want me on “his” baseball field, ending with “You’re nothing but a doll and I can go to a bar to get a doll.” (audience groans) I wasn’t going to quit. That didn’t even enter my mind. But I had to figure out what to do. So I thought, like Jackie Robinson, you can’t fight back. I decided what to do was be nice to the guy. [The “kill ’em with kindness” approach.] And seven or eight years later he wrote me a recommendation letter to get a pro job.

Kelsie: The first negative thing was when I was on a boys team and a guy was like… ‘why is Kelsie going to the gym? She’s ever going to be as strong or as fast as us, she’ll never get stronger.’ I heard this from one of my friends on the team who was like “don’t worry, I got him, I put him in his place” which was nice to have the support, but I couldn’t depend on him all the time. I decided I had to do my talking with my bat and my glove. Once I got to the Stompers, it was tough, when fans would rip me apart on Twitter. I had a female teammate, Stacey Pigano, and she told me you can’t listen to that. You have to ignore it and it will pay off. I decided I just had to work hard and do my best.

Justine: I have to tell you, Kelsie, in Japan, there was a guy on my team there who had played with you and all the guys on the team knew about you. They were all like “Kelsie is awesome!” So you went international. (applause)

Jean: All right, one minute each, what’s your hope for the future?

Perry: You in the audience can be like my mother was for me. You can say to girls and women “you can be an umpire” or a player and inspire them. Get the message out that there is a US women’s national team. A lot of people don’t even know that. Join the Women Play Baseball Facebook page. I promise we women won’t stop liking you or having sex with you because we’re in baseball. (laughter)

Janet: I am always struck how few women have careers in baseball front offices as well as architecture and planning. I’m often asked if the projects I’ve worked have been successful because of my woman’s perspective. In designing a stadium, I just try to represent the collective voice of the fans which is not gender specific. Everyone wants a safe, clean, nice place to watch the game from. There are so many skills throughout the industry–in broadcasting, coaching, umpiring, etc.–that are not dependent on your gender. You’ve probably heard about issues like old stadium that didn’t have enough women’s bathrooms. One thing we thought about in clubhouse design and stadium design was how can we support female umpires, clubbies, etc…? Often the space we put in gets taken over by the mascot because there isn’t a woman there to use it. We had a woman head trainer in our Dominican facility and she didn’t even realize we had designed a room for her! Someone had used it as a storage closet! Our facilities have to be welcoming at all relevls.

Ila: I would love to invest in our women’s national team more. I was around when the WNBA was starting. Women’s teams would go over to Europe [to play teams there] and then come back and be phenomenal. But it took time to grow. It’s not sustainable if we are only in the United States. We need people all over. We need to be able to send the US women’s team to Australia to play, to other countries to play, and really have a fully international effort. Australia has a great winter program! It would be perfect to partner with them.

Jean: We have to get to Q&A so I hope the other three of you who havent spoken yet can address the future during the questions I have from the autience (On notecards). For Perry, recently Kenley Jansen commited an intentional balk. Can teams refuse to take the extra base?

Perry: There is no declining a base on a balk. They can decline on catchers interference, but not on a balk.

Jean: Here’s one from a woman journalist in the audience who has taken a lot of hate on Twitter. I think probably from jealous people who think she knows more than they do. How do you deal with it, Justine?

Justine: I chose kindness because that would let me dictate where I could go, instead of being overcome with anger. Your anger would let them control you. Don’t let them control you and dictate your feelings or behavior.

Kelsie: If they’re jealous of you, they don’t want the best for you. So you have to focus on your own path and try your hardest to ignore it. Surround yourself with people who’ll support you.

Jewel: There’s this idea that you can divide your audience into thirds. One third is supporters of you, the midde third could be converted, but a third will never like what you do. So put your energy into those two thirds and don’t waste your time with the final third.

Jean: Okay, three minutes left. One minute each to finish the question on your thoughts for the future for Justine, Kelsie, and Jewel.

