Happy Mother’s Day, when all of Major League Baseball turns a sickly shade of Pepto-Bismol pink and fans everywhere are made aware that women have breasts and breasts get cancer sometimes! Sorry, sorry—I get cynical about the ways baseball (and society) codes femininity and commodifies breast cancer, but this year, I’m going to set aside my cynicism (with some help from Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright—thanks, guys!) and devote the day to honoring five of the many, many women, past and present, who deserve to be better known than they are, not just for their role in the game, but for their honesty and candor about what it meant, and means, to be a woman in a man’s sport.
1) Mamie “Peanut” Johnson: No big deal—all Peanut Johnson did was go 33-8 in three seasons as a pitcher in the Negro Leagues, where she found a home after the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League rejected her due to her race. She picked up her nickname during her very first start for the Indianapolis Clowns, when an opposing hitter teased her for her slight build by yelling “How do you think you’re going to strike anybody out? You’re as big as a peanut!” Johnson wasn’t bothered….especially after she struck him out. She left baseball to spend more time with her small son (and said later, interestingly, “I regretted being a mother….Not that I don’t love my son, but I had to make a choice to not play ball”), then spent 30 years working as a nurse. Last month, the Rosedale Recreation Center, which now occupies the spot where Johnson played as a child, named a field in her honor. She missed the opening of 42 to be at the dedication, of which she said, “What a beautiful thing.” [Bonus: Check out another famous Indianapolis Clown, Toni Stone, who was the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues.]
2) Jackie Mitchell: When Mitchell became the first woman to pitch in a professional baseball game, she did it with style. As a short-term member of the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts, she took the mound in a spring training game against the vaunted New York Yankees in April 1931, and proceeded to strike out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession, before walking Tony Lazzeri and being pulled from the game. Was it all a publicity stunt? Maybe, but especially given Ruth’s well-publicized comments about the unsuitability of the female constitution for the game of baseball, it’s tough to imagine he’d have willingly accepted the K and the ego bruise. Sadly, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided Mitchell’s contract and ended her chances at a big-league career, and she spent the next six years as an unhappy side show for a semi-pro team. Uninterested in being treated as a circus freak rather than a serious athlete, she left the baseball world behind and opted for office work instead. She died in 1987.
3) Effa Manley: I’ve written about her before, but Manley, the first woman elected to Cooperstown, was an entrepreneur and a visionary like few we’ve seen since. In her role as co-owner and manager of the Negro Leagues’ Newark Eagles from 1936 to 1948, Manley displayed an uncanny knack for weaving together shrewd marketing and important social-justice work. The Eagles were a top-flight team on the diamond and a model of fair and respectful labor practices, and Manley made sure they were a force for civil rights in the community, too: They spearheaded boycotts of local businesses that discriminated against blacks, and held an Anti-Lynching Day promotion. Manley died in 1981, and enjoyed reminiscing about her baseball days to the end. “People say, ‘Don’t live in the past,’” she once said. “But I guess it depends on how interesting your past is.”
4) Susan Slusser: You may have seen her name in the sports news the other day, as she was the writer who cornered Angel Hernandez after his latest blown call, the home-run-that-wasn’t in the Oakland-Cleveland game earlier this week. But did you know that Slusser, an 18-year veteran of the MLB beat and a 14-year San Francisco Chronicle reporter covering the Oakland A’s, became the first female president in the 105-year history of the Baseball Writers’ Association of American when she was elected almost unanimously to the post last October? Happily, she reports that she’s experienced precious few gender-related challenges in the field, though, she says, “I did have a pitching coach ask me my first day on the job if I knew anything about baseball, and I assured him that a major metropolitan newspaper seldom hires baseball writers who don’t actually follow baseball.” Just for fun and awwws, check out this brief interview by a very young male blogger, to whom Slusser cites Dallas Braden’s Mother’s-Day perfect game as the number-one highlight of her years covering the A’s.
