Could women play major league baseball? Sure. Right now, though, the deck is stacked against them.

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Jack Moore of Vice Sports has a column up today talking about the history of women in baseball. There are some stories in there that have been criminally underplayed and underexamined over the years. Specifically, the one about the woman who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. I’ll add to that the story of Toni Stone, who played in the Negro Leagues in the late 40s and early 50s. A great book about her (for which, full disclosure: I provided a blurb) was written a few years back called “Curveball.” 

As most writings, historical or otherwise, about women in baseball do, Moore’s ends with a question a lot of people ask:

The question, then, isn’t when women will earn a spot on the diamond next to men. They have been earning those spots for over 100 years. The question is when the men barring the gates will finally stand aside and let them in.

A bit of a controversy has bubbled up this afternoon about the specific way that question was put. The issue being whether there are/were people actively and with sharp purpose standing in the way of women in baseball to begin with, or is it more a matter of there simply not being women around today who actually could hack it if given the chance. My friend Rob Neyer is taking a lot of heat for his take on that, for example. I’m not going to wade into the specifics of his take vs. Moore’s take on that — you are smart and can go read them yourself — but I will offer some thoughts on the topic at large.

We’ll get to the ultimate question — could women play major league baseball? — last. Before we get there, let’s acknowledge a few things:

  • Baseball, given its history, is not entitled to the benefit of the doubt when it comes to barriers and controversial bright lines. It took sheer heroism to break the color barrier. It takes years of argument and cajoling to get it to adopt even the most basic and innocuous changes. It’s a conservative institution by nature that cannot, despite how far it has come, simply expect people to say “sure, baseball would totally do [X good thing] if the opportunity presented itself! It just hasn’t presented itself!” Baseball will, generally speaking, amble in the right direction. Occasionally it will do a good thing kind of quickly. But it almost always has to be pulled there. It does not lead on its own accord.
  • A couple of years ago when Pat Borzi of the now-defunct espnW wrote a story about women playing professional baseball, he spoke with nine current MLB scouts, executives and players and not one of them would go on record on the matter. Only three would offer comment at all. If we lived in a world where MLB would jump all over the chance to sign a woman to play professional baseball and would actually play her in a non-gimmicky way, you’d think someone would at least want to talk about it. But we don’t live in that world. At all. There is no evidence whatsoever that a major league organization has even broached the subject, let alone encouraged anyone to think about it internally. If it had, there would be talking points — even empty ones — rather than no-comments.
  • Anyone who simply says, out of hand, that there is no way a woman can play major league baseball competitively is just guessing. And, in all likelihood, voicing some level of prejudice, be it conscious or subconscious. Because the fact of the matter is we have no idea how women, in numbers, stack up. As Emma Span noted in her excellent New York Times piece back in June, girls and women are systematically steered away from playing baseball. The fact that a small handful play is neat, but it’s totally useless as a predictor for how they’d do if there was organized instruction and play for women that produced a critical mass of women baseball players from which the professional leagues could scout.

So, with that out of the way, here’s my take — or really, my guess — on whether women could play major league baseball: sure, probably.

I don’t know nearly enough about scouting and player development and physiology to say with any kind of certainty if a woman could do it. I’m pretty sure some women could if they played the game a lot, which they’re not doing now. But it would be a harder slog in general for reasons other than prejudice. There is no escaping the fact that there is some degree of sexual dimorphism among human beings and that, for a lot of things in baseball, overall strength and speed does matter. That doesn’t mean that no woman could do it, of course — there are TONS of women stronger and faster than men who play sports — it’s just that there would be some natural funneling of the talent pool based on the basic competitive requirements of the sport, making it harder for women. Some percentage of women could do it that is less than the percentage of men who could do it even if there are lots of women who could do it.

I hope that point is clear and not controversial. It shouldn’t be a controversial point. It’s merely a physiological one.

That aside, I do not think it’s silly to think that a woman could pitch relatively soon, especially if they were throwing a lot of offspeed stuff or knucklers. We’ve seen knuckleballers throwing to major leaguers before and do just fine with it. No, batting practice is not a great predictor of professional success — Japanese knuckleballer Eri Yoshida struggled in independent ball– but it’s not at all unreasonable to say that, given the reps and the training and full-time dedication to it, a woman could do it. I’m sure many could eventually, even if it’d be hard to see a woman walk right in tomorrow and do it.

Beyond knuckleballers? That’s where the institutional barriers come in, I think. Could top woman athletes who now focus on, say, track and field, basketball, soccer, weightlifting or other sports where women can compete on elite levels make it to the bigs if they were able to play baseball against top competition from age 10 through age 18 and beyond? As of now, we can’t know, because that just doesn’t happen. At all. But even with those physiological differences mentioned above, I think it’s silly to say that no one would make it through and be able to compete. In some ways it’s like saying “no Indian people can play baseball” based on the example of Dinesh and Rinku. They were novelties in some way, sure, and they didn’t make the bigs. But does that say more about Indians or does it say more about their access to and development in a baseball culture that encourages them.