Justine: It’s an honor to make history, but it’s much mosre important to make the future. I want to have a granddaughter one day who could just sign up to play baseball, the greatest game on earth.

Kelsie: Ask yourself why you do what you do every day. If you don’t have love and passion for it, you need a support system. Both men and women have to support it, and so growing that support system is the most important thing.

Jewel: While working on the documentary, I was blown away with how many people thought we were doing a film on softball. Just pepper your conversation with the fact that baseball for women exists. Then when they say “don’t you mean softball?” say no, I mean hardball. Yes, women play baseball, yes they play hardball. If everyone does that, then ten years from now it won’t be a problem anymore

* – * – * 

The panel was followed by the annual meeting of the SABR women in baseball committee. A couple of notes from that meeting about projects that might be of interest:

Current film on Amazon Prime about women in baseball: Shut Out (also has a podcast)

Aviva Kempner: is working on a film called Pissed Off about how the US capitol building was built without thinking there would ever be a woman in the House or Senate and so there aren’t enough bathrooms. This also relates to sports stadiums and other public spaces.

IWBC: International Women’s Baseball Center: this is a group dedicated to housing and restoring the history of women’s baseball and women’s participation. Their goal is to build a museum in Rockford, IL, with a conference center and umpire training facilities. They are seeking donations and you can join as a member. (I joined as a lifetime member.)

SABR’s own women in baseball committee seeks donations for scholarships and supporting the Dorothy Seymour Mills Award, the annual award to leading figures in women’s baseball. Perry Barber won last year. This year the award went to Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, who has run the Robinson Foundation since his death.

Ann Keene, author of Cloudbuster Nine, is working on her latest book and she is looking for WWII vets who played MLB. There are about 30 still living, mostly around 95 years old. If you have contact for any of them please contact her.

AJ Richard — grad student writing about baseball playing experience of girls who stopped by age 18. Please send any women you know who stopped playing baseball by age 18 to be interviewed for research.

Tyrone Brooks from MLB, who also just joined the SABR board, spoke about how in 2017 MLB launched the MLB Diversity Fellowship program. This is an 18-24 month fellowship (not an internship), fully salaried with benefits, for women and people of color. It’s for a recent graduate to work in a major league front office. The first class of 22 were selected last year, including 9 women. The next class application goes live on August 19th and is open to Oct 15th.

mlb.com/fellowship

Teams are looking for all kinds of talents, including technical anaylsts and developers, math, economics, sports management, and former college athletes, too.

In December MLB also hosted Take the Field, a program for building the pool of women candidates working in baseball. The idea is to take women fand transition them from spectators to working in baseball. Last year 47 women came in and learned about areas including umpiring, coaching, etc. This year it happens during the winter meetings Dec 6-7 in San Diego right before the winter meetings.

Pride Project: LGBTQ Pride and Organized Baseball: History in the making?

Those of you who’ve followed my career through my various gigs at writing and editing in the baseball sphere, from the early days of the New York Yankees’ attempt at a website, stints at Gotham Baseball and Baseball Prospectus, to my current position as Publications Director for SABR, may have heard me say this before:

Every day in baseball something historic can happen. Sometimes it’s noticed at the time, like when the highly anticipated breaking of a record occurs. Other times it isn’t until some sabermetrician or historian goes back and looks at the facts and concludes that something happened. At the time that things are going on, the participants tend to be too wrapped up in doing the thing to also be leaving a written record of what they did. If the newspapers (or later, other media) didn’t create a record, players, teams, and even whole leagues can disappear without a trace.

I’ve been bookmarking and screencapping and noting articles, tweets, and other online mentions for a while now relating to how MLB teams celebrate Pride Month. I started making notes in 2016, when I went to Petco Park in San Diego and received a Pride rally towel as a freebie.

