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: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Giants 2, Dodgers 1: The game is the game  — Alen Hanson singled in two runs for the Giants and all the Dodgers got was an RBI single from Manny Machado — but the big story here, obviously, was the benches-clearing brawl kicked off by a shoving match between Yasiel Puig and Nick Hundley.

Everyone is going to talk about the argument and the shoving — including Puig reaching over the guys holding him back to give an open-handed smack to Hundley’s mask-covered face, as you can see in the video below — but I’m more interested in what started it.

As the Giants announcers note, Hundley’s comments to Puig were no doubt some sort of smack talk about Puig being frustrated that he didn’t handle a pitch he thought he should’ve handled. In other words, Puig was mad at himself for not executing and Hundley decided that him being mad at himself is somehow “showing up” Giants pitcher Tony Watson.

What the hell is that about?

Why is it that pitchers can cuss and scream and yell at the sky when they don’t execute a pitch — and my God, do they, as they always have — but if a batter is mad at himself for not putting his best swing on a fat pitch, he’s somehow unsportsmanlike? Or is it just the Giants — who have raced to the top of the “play the game the right way or we’re gonna get a case of the red-ass” rankings over the years — who get mad at this? It’s certainly the case that they’ve made it their mission to police Yasiel Puig. Remember Madison Bumgarner going off on Puig simply for Puig looking at him? And for a bat flip? I’m filing this in that category. My God, they need to get over that guy.

Rockies 5, Astros 1: Justin Verlander was good (6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 11K) but German Marquez was better (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 7K) and then the Rockies unloaded for three more runs against the Astros’ pen. Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story went deep and the Astros went down for the fifth straight game which, combined with the A’s win, reduced their AL West lead to a single game.

Athletics 3, Mariners 2: Mike Fiers won his first game as an Athletic — and the Athletics won their second game started by Mike Fiers — by allowing two runs over six. Marcus Semien and Jed Lowrie each went deep. The M’s hung in there pretty admirably considering they lost ace James Paxton in the first inning after he was hit by a comebacker on his pitching arm. Luckily for them Paxton only seems to have a contusion and is considered day-to-day. At the end of the day it was the A’s fourth straight win and, as noted, they are now a day’s work, and a little help from the Rockies, from moving into first place.

Cardinals 6, Nationals 4: On the bright side, the Nats’ bullpen didn’t blow this one. Heck, they only gave up one run in four innings of work. The Cards scored five off of Washington starter Gio Gonzalez, however, with Cardinals starter John Gant hitting a homer and Kolten Wong adding a bomb of his own. Gant likewise allowed only one run while pitching into the sixth and the Nats’ late attempt at a comeback, fueled by a two-run homer from Bryce Harper, fell short. The Cardinals have won nine of ten and climb to within four games of the Cubs in the Central and are only a game behind the Phillies in the Wild Card race. I guess firing Mike Matheny was the right move, huh? Washington, meanwhile, has lost six of eight and falls eight games back in the NL East. Turn out the lights, the party’s over.

Brewers 7, Cubs 0: Ryan Braun hit two homers and drove in four, Lorenzo Cain and Erik Kratz each went deep too and Jhoulys Chacin dominated the Cubs for seven innings, shutting them out and punching out 10. Not literally, of course. Apparently the high of Sunday night’s walkoff win didn’t carry over the off-day on Monday for Chicago. Indeed, the 2018 Cubs have been a case study in anti-momentum.

Orioles 6, Mets 3: The Mets held a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth but Adam Jones homered then, Chris Davis homered in the seventh and Tim Beckham homered in the eighth to help Baltimore push past ’em. That ends the Orioles’ five-game losing streak but fear not: today is a new day and a new losing streak is always likely to begin once again.

Yankees 4, Rays 1: J.A. Happ allowed only one hit over seven innings, continuing his strong run to begin the Yankees portion of his career. It was his third win in as many starts since being acquired. Austin Romine hit a two-run homers, Greg Bird knocked in a run on a double, Aaron Hicks singled in a run and Miguel Andujar doubled twice.

Red Sox 2, Phillies 1: The Yankees have won seven of nine since that ugly sweep at the hands of the Red Sox the weekend before last, but they’ve actually lost ground to Boston in the standings, which has won seven of eight in that time. They’re just a machine. Here it was Rick Porcello allowing only one run while striking out ten over seven innings, backed by just enough offense in the form of solo homers from Sandy Leon and Brock Holt. Holt’s was a pinch-hit number. Holt’s was the 168th homer hit by the Red Sox in 2018. They hit 168 bombs in the entire 2017 season.

White Sox 6, Tigers 3: It was 3-3 after the first inning and 3-0 from then on out. Two of the White Sox’ first inning runs came on a two-run sacrifice fly. Yes, you heard me:

There cannot be enough Pepto in the world for Ron Gardenhire after watching that play.

Indians 8, Reds 1: Corey Kluber allowed one run over seven. The Indians were nowhere nearly as impressed with Reds starter Sal Romano, who got tagged for six runs on seven hits in the first inning and two-thirds. The Indians only got three hits for the rest of the game after Romano left, but one of ’em was a two-run Jose Ramirez homer. He went 3-for-5 on the night. Yonder Alonso drove in three runs in the first two innings.

Braves 10, Marlins 6: The Ronald Acuña show continued as the Braves young rookie hit his third leadoff home run in as many games, added another bomb for his sixth homer in the past five games and his eighth homer in his last eight games. He’s also drove in four, giving him 15 RBI in his last eight games. He pushed his batting line up to .288/.346/.576 on the season. Guess those couple of weeks in the minors at the beginning of the year are what made him good. Freddie Freeman hit his 20th homer to tie the game in the sixth, and Dansby Swanson hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the seventh as the Braves win for the 13th time in their last 17 games and take a two-game lead in the NL East over Philly.

Diamondbacks 6, Rangers 4: Patrick Corbin allowed three over seven Daniel Descalso drove in two runs and scored on a wild pitch in the first four innings which, along with a Paul Goldschmidt homer, put the Snakes up 4-0 early and they held on. Corbin hasn’t given up a homer in ten starts. That ties him with Chris Sale for the longest such streak going right now.

Twins 5, Pirates 2: Pittsburgh jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but that’s all they’d get. Miguel Sano hit a two-run homer, Jake Cave singled in a run and Jorge Polanco knocked in two with a single. That was actually the reverse order in which it happened. I put it that way because I’m receiving fat product placement money from the author Martin Amis in service of a viral marketing campaign for his 1991 novel, Time’s Arrow. Just felt like I should offer full disclosure there, as I know I have built up a lot of trust with y’all over the years.

Blue Jays 6, Royals 5: Kevin Pillar hit a two-run homer in the eighth to turn a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 lead for Toronto and that lead would hold up. He had earlier singled in the Jays’ second run of the game. Danny Jansen went deep. Russell Martin got plunked once with the bases loaded to drive in a run the hard way. Adalberto Mondesi had four hits, including two doubles, stole three bases, drove in a run and scored a run for Kansas City but baseball is a team sport so none of that ultimately mattered.

Angels 7, Padres 3: Threes ruled for the Angels. Justin Upton had three hits, homered for the second straight game and drove in three, Taylor Ward made his big league debut, doubled in a run and reached base safely three times and Eric Young Jr. tripled — three bases! — and had two RBI for Los Angeles. Man, if he had only drove in three it would’ve been important. It would’ve meant something. *sculpts potatoes*