Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.
– Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
One of the most famous moments in baseball history occurred on August 19, 1951, when Eddie Gaedel (a midget or little person…take your pick), who stood all of 3’7”, stepped up to the plate for the St. Louis Browns in a regular season contest against the Detroit Tigers. Gaedel’s one plate appearance, which resulted in a walk, was the beginning and end of his career (after he waddled to first base, he was removed for a pinch-runner). The Commissioner of Baseball, Will Harridge, had dictatorial powers. He voided Gaedel’s contract the next day. He knew the whole incident, while not against the rules, was strictly a publicity stunt by Browns owner Bill Veeck.
Well, that was more than seven decades ago, and thankfully such attempts to subvert the integrity of our national pastime are no more…or are they? Perhaps the emphasis has shifted from midgets to other demographics.
The lunatic fringe insists that trans-women are women and should be allowed to compete against biological women in athletic events. So far this has only been a thing in amateur sports. But it does add a sideshow atmosphere to such contests and likely promotes ticket sales. After all, who cared about women’s swim meets until Lia Thomas came along? Formerly a mediocre male swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, he decided he wanted to compete as a woman for dear old Penn, and so history was made. (Coincidentally, Penn has perhaps the worst soyboy nickname in all of college sports: the Quakers.)
Pro baseball is another story. The suits in the front office (not to mention sportswriters) routinely genuflect to inclusivity. This attitude may be valid with regard to male athletes of various nationalities and races, and maybe one day something will snap in the brain of a major league ballplayer and he will decide he is really a female (would he eschew his jockstrap?), inspiring banner headlines in sports pages across the land, and likely causing an overnight spike in the price of his deadname baseball cards.
The chances for a biological female, however, are nil. Major league sports teams are not about to waste a precious roster spot and a paycheck (the minimum major league salary is $700,000 per season) on a female who is little more than a mascot. Ah, but what about the minor leagues?
Affiliated minor leagues exist to develop players for major league teams. In fact, their rosters are stocked by their major league affiliates. While minor league teams often advertise that fans are getting a sneak preview of tomorrow’s major leaguers, the chance of a minor leaguer making it to the big leagues is roughly 1 in 10. But the other 9 must be competent enough to be competitive at whatever level they are assigned to so the more talented players can hone their skills and move up. Those who underachieve will quickly wash out . No big deal, since another crop of young players will be available the following season. Male disposability, you know.
The independent minor leagues, however, follow a different business model. Without the deep pockets of a major league team to bolster them, and with little or no broadcast revenue, teams must rely on ticket sales to pay their bills.
The Atlantic League, founded in 1998, is one such league. Over the years franchises have come and gone but the league has maintained a reputation as the best of the independents. The newest addition to the league is the Staten Island FerryHawks. As the new team on the block, the FerryHawks were not expected to be competitive. They weren’t.
The FerryHawks finished the first half of the 2022 season (many minor leagues have split seasons) at 18-47, not only good for last (fifth) place in the league’s North Division, but ten games behind fourth place Lancaster. (As I write this, the FerryHawks’ second-half record is 14-19.) Attendance in Staten Island is just 1,252 per game, last in the league. (By contrast, the Long Island Ducks lead the league with 4,533.)
Of course, the FerryHawks could always buy advertising space or commercial time to advertise the team, but why bother when there are ways to get free publicity? I offer Kelsie Whitmore, a 24-year-old pitcher/outfielder, as Exhibit A.
As a girl, Whitmore played Little League and PONY (Protect Our Nation’s Youth) baseball. She also played for Temecula Valley High School (she was the only girl on the team) in California. She played women’s baseball at the 2014 and 2018 Women’s Baseball World Cup and the 2015 Pan American Games. As a softball player at Cal State Fullerton, she was named the Big West Conference’s player of the year in 2021.
She excelled at various levels of amateur baseball when playing against boys and women. Arguably the high point of her career was when she pitched five scoreless innings for the Portland Pickles, albeit against a developmental team of the Mazatlán Venados (Deer) of the Mexican Pacific League. Her professional baseball career is another story. Many a girl who is competitive against boys her age discovers that the boys start to outpace her as they mature.
In 2016 and 2017 she played for the Sonoma Stompers of the Pacific Association, a low-level independent league in Northern California. (I’m not sure how she was able to play professional baseball without forfeiting her college softball eligibility.) Used sparingly, she got two singles in 26 at bats. In the field she made no errors but handled just seven chances. As a pitcher, she appeared in two games, losing one game and giving up 7 earned runs in just three innings.
There is no doubt that a male with similar statistics would have been sent packing. Given such a performance at the lowest level of professional baseball, it would seem that an encore was not warranted, yet in 2022 she signed a contract with the FerryHawks.
To date this season she has no hits in 24 at bats. She has struck out 15 times. Though used frequently as a pinch-runner, she has no stolen bases. Despite her small strike zone (she stands 5’6”), she has but two walks. Playing left field, she has one error in 51.1 innings.
On the mound Whitmore has appeared in 7 games (just 5.1 innings) with disastrous results (a 23.63 ERA). If you aren’t familiar with baseball lingo, that means if she pitched a complete 9-inining game, she would give up 23.63 runs. Obviously, your team won’t win many games with someone like that on the mound.