I’ve been intending to put all my links and things together in a post, but other deadlines keep getting in the way, and the next thing I knew my list was getting very long. Too long for one post. But here we are in June 2019 and I’m just going to jump in and start documenting. I figure this is going to end up a series of posts as I research the topic of baseball and LGBTQ Pride and related queer community events, partnerships, and the like. Among the questions I would like to eventually answer:

    1. Which was the first Major League Baseball team to celebrate Pride? Who, when, how? History loves firsts.
    2. Related questions: which was the first team in the minor leagues and/or independent leagues to do so? I expect that will be harder to pin down/prove.
    3. At what point will all 30 MLB teams be celebrating Pride and how? (It looks as if the Yankees, the last holdout, are due to break that streak in the 2019 season?)
    4. What was the first date on which each MLB team held their first Pride-related event?
    5. What effect has supporting LGBTQ Pride had on the teams that do so? (Measurable and unmeasurable?)
    6. What effect has their teams supporting LGBTQ Pride had on the fans of those teams?
    7. Related question that outside the scope of this research but I’m going to ask it anyway: Who will be the major leagues’ first openly gay player? (Who will inevitably be labeled “the gay Jackie Robinson” — I’d say a more apt comparison would be “baseball’s Adam Lambert” but I know how the sports media works and no one will listen to me on this…)

What I am not intending to do, at least initially, is analyze whether teams’ motives are capitalist or social-justice oriented (or both). Right now this is about establishing facts like dates, names, and places.

If you have a pointer to a source, article, photograph, blog entry, social media post, etc… that you think is relevant, please leave it in a comment or email it to ctan.writer AT gmail DOT com with as much relevant info as you can, and a link if possible. Scans, photos, and scrapbook entries welcome, too.

Examples: 

Article: “LGBT Orioles Night Out to raise money for the GLCCB,” by Darcy Costello, Baltimore Sun, June 23, 2015. Link: http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/gay-in-maryland/gay-matters/bal-lgbt-orioles-night-out-20150618-story.html

Quote from the article: “Baseball fans are invited to the second annual LGBT Orioles Night Out, an evening at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for a cause, on June 30 at 7 p.m. The event serves as a fundraiser for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland, with $5 of the $23 ticket costs going toward the GLCCB.”

Upon reading the article, it’s interesting to me to note that “LGBT Orioles Night Out” started out as an informal thing in which a gay fan organized a group outing which kept growing until they “made it official.” The idea to make it a fundraiser was his and the article seems a bit vague as to just how enthusiastic the Orioles actually are. It’s a starting place, though, for researching the team’s efforts and history with the LGBTQ community in Baltimore. At the very least it places June 2014 as a possible date for the Orioles’ earliest such event. I’ll be looking to see if there are any earlier.

Contrast that with the San Diego Padres, whose towel started me on this research quest. The Padres  partner with San Diego Pride to present an annual Out at the Park night, complete with Pride hats, pride rally towels, a pre-game party, and the National Anthem sung by the city’s gay men’s choir. From a quick Googling, I can see that the event hasn’t been without controversy, including one year the PA system playing a female singer’s rendition of the National Anthem while the gay men’s chorus stood helpless in center field, and an outcry over scheduling the event on the first night of Passover. I’m currently going down a Google rabbit hole trying to pinpoint the date of the first one, though.

Since this is a blog and not a magazine or research journal, I’ll be posting compilations of the information I gather from time to time, but not on a specific schedule, and I’m not sure yet if a consistent format will emerge. Eventually there will be a post/page for each MLB team which can be updated as time goes by.

Let it begin.

Nine Things About the Yankees 2018 Home Opener

I couldn’t think of one single thematic thread to tie up the story of the 2018 home opener, so I’m going to fall back on that baseball blog trope of a nine-element list.