5) Sue Falsone: Dodger fans have seen more of Falsone this year than they probably would have liked. She’s been the team’s head trainer since the start of the 2012 season, and the first woman ever to hold that post in the big leagues. Falsone credits her mother with giving her the strength to do a tough job, says her friends understand that she won’t be attending any of their June weddings for the foreseeable future, and can’t figure out why they aren’t more women in positions like hers, since there are so many studying and working in the field of physical therapy. Here’s a neat interview with her, in which she bemoans LA traffic, talks about how the team made her dress up like a cat for her new-kid hazing, and politely declines to throw any especially Dodgers under the bus.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t add an honorary number 6—not for Stan Musial, but for my own mother, who made sure that I knew from a very young age who Stan Musial was, what squeeze plays and double switches were, how to calculate ERA, and why Brock-for-Broglio was basically the best thing ever to happen in St. Louis. She took me to meet Bob Feller and Bob Forsch, tapped Matt Morris’s shoulder on an airplane to get me his autograph, and named her dog after the greatest Cardinal of them all. Happy Mother’s Day to her and to all the moms and mom-types who so effortlessly transcend the pink.
The Cardinals used four pitchers last night to wipe out the Brewers 6-1, and if you’re like me, you had two consistent thoughts running through your head as you watched them work:
1) “Man, these kids are good! Everything we’ve heard about the Cardinals’ farm system was true!”
2) “My God I’m old.”
Everyone else is writing about #1 today, so I’m going to focus on #2, and offer these five quick bits of trivia to make you feel as crusty and curmudgeonly as possible:
- Add up the ages of yesterday’s four hurlers—Shelby Miller (22), Carlos Martinez (21), Seth Maness (24), and Fernando Salas (27)—and they’re still only four years older than Red Schoendienst (90). If Mike Matheny had opted to use Trevor Rosenthal (22) in the ninth instead of Salas, Red would have had a one-year advantage on them.
- Of the four, only Salas was alive when Ozzie Smith hit his “go crazy, folks” home run in the 1985 NLCS. Don’t ask him about it, though, because he was four-and-a-half months old.
- In 1990, the year Miller was born, Jose Oquendo set a record for fewest errors in a season by a second baseman, with three. Coincidentally, that’s exactly how many errors he made last night by sending lumbering baserunners home to be tagged out.
- Martinez was four months shy of his sixth birthday when Chris Carpenter made his first major-league start in May of 1997.
- Maness was born on October 14, 1988, one day before a hobbled Kirk Gibson prompted another great Jack Buck call (“I don’t believe what I just saw!”) with his game-winning homer in Game 1 of the World Series. The Dodgers are still showing that replay at every home game, by the way, because they’ve been waiting Maness’s whole lifetime for one to match it.
You probably know by now that NBA free agent Jason Collins made history, and courageously opened himself up to all manner of “ball-handling” jokes from the brilliant comedic minds who populate sports website comment sections, by coming out publicly as a gay man yesterday. Sports stars, celebrities, and even the President (virtually none of whom, oddly enough, so much as cocked their heads when Brittney Griner acknowledged her lesbianism a week earlier, but that’s another blog post) have reacted with statements, tweets, and phone calls in support of Collins.
Thus far, MLB players haven’t quite kept up with their NBA counterparts, and a fair number of their public comments have been of the “it’s not up to me to judge” or “that doesn’t matter in the locker room” variety, but enough of them have spoken up that we could field a pretty good LGBT-friendly team—and some of the most vocal allies have been ones I’d never have rooted for in the past.
With the understanding that there was stiff competition at some positions and not much to choose from at others, and that there certainly are, and will be, other statements that have been and will be made that aren’t on the list, I present to you the 2013 All-Gay-Friendly Team:
Starting pitcher: C.J. Wilson, Angels. C.J. lost me a while back with his smug attitude and his nasty prank on Mike Napoli, and those Head and Shoulders commercials aren’t doing anything to win me back, but I have to give him props for responding at length and completely supportively to Collins’s coming-out essay. “It’s very courageous of him….You know what was really sad about the whole thing? Reading the comments on that article,” he said. “Ignorance. Blazing ignorance. It’s just terrible….Sports is about equality.”
Righty relief pitcher: LaTroy Hawkins, Mets. “Everybody knows somebody who’s gay,” said the 39-year-old hurler, who also called Collins’s testimony “phenomenal.” “If you can’t deal with it in 2013, you need to go somewhere and hide in a cave. It’s there. Whether you like it or not, it doesn’t affect you. So why judge it?”