It should come as no surprise that she is a finesse pitcher, since her fastball tops out at around 80 mph. Her pitching coach, Nelson Figueroa, who played pro ball for 19 years (including 9 seasons when he played at least part of the season in the major leagues), was also a finesse pitcher. Fun fact: On August 9, Figueroa, age 48, made an emergency start for the FerryHawks and pitched a complete game against the Gastonia Honey Hunters.
Statistics notwithstanding, it appears Kelsie Whitmore will play out the year for the FerryHawks, despite the fact that there are countless male ballplayers out there who could achieve better results. Since the team has been more competitive in the second half, her appearances will likely be few, at least until the second half playoff situation is resolved.
At the beginning of the season, Whitmore was lauded as a trailblazer; you see, unlike boys, girls have never had a path to professional baseball. Interviews with coaches, front office personnel, and teammates stress her work ethic, enthusiasm, and dedication. I would be more impressed with results, but the fact that I write for this web site automatically categorizes me as a misogynist.
According to the narrative, girls are shuffled off to the softball diamond while the boys get to play baseball. Pity the poor lassie unable to realize her dreams. Never mind how many young boys have seen those same dreams dashed by competition for limited roster spots. They must face the fact that they weren’t good enough; girls can always say they failed because organized baseball had no path for them to achieve their dreams. In other words, they didn’t feel welcome. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.
Nevertheless, Kelsie Whitmore’s mere presence has created baseball history. She was the first female to play pro baseball in Mexico. She was also the first female player in Atlantic League history. She made her debut on April 22 when she appeared as a pinch runner. On May 1 she became the first woman to start an Atlantic League game (in left field)., and three days later she became the first woman to pitch in an Atlantic League game. Sports Illustrated called her “the Face of Women’s Baseball Progress.” Needless to say, male players do not make headlines for just showing up.
If Kelsie Whitmore’s teammates resent her presence, they are holding their tongues. They may have succumbed to the “little sister” syndrome, standing up for her as one would for any female member of the clan. Of course, the other teams in the league would never object to her presence. To do so would only invite opprobrium. Besides, when the FerryHawks make a road trip, the other teams in the league may show a bump in attendance. After all, it’s not every day you get a chance to see a girl play baseball against the big boys.
Actually, we’ve been down this road before. In 1934 the multi-talented Babe Didrickson, the female counterpart of Jim Thorpe, pitched in several spring training exhibition games. She still holds the women’s distance record for throwing a baseball.
When major league players went off to fight World War II, part of the slack was picked up by the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, portrayed in the 1992 film A League of Their Own. This was the film that gave us the immortal line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” Whining, however, is another story.
Baseball history is replete with anecdotes about girl wonders who struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, or Ted Williams in exhibitions. The Negro Leagues also showcased the occasional female player. In more recent years, there was Ila Borders, who played four seasons (1997-2000) for independent minor league teams with mediocre results (two victories in four decisions, an earned run average of 6.75). Her finest hour occurred in 1999 when she pitched 32.1 innings for the Madison Black Wolf of the Northern League and fashioned a superb 1.67 ERA. She later played for the Colorado Silver Bullets, a women’s professional team composed, for the most part, of former softball players.
Which brings us back to Kelsie Whitmore. The attention she has received from the media, who usually ignore independent minor league ball, demonstrates the novelty effect of a woman’s presence on a men’s team. Also a factor is the old “rooting for the underdog” theme, which always plays well with sports fans. And let’s not forget the longstanding feminist narratives of breaking the glass ceiling, female empowerment, creating a safe space for women, etc.
Though Kelsie Whitmore has made news in 2022, the statistics indicate she will be hard-pressed to return to the FerryHawks in 2023. Though her playing days may be numbered, that doesn’t mean her baseball career is over. If she has the ability to impart baseball know-how to others, she may stick around.
Psychologists have long told us (though they wouldn’t shout it from the rooftops today) that women are more verbal than men and are more detail-oriented. Such traits would serve them well in the coaching ranks. So the idea of a baseball schoolmarm isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem at first blush.
Bill Lee, a 14-year major league veteran and one of baseball’s renowned characters, insisted that his aunt, Annabelle Lee (perhaps her parents were fans of Edgar Allan Poe), a veteran of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, taught him how to pitch.
Darrell Evans, who struck 414 home runs in 21 major league seasons, benefited from having a mother and an aunt who were professional fast-pitch softball players.
More recently, baseball teams have hired female coaches to serve at various levels. The most prominent example this season is Rachel Balkovec, manager of the Yankees’ lowest level minor league franchise, the Tampa Tarpons (and I’ve got to believe that the locals have made jokes about the Tarpa Tampons).
If the future is female, at least to a limited degree, in baseball, it will likely play out in the coaching ranks and not on active rosters. An outstanding playing career is not a prerequisite for a coaching or managerial position. The managerial ranks are filled with any number of men who were mediocre players. Many a utility player, career minor leaguer, or bench-warmer who paid close attention to the game acquired a comprehensive knowledge of the game and its attendant strategies. So don’t be surprised if one day you see Kelsie Whitmore coaching at some level. Having spent so much time on the bench this season, she is in a good position to embody the old Yogi Berra maxim, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”
Now it might seem that I’ve been dumping on Kelsie Whitmore throughout this article. I don’t know if she knows or cares that she’s being exploited by her team and her league, but I do respect what she’s done so far, even though achievements have not been forthcoming. In fact, I’m going pay her the highest compliment a man can pay to a female athlete:
Not bad for a girl.
Sorry if I triggered anyone.