Nine Things About the 2018 Home Opener:

1. SNOW & RAIN

This isn’t the first time we’ve had snow for the home opener at Yankee Stadium, and it isn’t the first time it’s been postponed to a second day. I was there for the Hideki Matsui grand slam in the snow–that was on a postponed day, if I recall correctly. I wasn’t there for the postponed home opener in 2005 because I thought I should go home to get more work done, and I ended up crying the whole four-hour drive home. So I vowed not to do that again. This year we planned for a possible postponement because the weather prediction for snow was well telegraphed. We stayed over with a friend in the city and packed extra clothes. I wish I could say that the second day was sunny and warm, but it wasn’t. (Continued)

2017 ALCS Games 3-4-5 at Yankee Stadium: Impressions

Writing this in the car on the way back to Boston after three wins in a row at Yankee Stadium. Three raucous, amazing wins. I feel like we’re watching the “baby bombers” grow up before our eyes. At the end of September, I don’t think they were a better team than Cleveland or Houston. After Tuesday night’s come-from-behind win, I felt they had proved that they belong on the same tier with them. With each win, from the Wild Card, to the comebacks in the ALDS, to the past three days in a row, the team got better. They gained confidence. They bonded with each other.

And Judge learned to hit the breaking ball. (Continued)

A Series of Miracles (2017 ALDS Games 3 and 4)

It struck me as we were walking from the parking lot to the Stadium today, for the second night in a row, that most successful postseason runs appear, in hindsight, to be a string of miracles. Sometimes they seem to be a series of small miracles, other times one or two big miracles come in a timely fashion. And sometimes when you lose, it feels like it’s because your luck ran out.

Last week we were here for the Wild Card game and I wrote that it was the loudest I’ve ever heard the Stadium — the new Stadium, I should specify. The new place has milder acoustics as well as milder fans. Or at least they were milder fans until a couple of years with no postseason caused attrition among the bandwagoners. The result is that for ALDS Game 3 and 4, each a must-win elimination game, the Stadium was packed to the rafters with die-hards.

Yesterday, in an intense pitchers duel between Masahiro Tanaka and Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco, I heard the two-strike clap louder than I’ve ever heard it since the days of Ron Guidry. I’m not kidding. It was louder than it used to be for Roger Clemens in those showdowns with Pedro Martinez. The two-strike clap is a tradition that started at Yankee Stadium for Guidry, but in the past 10 years it has dwindled. Not yesterday.
(Continued)

The 2017 AL Wild Card Game

It was very freeing, somehow, to go into a winner-take-all postseason game with low expectations. Or maybe no expectations would be a better way to put it? We were expecting a rebuilding year. We weren’t expecting Aaron Judge. We weren’t expecting Brett Gardner to have a career high in home runs. We got excited about the young kids last year, but we didn’t expect them to run away with the AL East.

Although that’s what they did at the start of the season–run away with it. They built up such a lead that when they came back to earth and played under-.500 ball for much of the middle of the year, they nevertheless kept the Red Sox in striking distance. The possibility of a one-game tiebreaker loomed all the way through Saturday, when the Sox finally won one of the two remaining games of the season in order to clinch.
(Continued)

Heartland of America Post #5, Busch Stadium

“All the HOK stadiums have a ‘look,'” corwin said upon laying eyes on Busch Stadium. Then he thought for a second. “Well, except for Yankee Stadium. And I guess Kauffman Stadium is unique, too.” I reminded him that Miami had more similarities with the new Yankee Stadium than with Camden Yards, too. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say that all the HOK “retro-style” ballparks a la Camden Yards share a specific aesthetic. “Retro-style” means red brick, green I-beams, and jauntily jutting decks and ramps.