So, yes, I think women could play major league baseball. To the extent people say they couldn’t, I think that says more about the culture we have which doesn’t allow us, for various reasons, to picture it happening.

And That Happened: Saturday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Saturday’s scores and highlights:

Yankees 3, Athletics 2: Dellin Betances is fast. Very fast, in fact. Take this pitch, for example, which registered an approximate 100.2 m.p.h. on the radar gun before it ripped through Gary Sanchez‘s mitt — literally:

Josh Phegley flied out to left field on the next pitch, and you have to think he was relieved not to be behind the dish during that at-bat. The win marked the Yankees’ fourth of the week, just enough to keep their heads above water in the AL East.

Blue Jays 3, Rangers 1: It just wasn’t Rougned Odor‘s day. While none of the Rangers looked particularly sharp against Toronto’s defense on Saturday, Odor had the worst of it. He struck out swinging against Marco Estrada in the first inning, then was stranded in the fourth after lassoing a single to left field. In the sixth inning, he tried and failed — in spectacular fashion — to beat out an infield single:

Odor took a final at-bat in the ninth inning as the Rangers attempted a last-minute rally, but it went about as well as the others had, falling in the Rangers’ favor as they executed a smooth play to catch him at first base.

White Sox 3, Tigers 0: There was something for everyone during Saturday’s doubleheader. Game 1 went to the White Sox, where rookie right-hander Tyler Danish made his first major league start to the tune of five scoreless innings, distributing three hits, six walks and six strikeouts for his first career win. Opposing starter Michael Fulmer took the first complete game loss of his career, firing nine hits, three runs and four strikeouts in eight frames.

Most exciting, however, was watching the player tasked with throwing the ceremonial first pitch: none other than Cuban prospect Luis Robert, whom the White Sox officially inked with a $26 million signing bonus earlier that day.

Tigers 4, White Sox 3: The Tigers took the edge in Game 2 of the doubleheader, finally getting on the board with home runs from John Hicks and Victor Martinez and a pair of productive outs (including a run-scoring wild pitch on a swinging strikeout) from J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton. The win effected little change for either team, however, keeping them neck-and-neck in third and fourth place in the AL Central.

Twins 5, Rays 3: Brian Dozier extended his hitting streak to eight games on Saturday, fueling the Twins’ 26th win of the season after he clobbered a two-run, tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning. Byron Buxton rounded out the rally with an RBI single of his own, giving the club just enough cushion to finish off the Rays in the ninth. With the win, the Twins are now a full three games ahead of the second-place Indians.

Phillies 4, Reds 3: If you’re in the market for a walk-off hit, Tommy Joseph is your guy. The Phillies’ first baseman came through in the clutch again on Saturday, polishing off his two-hit performance with a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Joseph provided the Phillies with his first career walk-off hit on Thursday, lashing a single against the Rockies’ Scott Oberg to finalize the Phillies’ 2-1 win. According to MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, no Phillies player has produced as many walk-off hits in a three-day span since Juan Samuel did so in 1985.

Red Sox 6, Mariners 0: Spot starter Brian Johnson took the mound in place of David Price on Saturday, and what a spot start it was. The 26-year-old returned to Fenway Park for the first time since 2015, executing nine flawless frames in his third major league start and first career complete game shutout. The outing was a redemptive one for the southpaw, who took a line drive to the face when he last pitched in Fenway several years ago.

Johnson’s picture-perfect outing brought the Red Sox within two games of the division lead, but his contributions capped a short-lived stay in the majors. With David Price set to make his season debut on Monday, the rookie left-hander was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket to clear a roster spot for the returning ace.

Nationals 3, Padres 0: Next to the Astros, the Nationals have the largest margin between a first and second place team in any MLB division, sitting a comfortable 8.5 games above the next-place Braves. It’s easy to see why after Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg ripped through the Padres’ lineup this weekend, combining for 28 strikeouts in back-to-back wins. Strasburg’s 15 strikeouts were the most of any start in his career to date, stifling the Padres’ offense through seven innings of the Nats’ 3-0 shutout.

While Strasburg has been pitching with an average run support cushion of 4.31 in all other starts this season, he only needed a three-run backing to put up his sixth win on Saturday. Bryce Harper and Michael Taylor did the honors, scoring on a fielder’s choice and a two-RBI home run, respectively.

