The truths about the nation’s pastime comes to light in Jennifer Ring’s book Stolen Bases: Why American Girls don’t Play Baseball (University of Illinois Press, 2009). Author Jennifer Ring discusses the social, political, and economic policies that keep girls off the baseball diamond. The book runs about 182 pages including the epilogue.
Ring covers the history of baseball in the United States. Well, the history as far as anyone can relay it since nobody knows exactly how baseball began.
Ring theorizes that there were two reasons why females in America do not play the sport of baseball: the first is professional baseball promoter, Albert Spalding, and the second is softball. A.G. Spalding (yes, the same man who makes all that sporting equipment) was born in 1850 in Chicago. His father died when he was 8 years-old and his mother decided to move Albert away to a boarding house when he was age twelve. According to Ring, the only relief Albert found from the anxiety of being separated from his mother was baseball. Spalding, Ring claims, found an adequacy through the game of baseball which precipitated Spalding’s motive to make baseball masculine. “Neither our wives, our sisters, our daughters, nor our sweethearts, may play Base Ball on the field…but Base Ball is too strenuous for womankind, except when she may take part in the grandstand,” wrote Spalding.
Ring postulates that Spalding set out to prove baseball’s manly, European heritage and he picked experts which traced baseballs origins to American Civil War hero General Abner Doubleday, giving baseball’s birthplace Cooperstown, New York in 1839. Even though Ring asserts this fact is inconsistent with the record that claims that Doubleday was at West Point during that period.
She also makes references to two historians. Henry Chadwick, a nineteenth century baseball historian claimed that baseball evolved from an English children’s game called rounders – a game played by both boys and girls. New York librarian, Robert W. Henderson, pursued the history of baseball. He discovered that it was being played before 1839. There was an English game called base-ball that was played by both boys and girls and had different variations. In one version, English Milkmaids played with stools and rocks.
However, according to Ring, Spalding wanted baseball to be a masculine game and it could not be if it was evolved from a children’s game in which girls were allowed to play. In his book America’s National Game, Spalding claims baseball and American life are inseparable and made baseball profitable and professional leaving out the history which included English milkmaids and rounders.
Ring points out that female students played baseball at Vassar College and baseball was the main collegiate sport for women in the early twentieth century. There were women’s semiprofessional and professional leagues around the country in the late nineteenth century including the Chicago Bloomer Girls made up of African-American women and Mrs. Jane Duffy Club to name a few.
According to Ring, the growth of baseball in America paralleled nineteenth century urbanization and industrialization and helped to enforce “emerging race, class, and gender roles in the United States.” When baseball grew in the nineteenth century it reflected American Democracy and helped to enforce baseball as masculine, White, and European through the exclusion of women and minorities. White men, especially white-collar workers, needed to maintain their physical superiority in a changing society that wasn’t dependent upon hard labor.
Ring claims the inception of softball negatively impacted the growth of girls’ baseball in the United States. She recounts a brief history of softball and then states the “similarities and differences” between the two sports which is more like why baseball is superior to softball than an actual comparison. In obvious scorn for the sport of softball, Ring puts out a 3 page diatribe as to why softball is intellectually and physically inferior to baseball.
This is a short summary of her “comparisons” (opinions)
-Ring calls baseball’s slow pace “a mental game,” which allows players and coaches to strategize. She writes “baseball’s long at-bats that require subliminal communication between the infielders and continual changes in strategy by the batter as a pitch count changes, are not a part of softball.”
– She states that the softball diamond is “approximately the size of a Little League baseball field, giving the clear impression that grown women are only as big, fast, and powerful as six- to twelve-year-old boys.”
-There are more suspense and tension during pop fly’s in baseball because the outfield is larger.
-People who contend that baseball is boring don’t understand the strategy that is going on amongst coaches, players, and spectators.
– Ring writes “for baseball fans, the leisurely pace of baseball compared to softball allows for the most subtle, most intriguing aspects of the game.”
Ring fails to realize that men play softball as well and on the same field as women (the only difference is the maximum outfield for men is 250 feet instead of 225 feet and the pitching rubber is at 46 feet instead of 43). Ring makes the assertion that softball fields were made smaller because women don’t have the physical ability to play on a larger field. If that were the case women would run on smaller tracks, play basketball with lower rims, and play soccer on shorter fields. There is simple physics as to why softball fields are smaller. It is more difficult to hit a softball over 400 feet because softballs are bigger and weigh more than baseballs. There is strategy in practically every sport. Strategy goes on in baseball, but just at an infinitesimal slow pace which is why many people find it boring to begin with.
I’ve watched both baseball and played softball extensively, and after participating and coaching a sport like basketball, they both seem pretty leisurely to me.
There are some ridiculously long at-bats in softball and the game does require strategyl. What do you think is going on when the coach and catcher call time to talk to the pitcher? They definitely are not taking lunch orders.
The chapter on cricket doesn’t add much to Ring’s assertion as to why girls don’t play baseball. She just tries to loosely tie softball with rounders – again putting down another sport. Cricket is actually very much different from the sport of baseball and the similarities ends with hitting balls with bats and running bases.
Women’s baseball is more developed in countries like Japan, Canada, and Australia but Ring fleetingly discusses this in the epilogue. A more detailed history of women’s baseball in other countries would have added to the book.
According to Ring, Major League’s Basebal’sl method of recruiting talent has a negative impact on the development of female baseball players. The MLB draft does not apply to players outside the US, allowing teams to find players for cheap in Latin America. Finding good talent in the United States is expensive and time consuming. This is why the number of African-American baseball players is on the decline. Players start their development from when they are very young. Their fathers start their career and take them to little league and eventually expensive travel teams. Since the travel teams are private they are not subject to civil rights laws. This makes access to these teams among poor minorities and females virtually impossible. “Area Code” tournaments were developed by scouts who choose players from the e
xclusive travel teams. The “Area Code” tournaments are invite-only so why would travel coaches waste their time on girls who won’t be able to play in college? This allows MLB to perpetuate racism and sexism within the league covertly.
So why don’t girls play baseball? I guess that lies in the fact that there is no development for girls beyond Little League. Who’s to blame? I don’t know how much Spalding had to do with it since women have had to fight to be able to play pretty much every sport. After reading the book I think it’s up to the International Baseball Federation to create feeder system or ODP leagues like there is in soccer. Having a professional or semi-professional league aids in the development. But that is hard to start unless there is women’s college baseball which will be pretty difficult to create in this economy. Club baseball is a good start and then if it garners enough interest college baseball can be formulated from that. I would love to see the development of women’s baseball and how this would impact the sport of softball.
Stolen Bases is an informative read that gives a good look at the sexism and racism that are preserved in our nation’s pastime. I would recommend it as long as you were never a softball player (or rounders player), because more than likely you’ll be offended repeatedly.