Lefty relief pitcher: Jerry Blevins, A’s. “I think it’s great for the landscape of team sports,” said Blevins, who was rewarded by the cosmos for his progressiveness by having to pitch and hit in the A’s 19-inning win over the Angels. “It’s a shame it hasn’t come sooner. I give him my highest respect for being the one to come out, it can’t be easy. My hope is that kids see this and say, ‘I can be myself and do whatever I want to do.’ ”
Catcher: Mike Napoli, Red Sox. I’ve yet to find any catchers voicing unbridled support for LGBT equality—make your own jokes there—but Napoli didn’t do too badly: “I have gay friends. My cousin is gay. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it. I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable with it. It’s accepted everywhere now; it wouldn’t bother me.”
First base: Nick Swisher, Indians. Swisher wasted no time tweeting his support for Collins, saying, “I will always support people for being who they are. Happy for @jasoncollins34 that he can lead an honest life.”
Second base: Brandon Phillips, Reds. Look, as a loyal Cards fan, this pains me, but Phillips continues to demonstrate that he’s basically a good dude. “More power to him,” he said in a clubhouse interview yesterday. “I don’t judge anybody for anything. I’m happy for him for coming out and wanting to live his life like that. I wish him all the best. I have no problem with anything like that. That doesn’t bother me. Hopefully, he gets a job and gets to keep on playing in his career.”
Third base: David Wright, Mets. Though some of Wright’s remarks stuck to the safe “all that matters is whether you’re any good” theme, he added enough genuine support to make the team, and anyway, I can’t find another third baseman who qualifies. “If you can play the game, I don’t care the color of your skin, sexual orientation,” he told USA Today. “Come on in, welcome. A teammate’s a teammate. Hopefully, this allows individuals to address (the issue). I’m happy for (Collins). You applaud how brave he must be to come out and make that announcement.”
Shortstop: Darwin Barney, Cubs. “Everyone is connected (to the gay community) in some way, whether it’s a family member or a friend. I have family members that are (gay). That’s the way of life and I don’t think it’s really that big of a deal,” said Barney, who took part in the Cubs’ “It Gets Better” video a couple of years back. “You’re allowed to be black, white, gay, straight, whatever….That’s the beauty of this country, and if there is any discrimination there, it’s a sad thing.”
Left field: Ryan Braun, Brewers. The embattled MVP gets extra points for distinguishing between “tolerance” and “acceptance”—which, as LGBT folks and our allies know, isn’t just a technicality (see what I did there?). “I think it’s great,” Braun said. “For all of us as athletes, we should all be tolerant. Not only tolerant, but accepting. I think it’s a great thing. I think everybody should be encouraged to be comfortable and confident in who they are, and I think hopefully it’s the first step in the right direction for anybody that’s going through some of the same things that he went through. It’s definitely a step in a positive direction I think for all athletes, and hopefully for society in general.”
Center field: Jay Bruce, Reds. Bruce hasn’t played much center field for a while, but I’m sure he’ll take one for the team in the name of equality. “I’m happy for him. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live your whole professional life basically in secrecy,” Bruce said. “I don’t think anyone should let society pigeonhole them into thinking something is right or wrong….I’m happy he did it for himself.”
Right field: Jonny Gomes, Red Sox. Gomes wins the prize for most colorful (if mildly convoluted) support of Collins and his gay brethren: “I’m a firm believer in if people fight for our country, they can play sports, you know? If you’re good and you have a boyfriend or you’re married and you fight for our country, you should be able to play a game. Obviously, with my antics, I don’t give a [expletive] about what people think about me. I care what 25 guys care about me inside here. If somebody wants to come out, who gives a [expletive], you know?”
Designated hitter: Jason Giambi, Indians. (Yes, we’re playing AL-style just this once.) “I applaud him,” Giambi said of Collins. “There’s a place for a gay baseball player. I know this is a good ol’ boys’ game but it’s definitely changed. Society has changed. People have opened themselves up more to it.” Nicely put, Jason! Hey, as long as you’re being a progressive warrior, how about having a talk with the front office about Chief Wahoo?
Follow me on Twitter! Please! I’m @blogoftheirown.