I’d been to Busch once before, during the SABR convention in St. Louis years ago when the ballpark was still brand new. Since then “Cardinals Village” has been built, a mall-like structure outside the park that houses retail of various kinds including a fudge store, Cardinals merch store, a giant Fox Sports themed sports bar from which pregame festivities are broadcast, and also the Cardinals Museum. It costs $14 to get into the musem if you don’t have special Wrigley-esque seats on the roof or you’re not a card-carrying member of Cardinals Nation. We decided to buy a praline at the fudge store and skip the museum in favor of exploring around the outside of the ballpark before the gates opened.
(Continued)

Heartland of America Trek, Post #4, Louisville Slugger Museum

We drove across Missouri on Saturday, had dinner in St. Louis, and then continued on the Louisville, Kentucky, where we planned to see the Louisville Slugger Museum in the morning.

On Sundays, the museum opens at 11am, which was also checkout time at our hotel, so we slept as late as we could (it was nearly 3am when we had arrived), checked out a few minutes after 11 and then got our stuff into our car. By the time we walked over to the Louisville Slugger Museum it was 11:20 am and there was a line around the building. In anticipation of eclipse-seekers in need of something to do on Sunday and Monday, the museum was running a two-for-one special, and lots of people were taking them up on it. (Continued)

Heartland of America Post #3, Kauffman Stadium

Like many baseball fans I have a dream to visit every major league ballpark. When I started looking into travel plans for this summer back in April, and we started planning where we might go to see the “Great American Eclipse of 2017,” we discovered the path of totality would pass very close to Kansas City and St. Louis. I’ve been to St. Louis before, but corwin hasn’t, and Kansas City is one of the last four parks I haven’t been to. So we set the plans in motion for a road trip that would start in KC and include eclipse viewing.
(Continued)

Heartland of America Trek, Post #2 – Negro Leagues Museum

It’s been a while since I did one of these baseball treks–over ten years. What can I say? I’ve been busy. So has the world. The last time I did this, I drove all over the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida looking at landmarks and places associated with Babe Ruth and other greats like Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe. It turned out to be a much more emotional experience than I expected, partly because at that time we’d just started a war in the Middle East. (You can read about that trip under the “Bambino Road” tag.)

And here I am again at a fraught moment in American politics, sojourning around staring at monuments to our national pastime.
(Continued)

Heartland of America Trek, Post #1: Introduction

I’m on a trek across America’s heartland right now, ostensibly to put me in the vicinity of the total eclipse next week. But who knows if the sky will be clear that day? To ensure myself a worthwhile trip, I’ve planned a baseball trek to take in some of the places I’ve heard of over the years but have never had a chance to visit, including the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and Kauffman Stadium.
(Continued)

A Fraction of the Amazing Stuff I Learned at #SABR47

This year’s SABR convention was in New York, which was awesome for me, given how many of my research interests are New York-centric. It meant that I didn’t have to “pick out” all the Yankees-related topics to go see because there were so many. (Unrelated but cool: There were also so many women presenting and speaking that I didn’t feel compelled to prioritize them. How excellent.) The Yankees were out of town, but you could hardly tell there was so much Yankees talk.

I learned a lot at this convention but I figured as a wrapup I could basically write a lineup card of things I learned about New York teams and players that I didn’t know before.

sabr-47-lineup-card

Alfonso Soriano

I had vaguely known that Jean Afterman, one of the few women at a high front office position in MLB, was instrumental in bringing Hideki Matsui to the Yankees, and I had vaguely known that there were some shenanigans involving Alfonso Soriano going to play in Japan first before being signed by the Yankees. What I didn’t know is that Jean Afterman was not only involved in both of those Yankees signing, she was the person basically responsible for opening the floodgates of Japanese talent to come to the U.S. overall. Here’s the story:
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Here Comes the Judge

I’ve been pressed for time lately (okay, for the past three years thanks to my own book deadlines plus SABR deadlines) so I haven’t blogged about all the fantastic baseball things I’ve experienced. Just a few of them. One I did have time for was seeing the debut last year of Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin, who both hit home runs in that game, which was apparently historic.

