by A.J. Richard
Imagine you’re a girl who enjoys playing a sport. You go to register to play this sport and discover the only other kids in line to play are boys. All the girls are standing in a different line to play a different sport. Your female friends are saying, “Come on! Play with us!” A few boys are pointing at you and laughing. What do you do?
This is what many girls who love baseball experience. Many girls play softball instead of baseball. Despite the pressure 100,000 girls play baseball in America. Did you ever stop to think, “Why are we told softball is for girls and baseball is for boys?”
Softball was invented by men after a football game at a boating club in Chicago. The original “softball” was actually a balled up boxing glove. Softball became a sort of indoor version of baseball to maintain dexterity in the winter months. This is why the base paths are shorter and distance from the pitching mound to home plate is shorter to accommodate smaller indoor spaces.
Modern softball as we know it truly gained dominance among girls after a landmark case in 1974. Two years earlier, 12 year-old Maria Pepe joined her local New Jersey Little League baseball team because her friends played on the team. At the same time, girls across the country were trying to play Little League baseball. Little League threatened to revoke charters of teams allowing girls to play. It took 2 years for Maria Pepe’s case to be settled. Little League was effectively forced to allow girls to play. In 1974, Little League Softball was created and girls were directed to play softball instead of baseball. The gender division worked and today we typically think baseball is for boys and softball is for girls. Little League does not offer baseball just for girls. Little League does offer softball just for boys. Coed and men’s softball leagues are extremely popular for adults in America.
The truth is girls and women have played baseball as long as baseball has existed. The first paid baseball players were the Dolly Vardens in 1867. Men were first paid to play baseball 2 years later!
Women have played baseball ever since. In 1931, a 17 year-old girl named Jackie Mitchell struck out the great Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession. From 1943 to 1954, over 600 women played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. They were paid good salaries to play baseball. Their story was picked up by Hollywood and depicted in a movie starring Madonna and Tom Hanks called A League of Their Own. It is the most popular baseball movie of all time.
Women and girls didn’t stop playing baseball in 1954. Over the years many women have been players, coaches, team owners, umpires, official scorers, and baseball journalists.
People often think softball and baseball are equivalent or basically the same. If you think about it, the sports are quite different. Anyone who has made a trip to the sporting goods store knows the equipment is different. Baseball is pitched off a mound and softball is not. The distance from home plate to the pitching rubber is 60’6” in baseball and 45′ in softball. Softball is pitched underhand. Baseball is pitched overhand. The distance between the base paths is 60′ in softball and 90′ in baseball. Do these differences exist because boys are faster and stronger than girls? We know from the history described above this is not the case. In fact, many girls and women do play successfully on the “bigger” field in baseball.
Some talented athletes can successfully switch between playing softball and baseball. It isn’t easy. The manner a baseball is thrown is different than a softball because of the size of the ball. Hitting a baseball is different than hitting a softball. A softball thrown underhanded fastpitch approaches the plate differently than a baseball thrown overhand.
Girls can play baseball if they chose. In fact, America has a women’s national baseball team. The USA women’s national baseball team won gold at the Pan Am games in 2015. American pitcher, Stacy Piagno pitched the first no-hitter in international women’s baseball competition. Piagno recently played professional baseball for the Sonoma Stompers in California along with teammates Kelsie Whitmore and Anna Kimbrell. In 2016 the USA women’s national baseball team will be competing against teams from 11 other countries in South Korea for the Women’s Baseball World Cup. The WBWC is held every 2 years. The women’s team from Japan has won the last 4 championships. Japan is the only country with professional women’s baseball so far.
Baseball and softball are not the same. Each sport is competitive and features great athletes. It’s important to remember girls have a right to play the sport of their choice. Too often girls quit when they find they do not have support playing the sport they love. Play the sport you love!
Baseball for All recently held the 2nd all girls national baseball tournament in the United States from July 23-28 in San Francisco. It was the largest all girls tournament in American history. Two hundred girls from the United States and Canada played baseball, attended 2 major league baseball games, enjoyed a tour of the San Francisco Giants stadium, and have opportunities to make friends with other girls who love baseball. They also got to meet Maybelle Blair and Shirley Burkovich who played baseball in the real A League of Their Own.
If you are interested in baseball you can go to www.baseballforall.com to find out if there are other girls playing baseball in your area and about your right to play the sport you love. You can also check out Women Belong in Baseball on Facebook for news and information. The Attagirl podcast is all about girls and baseball. The Baseball Sisters blog is all about girls and baseball. The International Women’s Baseball Center is raising funds for a women’s baseball center and museum in Rockford, Illinois.
Whatever your choice, let’s play ball!