Blogger’s note: When Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote his now-famous open letter to a homophobic Maryland lawmaker, he pretty much had me (okay, and the rest of the world) at “lustful cockmonster.” When I met him last week at a local LGBT event, he sealed the deal, and not just because he willingly crouched down to minimize the 11-inch height gap between us in this photo. Kluwe isn’t exactly your standard-issue athlete—click here and here and here, for starters, if you need to study up on his “beautifully unique sparkle-pony” awesomeness—and he’s just the type I look for in a celebrity sports crush, except for one problem. Nope, not the fact that he’s married (she’s terrific too! hi Isabel!) or that I prefer girls……but the fact that he plays the wrong damned sport. I’m pretty upset about this, and I think he needs to understand that, so I’m going to do my best to explain this to him in language I think he can relate to.
Dear Chris Kluwe:
I find it inconceivable that you are my new favorite athlete. Sure, your raging intellect, charming personality, nads-out progressive activism, and Rafael-Nadal-with-less-Picassoface-and-more-conditioner looks are irresistible, but the fact that you’re a football player (wait, do the other guys on the team let the punters call themselves that, or do you have to have a separate term, like “civil union” for the gays?*) and I’m a baseball monogamist means we can never truly be together as oblivious idol and pathetic semi-stalkerish superfan.
It didn’t have to be this way. You played baseball for a while in high school, and I’m guessing you were pretty good at it, based on the fact that you seem to have been pretty good at every f**king thing you’ve ever done, including playing the violin, skipping grades whenever you felt like it in elementary school, and making gay men cry bitter tears of longing into their appletinis. You’re tall enough, you’re buff enough, and doggone it, you and Adam Wainwright at the top of the Cardinal rotation could have been the freaking Winklevosses of husky hurler adorability. You could have made $20 million a year instead of the federal minimum wage I assume punters get.** You could have rickrolled Bud Selig’s toupee instead of Roger Goodell’s combover. Don’t tell me you’re too blind to see how much fun that would have been.
And I’d have been your biggest fan. I’d have called you on my pink phone (obviously I would have called it “the Kluwe phone”) as a hope-filled child and sat up nights bidding on your used crap on eBay as a feckless thirtysomething. All those years I wasted venerating the greedily unique sparkle-phony who wears your number and currently serves as the Designated Hobbler for the Angels? They could have been yours.
Holy suppurating weasel bites, Chris, would it have killed you to pursue a career as a baseball player? Were you afraid that having to do actual work every fifth day instead of every seventh day wouldn’t afford you quite enough time to speed-read sci-fi novels and craft new portmanteaus to string together into cackling take-downs of the various homophobic smegma-brains in your world? Or—wait, I’ve got it—you figured you’d better make your living with your freakishly long, sinewy legs and save your arms for painting figurines and playing guitar, lest that second Tommy John surgery be the one thing to stand between Tripping Icarus and a spot in the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame (oh, sorry—a “Hall of Fame” is a place where the greatest practitioners of a given discipline are honored for their contributions***). Was that it, Chris?
I can assure you that becoming a St. Louis Cardinal rather than a dropkicker would have had zero negative effect on your life. You’d have gone to training camp in Jupiter, Florida, which only sounds like a remote ice-covered planet with no evidence of human life, instead of Mankato, Minnesota, which actually is one. You’d have been surrounded by an endless cavalcade of bellignorant Missouri politicians (like Todd “Legitimate Dildosmurf” Akin) desperately in need of your special brand of enlightenment. And you wouldn’t have turned into a lustful cockmonster, except to the extent that Mike Matheny has that effect on all of us.
In closing, I would like to say that I hope this letter in some small way causes you to reflect upon the devastation you so brazenly unleashed upon my world by choosing punting over bunting all those years ago. I’m told that you got a perfect score on your SAT-Verbal (seriously, now you’re just being an overachieving dick), so maybe a hyperlinked analogy will help you understand what could have been:
Me: You :: Julie : Rick Ankiel
As it stands, I’ll just have to keep following your exploits with glee and as much swooning as this lesbian’s ever going to do for anyone who isn’t Susan Sarandon. Keep on kicking balls, buddy….and thanks. We could use a whole lot more like you in the world.
* Nate Jackson told me to say that.