Historic debuts don’t always presage more feats of historic proportions but as I write this we’re on the way home from two days at Yankee Stadium, during which we saw Judge hit what was almost certainly the longest home run outside of a home run derby that I’ve seen with my own eyes. In the old Yankee Stadium we once saw Alex Rodriguez hit the ambulance that used to park in the utility access area to the left of the visitors bullpen. I thought that might have been 465′? A fan we were enthusing with as we walked out of the stadium today said he remembered it as 483′. Either of us might have been right, a few of A-Rod’s homers on this list might have been the one we were thinking of and they range from 463′ to 488′–the longest homer by a Yankee in the HitTracker era according to a great post at River Avenue Blues. But 488′ is no longer the longest.
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An Appreciation of Knowledge-Seeking and the National Pastime

This post originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of the Baseball Research Journal as my editor’s note/introduction. (The BRJ is the semi-annual research publication of the Society for American Baseball Research.) I’m reposting it here as part of #BlogMarch2017.

I would like to take this space to express how grateful I am for SABR’s existence. I grew up in a baseball-loving household, with a shrine to Thurman Munson on my wall (I was at summer camp when his plane crashed). But there were occasional judgmental people who felt it necessary to belittle the game or people’s devotion to it. It’s “just a game,” they would say. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we spent our time and energy being devoted to something “more important?”

In a word, no. (Continued)

Double Historic Debut for Austin and Judge

It’s a cliche because it’s true. When you go to the ballpark, you never know if you’ll see something historic, something that’s never been done before.

Last night was “out with the old,” and the retirement of Alex Rodriguez. Today was “in with the new.” In our latest chapter of “the metaphors write themselves” the difference between the two lineups was night and day. Last night there were 7 starters in the lineup over age 30. Today there were 7 starters in the lineup under age 30.

The most anticipated new prospects were Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, who both had their major league debuts, and were batting back to back in the lineup.
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5 Things I’ll Never Forget about A-Rod’s #Yankees Goodbye

Five things I’ll never forget about the final night of Alex Rodriguez at Yankee Stadium.

1. The metaphors write themselves
Alex Rodriguez has been compared to Derek Jeter his entire career. They were close friends in the early days of their careers and were inextricably linked in the press from then on. On Jeter’s last day at Yankee Stadium it stormed and rained the entire day, but as we walked from the parking lot to the stadium, the sun came out and the night turned into a storybook ending of Jeterian magic. For A-Rod, on the other hand, had the complete opposite weather. It was sunny all day, but as we go up to the metal detectors at the Stadium the wind began to whip up, and a gust knocked over a metal barricade. A dark cloud was bearing down on us and we could see it was raining in Harlem. By the time we reached the Food Court inside the stadium they were putting the tarp on the field. At 7:00 PM Alex took the field for a pregame ceremony, and a crack of thunder made us all jump. Thunder, lightning, and then a downpour of such Biblical proportions that we could no longer see the bleachers. Alex, his family, and dignitaries such as Reggie Jackson and Mariano Rivera, ran for cover. You could say a dark cloud hung over him. That he was always a lightning rod. That the ceremony was as weirdly truncated as his career. (And then a rainbow came out a few minutes later.)

Rainbow over Yankee Stadium

A photo posted by Cecilia Tan (@ctan_writer) on

2. The crowd was there to love him
This is a preview of what Old Timers Day will be like for Alex Rodriguez. Throughout the game chants of “A-Rod (clap clap), A-Rod (clap clap)” and “Let’s Go A-Rod” rang out, sometimes when all Alex was doing was taking a lead off second base. Toward the end of the game, after he’d had what would be his final at bat unless the Rays managed to send the game to extra innings, the entire upper deck was chanting “We want A-Rod, We want A-Rod.” Moments later Joe Girardi granted our wish, sending him out to play third base. While he was on the field the chants and cheers were continuous. Do you remember the days when Alex would get booed fairly mercilessly by the Yankee Stadium crowd? There were no boo birds there tonight. It was a love fest from start to finish.

