WOMEN CONTINUE TO EXPAND ROLE IN BASEBALL
When I was 12 years old, I was already hooked on baseball. Not only was I playing it in school, but I was an avid fan of both the A’s and Giants while growing up in Auburn, a historic Gold Rush town at the base of the Sierra Foothill Mountains above Sacramento. As was the case in an earlier generation, my mother was a house wife. While she had no real interest or knowledge of the game I loved, it was her love for a snot-nosed kid that led her to listen to Monte Moore or Russ Hodges on the radio during day games so she could report back to me when I returned home from school. Eventually Monte and Russ became like family to mom, and she actually started keeping a scorebook while watering our garden in the back yard. It was also my mother who would wrap my arm in a hot towel when it became sore from over-throwing and she would even re-lace my catcher’s mitt when it was needed. While that’s my earliest memory of a woman who shared my passion for baseball, this past week was full of reminders that Abner Doubleday created a sport that belongs to both sexes.
During the 25-year celebration of our 1989 World Series Champions recently, an interested visitor to the festivities was Susan Fornoff, a pioneer of sorts as one of the first ever female Major League beat writers. She covered that ’89 A’s club for the Sacramento Bee. Walking into a baseball clubhouse in those days had to be a harrowing experience for a lone woman writer, but over time, she earned the manager’s and players’ trust, and a barrier was torn down. Her early work paved the way for dozens of female writers to make baseball their careers. Never is that more evident than here in Oakland, where Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jane Lee of MLB.com and Janie McCauley of the Associated Press comprise three of the four beat writers who cover the A’s regularly. Kate Longworth, who has moved into the studio this year, has also served as an on-site reporter at the Coliseum for Comcast SportsNet California in recent seasons. All four are some of the best journalists that cover our team.
Yet another reminder of the role women have played in our great game unfolded at Cooperstown this past weekend. Jane Forbes Clark, who has served as chairperson of the board of directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for the past 14 years, once again oversaw the induction ceremonies as the highest ranking official. And in an ironic full-circle twist, it was Slusser, a woman, who championed the cause of a 93-year-old male writer that proved the impetus for the great author Roger Angell to be inducted into the writer’s wing of the Hall as the 2014 J. G. Taylor Spink Award Winner. It was Angell, a regular contributor and editor for the New Yorker magazine, who first inspired Slusser as a young girl through his eloquent and vivid prose about baseball. Not long after that day, Susan knew she wanted to be a baseball writer. She eventually rose to become one of the country’s most respected major league scribes, and last year became the first female president of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Over the years in this business, I have also seen more and more women accepted in my field. Dozens of female public relations specialists now hold high-ranking positions in baseball. In fact, the senior vice presidents for club relations in both the American (Phyllis Merhige) and National (Katy Feeney) Leagues have been held by veteran women who have played prominent roles in the Commissioner’s Office for several decades. Same on the club front, where ladies such as Staci Slaughter of the Giants and Bonnie Clark of the Phillies serve in executive roles as PR vice presidents and key advisors for their respective teams.
And closer to home, Debbie Gallas has worked in the A’s public relations department as the media services manager for the past 16 years. In terms of issuing credentials, nurturing relationships with writers, broadcasters and photographers and overseeing many of the department’s administrative duties, she may be as good as anyone in the business—male or female—and the best compliment everyone gives her is this: she gets things done! Our baseball operations folks have also tapped into female talent. Billy Beane recently penned an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal as part of their 125th year of publishing promotion that featured leading thinkers in the country. Part of Billy’s futuristic theme was his prediction that Major League Baseball will become even more inclusive in the years to come. It will matter less and less whether you have come from a traditional baseball background. Brain and analytical power will carry the day, and gender or ethnic background has no bearing. The A’s GM has already been practicing what he preaches, as evidenced not only with the brilliant hiring of MIT and Harvard graduates as assistant general managers, but also employing Pamela Pitts as his director of baseball administration, and Kate Greenthal as a scouting assistant.
This trend only should grow stronger in the years ahead. So beyond passing the eye test when you look into the stands at a big league park, where women comprise half your fans, don’t be surprised if one day there will be a woman general manager or president of a team, or even maybe a league commissioner. And if that does happen, it will make it a better game.