** That too.
*** Manning. Funny guy! For a douchebag.
Happy National Haiku Day! Alas, seventeen syllables is about sixteen more than the Cardinals’ performance against A.J. Burnett and the Pirates tonight deserved (okay, fine: Thank God for Beltran,/and no Adrian Johnson/to call his ball foul!), so let’s instead stay here in SoCal and revisit a poetic subject we had some fun with a year ago: The Los Angeles Angels of Anemic Aprils.
Yes, the Halos are off to another expensively excruciating start, with only one more win than a haiku has lines, and the Angel fans have responded with volumes of accidental verse in their online commentary. As always, some of them are cold, hard truth-tellers:
the worst start to a season
since we were founded.
Clayton Kershaw has
more HRs than Mike Trout and
For one day, perhaps
only one day, we can’t call
the Astros Lastros.
aNGELS PITCHING SUCKS! -_-
You can’t win, when the staff gives
up ALOT of runs!!
Others adopted a more personal, emotional style in their poems:
Um. Pathetic. These
guys are baseball players right?
The most sickening
3 games I have ever watched
as an Angels fan
Yesterday I said
we would be the laughing stock
of baseball. We are.
ohhh my god, i miss
scott shields and k-rod. this team
make me wanna cry.
Just as last year’s poets turned their wrath upon Albert Pujols (who’s off to a good start in 2013 despite having trouble with his [poetic] feet), many of this year’s crop fixed their disapproving gazes upon Josh Hamilton and the decision-makers who purchased his services rather than improving the Angels’ pitching:
i guess anaheim
is just not a baseball town,
josh will cry again
They needed pitching,
they needed relief help, they
The Angels replaced
Torii Hunter with a guy
who needs a guide dog
Some reached into the world of pop culture to capture the Angel experience (or to provide an alternative to it):
I thought Walking Dead
had their finale last week,
guess it was tonight.
These guys suck. They look
like the Durham Bulls at the
start of “Bull Durham.”
I get so pissed, I
turn it to watch “Cupcake Wars.”
I know….don’t judge me.
And one lone optimist went to his or her inner Zen place and found consolation:
At least we are off
to a better start than the
Yes. Yes, they are….put down that wakizashi!
* Accurate when penned.
Team Hamilton-Trout now leads
Kershaw, three to one.
Last night was, as I understand it, a banner night to be a Cardinals fan:
- Shelby Miller dominated in his second start of the year, throwing an outrageous 76% of his 113 pitches for strikes, allowing one hit to the first batter of the night, striking out eight with a moving fastball and great breaking stuff, and retiring seventeen in a row to close his evening.
- Kyle Lohse had precisely the outing Redbird fans hoped for: He was welcomed back to Busch with a standing ovation, and he pitched a terrific ballgame that just wasn’t quite terrific enough.
- Yadier Molina clapped his former battery-mate on the back and stepped aside while the fans cheered, then doubled and homered to figure in both Cardinal runs.
- Mitchell Boggs wrestled demons right in front of our eyes in the ninth inning, threatening to unravel before collecting himself and striking out two big-league bashers to end the game.
- And the spirit of Stan Musial was everywhere—in the center-field grass, smiling from the outfield wall, sailing along with the first pitches from his grandkids, laughing through the earnestly pathetic sixth-inning attempt at a chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on 40,000 harmonicas.
That’s what I hear, anyway. Unfortunately, it all sailed right over my pretty little head, because, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reminded us all this morning, that’s what happens with us women:
[Brief summary: Dude writes to Life Sherpa in October to complain that his wife caused him to miss an important at-bat in the NLCS after the dude inadvertently caused their cat to scratch her in the neck. Life Sherpa loves letter so much that he hangs onto it until five months later, when baseball season returns, in order to empathize with dude using phrases like "tell your wife to quit whining."]
Alas, my new WWSD? (“What would Stan do?”) philosophy will not permit me to respond in precisely the fashion I’d prefer, and I’ve got a lot of frivolous tasks I need to complete if I’m going to be ready to miss today’s game in a few hours. But if you’ve got a minute, go tell Joe how you feel, and ask him if it’s “just like a man” to miss the fact that insulting half your readership isn’t necessarily the wisest strategy when your industry is already dying a death by a thousand cat scratches.