3. An RBI never meant so much
I know a home run would have been more Hollywood. But an earlier, less mature A-Rod would have swung for the fences and probaby gotten the Golden Sombrero in his last game. This A-Rod did what he preached to Didi Gregorious and Starlin Castro: don’t try to do too much. His double in the gap tied the game and set the Stadium a-roar.

4. Elder statesmanhood
This A-Rod seems entirely ready to take on the mantle of elder statesmanhood. The brightness of his smile during the postgame on-field interview and the poise with which he handled the later press conference give us a glimpse of what he’ll be like as a future Hall of Famer (once HOF voters get over their bias against PED users, which I truly feel they’ll eventually soften on).

5. But is he done?
The only question he didn’t fully answer in his postgame presser was whether he had taken off a major league uniform for the last time. Among fans in our section rumors were swirling that the Miami Marlins want to give him a chance. Given that they’ve got Barry Bonds as a hitting coach, you know they’re not afraid of lightning-rod type personalities, and they’ve got Ichiro as a pinch hitter, but he’s gotten his 3000th hit now and so maybe the Marlins are looking for their next attendance booster? After all, A-Rod is a Miami native…and has been known to make some terrible, ego-driven decisions in the past. We shall see if this was truly the final moment in his playing career or not (remember when Roger Clemens came out of retirement?) but certainly everyone in the stadium not named Alex Rodriguez took it as such.

Alex Rodriguez was probably the only player I ever interviewed who was kind of an asshole at the time, but that didn’t stop me from cheering him tonight and crying like everyone else. (One benefit of watching the game from the stands instead of being professional media these days is I get to yell and scream all I want.) I was in Florida at spring training when the rumor swept through that the Yankees were getting A-Rod, and I was at Legends Field when he showed up. I personally got to witness the first and last times he wore pinstripes, and I find myself honored by that privilege. Good luck and godspeed, Alex Rodriguez.

Alex Rodriguez waves to the fans after the game #thankyouarod

A photo posted by Cecilia Tan (@ctan_writer) on

That Time I Interviewed Yogi Berra

I interviewed Yogi Berra in 2004 when I was working on my book The 50 Greatest Yankees Games. I might still have the cassette tapes of the interviews I did for the book somewhere but I’m honestly not sure. Of the players I interviewed for that book, several have passed on: Tommy Byrne, Tom Tresh, Ryne Duren, and now Yogi.

Most of the interviews I did were during spring training, and at the time Yogi was working as a spring training instructor for the Yankees. In 2004, at age 79, Yogi was still hitting fungoes for fielding practice on a daily basis. His memory of the great games in his career was extremely sharp–possibly because he’d told the stories of them so many times–and so our interview almost took place in a sort of shorthand, where he knew exactly what I was talking about and I knew what he was talking about.

I know, that’s not what I was told to expect: knowing what Yogi was talking about. But when it came to baseball, trust me, Yogi knew what he was talking about.

My favorite moment is when he tells me he was an awful catcher at the start of his career. See if you can figure out which great games in Yankees history we’re discussing in this transcript:
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Masanori Murakami speaks at #SABR45

This year we have many distinguished speakers at the SABR convention, as usual, but one I did not want to miss was Masanori Murakami. “Mashi” as he is known, was the first Japanese player to appear in the major leagues back in 1964. He is the subject of Rob Fitts’ new biography (Mashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer) and they’re doing a nine-city U.S. tour, starting here, Boston Monday, and several cities in California including Fresno and San Francisco.

The program began first with a quick nine-minute preview of the film Diamond Diplomacy by filmmaker Yumiko Gamo Romer, which will be a documentary about “US-Japanese Relations Through A Shared Love of Baseball.” Tracing that relationship from Horace Wilson, who brought baseball to Japan in 1871 where he was a teacher until 1877. (Here’s an interesting NPR article and story about his descendants being invited to Japan in 2000: National Public Radio). I hope we will get to see the finished film at the SABR convention in 2 years?