Brewers 6, Diamondbacks 1: There hasn’t been a no-hitter in the majors since Jake Arrieta‘s gem last April, but Brewers’ starter Chase Anderson gave it his best shot on Saturday. Anderson crafted seven pristine innings against the Diamondbacks, surrendering three walks and striking out 11 of 25 batters before Nick Ahmed came through with a leadoff single in the eighth.

Anderson was pulled after Ahmed’s single, but even if he had managed to keep the no-no going, it seems unlikely that club manager Craig Counsell would have pushed his starter much further. The righty had already tossed 114 pitches, a career-high mark and the most he’d thrown in a single outing since last May.

Royals 5, Indians 2: Ned Yost was handed his 40th career ejection during the Royals’ win on Saturday — or, as his three-year-old grandson would put it, a “timeout.” Yost was booted in the first inning after arguing against a strikeout call on Eric Hosmer‘s check-swing attempt. While Yost mulled over the ejection in the clubhouse, his grandson took him to task:

Angels 5, Marlins 2: No one can shatter a Mike Trout record like Mike Trout. The Angels’ slugger went yard for the 16th time this season, drilling a 2-2 pitch from Vance Worley 443 feet into the left field concourse during Saturday’s win. According to Statcast, the ball traveled at approximately 113.8 m.p.h. — Trout’s hardest-hit home run in 13 months.

“I hit it good,” Trout told reporters after the game. Truer words were never spoken.

Astros 5, Orioles 2: The Astros prevailed for their third consecutive win on Saturday, helped in part by a Cirque du Soleil-esque catch by shortstop Carlos Correa in the eighth inning. Down 5-2 after seven innings, the Orioles’ Joey Rickard skied a pop up to shallow center field. Correa and Jose Altuve ran in on the play, narrowly avoiding a collision as the shortstop made an impressive over-the-shoulder grab for the first out.

Altuve attempted to dust off his teammate following the play, but Correa wasn’t having it:

Dodgers 5, Cubs 0: The Cubs have yet to score on their road trip this weekend after Brandon McCarthy initiated the Dodgers’ second consecutive shutout of the series on Saturday. In fact, the Cubs have only won two of eight games on the road — and their last road trip win dates all the way back to May 12.

There was no beating McCarthy, however. The right-hander contributed six innings of two-hit ball, striking out six batters before he exited in the seventh with right knee tendinitis. Ross Stripling finished off the shutout, allowing one hit and striking out two of 11 batters to preserve the lead.

Pirates 5, Mets 4 (10 innings): John Jaso played the unlikely hero during the Pirates’ walk-off win on Saturday. He’s batting just .194/.295/.357 through his first 44 games of the year, but had a breakthrough moment in the ninth inning, lacing a pinch-hit single to left field to send the game to extras.

The Pirates chased Tyler Pill out of the 10th inning, loading the bases to bring Jaso back to the plate. He battled through nine pitches against Josh Edgin, finally selecting a 3-2 slider for his second RBI single — and walk-off run — of the night.

Cardinals 3, Rockies 0: Adam Wainwright is on a roll. He turned in his third win in a row after holding the Rockies scoreless through seven innings, giving up three hits and six strikeouts to bring the Cardinals within half a game of the division lead.

The Rockies, meanwhile, took the loss in stride. Gerardo Parra kept fans distracted from the team’s losing effort, even handing out sticks of gum in the ninth inning:

Giants 6, Braves 3: After four straight losses and a cumulative six runs scored, the Giants finally broke through against the Braves on Saturday. Nick Hundley got things started in the second inning, putting the Giants on the board with his first home run of the season:

In the fourth, Brandon Belt drove a four-run spread with his tenth home run of the year, while Ty Blach engineered his own run support with an RBI single. Blach was even better on the mound, pitching through 7 2/3 innings with two runs and five strikeouts and setting Mark Melancon up for his 10th save.

Anthony Alford to miss 4-6 weeks following wrist surgery

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Blue Jays’ outfielder Anthony Alford will miss at least 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, the team announced on Saturday. Alford was placed on the 10-day disabled list earlier in the week after sustaining a left hamate fracture on a foul pitch, and could miss significant time in what looks to be a lengthy rehab process. MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the procedure has been scheduled for next week and will be performed by Dr. Donald Sheridan in Arizona.

Alford, 22, was called up to the majors from Double-A New Hampshire last Friday. He went hitless in his first three outings, finally catching a break against the Brewers on Tuesday when he pinch-hit a leadoff double in the seventh. The injury occurred two innings later when Alford fouled off a pitch in the ninth inning, fracturing his wrist in the process.

Alford will join eight other players on the Blue Jays’ disabled list, including outfielders Steve Pearce (calf strain), Dalton Pompey (concussion) and Darrell Cecillani (partial shoulder dislocation). He’s expected to be replaced by 24-year-old outfield prospect Dwight Smith Jr.