It has been a long time since the game of baseball had a good story to relay to its fans. There was Jackie Roosevelt Robinson breaking the color line in 1947. There was Roger Maris hitting #61 in 1961 breaking Babe Ruth’s record for home runs in a season and thirteen years later in 1974, Hank Aaron’s 715 breaking the storied lifetime record not tainted by steroids or other PEDs. There was Willie Mays’s catch off the bat of Vic Wertz in game one of the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds and the 1969 Miracle Mets led by Tom “Terrific” (Seaver). Overexpansion and PEDs have severely hampered good news in the national pastime. I will always be a fan because I remember how it used to be. Today in October, regular season football gets better TV ratings than the World Series. Now most fans of all teams boo and hiss at the new rule for catchers blocking the plate and those challenges leading to video reviews lengthening games that are already too long. But in August of 2014, some good news found its way through.
To find this news, you do not look at the Major Leagues, or even the minors, or college or high school. You look toward the Little League World Series at a thirteen year old pitcher named Mo’ne Davis. Davis throws 70 mph (a thirteen year old is not expected to throw 90), and has a curveball major league pitchers compare to their own. But what makes the Mo’ne Davis story interesting is that Mo’ne is a thirteen year old girl.
Mo’ne Ikea Davis is from Philadelphia, PA and played for the Taney Dragons, making it to the Little League World Series played in Williamsport, PA. In a regional LLWS game, she shut out her opponent from Nashville, TN 4-0 and pitched to a complete game victory. A phenomenal feat for a girl in a sport that has permitted girls since the mid 1970s, but few have actually enrolled and even fewer have even achieved to this level.
Though anything speculated about a thirteen year old little leaguer ever comes to fruition, such speculation can make the aforementioned problems of the game seem secondary for a while. Three years from now on April 15, 2017 will mark the seventieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line. As sports fans resistant to change, we never think about the gender line. But if a woman were to play Major League baseball someday, wouldn’t it be fitting if Mo’ne Davis would be that player when she is in her twenties. She has an unforgettable name and current major leaguers are complimenting her on her stuff. I personally am not optimistic I would see a woman ballplayer in my lifetime and I am not sure how I would feel about a game I would like to see back to its roots with the abolition of the designated hitter and video review, but on the other hand, it is just what the game is hungry for to renew fan interest and restore the pastime to its lofty status. I do believe if it is going to happen, the first female ballplayer would be a starting pitcher. While position players and closers have to suit up and play or be ready to play every day, a starting pitcher only has to do so every fourth day. A woman cannot share a locker room or a shower with men—accommodations would have to be made outside the clubhouse and a special are where the men would have to be fully dressed would have to be established for team meetings. It will be easier if to make the accommodations only every fourth day—especially on the road where the franchises are not obligated. But I believe fans would root for Mo’ne to succeed.
Jackie Robinson played in the Negro Leagues before Branch Rickey signed him to a contract to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Negro Leagues were not minor leagues; they were the major leagues for players who could not play in THE Major leagues due to skin color restrictions dating back to 1900. Currently, there are no women’s professional baseball leagues in existence so unlike Robinson, Davis would require more nurturing in the minor leagues. At age thirteen, she would be starting eighth grade and that would be about five years to graduate high school. Her parents want her to go to college and she is interested in attending the University of Connecticut in Storrs (my al ma matter) which has become a big women’s basketball school. With no women’s baseball program in existence in the NCAA, not sure where she could play. The Cape Cod may allow her to play, but is a two month season enough to nurture a premier pitcher? And signing her right out of high school is very unlikely. Even AAA all stars are not guaranteed to be good enough to play in the show, and the odds of an owner taking a chance on a woman with no place to play baseball after age 18 are slim at best. Several baseball circuits would have to break their gender lines before MLB.
The only major sport fully integrated with respect to gender in America is professional basketball, but women do not play on NBA teams; the NBA created a subsidiary called the WNBA where women play on the men’s courts in the summer when the men are between seasons. Those of us caught in the fairy tale would like to see her strike out the likes of Mike Trout, Mark Textiera, and David Ortiz; or whoever replaces them in the next decade. That is the only way for such a move to give the game of baseball the kick in the butt to make the news and get fans from all over the country to fill MLB ballparks even if their local teams are not in contention.
If she finds a way to stick with baseball, Mo’ne Davis would be the perfect one to break the gender line with her repertoire of pitches and clean living, as far as we know. Let us keep Mo’ne in our thoughts whenever the news on the national pastime is negative and where the game is going in the future.