Rob Fitts, for those who don’t know him, is a previous winner of the award for best presentation at a SABR convention (if I’m remembering correctly), and the author of Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan, and a book about Wally Yonamine as well. After the film clips were done, Rob got up and narrated Mashi’s story, turning to the man himself to speak at various points to illustrate or explain various parts.

Here are some excerpts from the talk they gave:

Rob: As some of you know, in Japanese baseball the training is very infused with the martial arts. Sometimes to toughen up the players they were not allowed to drink water.

Mashi: We could not drink the water. But sometimes we would very quickly drink some water. You would go to pick up the ball and there would be the little bit of water with the baby moquitoes in it. [Puddles.] Sometimes you would put a towel in that water and (*slurp*).

Rob: As you saw in the film clip, the manager of the Nankai Hawks came to Mashi’s house when he was in high school and asked if he would sign a contract to play with the Hawks. Mashi said no, he wanted to go to college. But just as Manager Shuroka was about to leave, he said if Mashi would sign, that they would send him for training in the United States.

Mashi: My third year [in high school] in the summer time, Hawks manager came to my house. he said hey Mashi, please sign contract for my Hawks. But I said no, I want to go to college. But he said if you sign the contract, we will send you to the United States. So I changed my mind. I had seen Rawhide, Hollywood movies with John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe, and I wanted to come over here.
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White Sox Player Panel at #SABR45

One of the highlights of today’s SABR convention was the White Sox player panel. I also think I saw the best two presentations so far of the convention today, as well, but I’ll try to write up research presentations later! Right now, here are a couple of the amusing anecdotes and funny stories told by the players to moderator Dan Migala.

The players were Carlos May, Ron Kittle, and Mike Huff. This is a bare fraction of the panel, because these guys talked fast and were packed with stories! Hopefully they captured video or audio of the whole thing for the SABR website because I didn’t manage to get down stuff like the time a family named their kid after Mike and much more.

white_sox_players_sabr45
Dan Migala: A lot of White Sox history in this hotel [thehistoric Palmer House Hilton]. Roland Hemond used to set up camp here. A lot of trades happened here. I think we’ll be adding to this legacy here today! Could you each tell me about coming to Chicago? Ron let’s start with you. (Continued)

Women in Baseball Panel at #SABR45

SABR’s national convention very often features a panel discussion on “women in baseball.” (I have spoken on the panel in the past.) The speakers vary from former female players in the All American Girls (AAGPBL) and Negro Leagues to current women trying to make it in baseball or in umpiring to writers, front office personnel, and wives. As moderator Leslie Heaphy put it, “We take the broadest possible view of women’s participation in baseball.”

With such disparate experiences, sometimes there is not a lot of direct back and forth between the panelists, but each one always has fascinating and insightful things to say about the game we love. So here I present a smattering of quotes from today’s panel. I didn’t come close to writing down everything that was said by everyone, so it’s only a pithy percentage of the complete experience. (You should all get to a SABR convention someday if you love baseball. No really.)

Today’s panel included:

  • Caroline Phillips from the Cubs — working on the premiere club seating/renovation development
  • Martha Jo Black from the White Sox — working in Fan Experiences (and btw Joe Black’s daughter)
  • Christy Spisak, player for the South Bend Blue Sox (all women’s team)
  • John Kovach: former chair of the SABR women in baseball committee, curated the Diamond Dreams exhibit, longtime coach and advocate for women’s baseball
Christy Spisak, John Kovach, Martha Jo Black, Leslie Heaphy, Caroline Phillips at the SABR 45 Women in Baseball panel

Christy Spisak, John Kovach, Martha Jo Black, Leslie Heaphy, Caroline Phillips at the SABR 45 Women in Baseball panel

Leslie opened by asking each panelist how they got their start in baseball. (Continued)