Painting the Park Pink

Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, home of the minor league Pensacola Blue Wahoos, has one feature that sets it apart from every other ballpark in the country. The foul poles are pink – rubine red, to be exact. I guess you could say it’s a more manly pink than a girly pink, but it’s a far cry from traditional foul-pole yellow.

Well, rubine red is a secondary color on the team’s uniforms, but breast cancer awareness is the major motivation for this architectural oddity. So what do foul poles have in common with breasts, other than the fact that they usually appear in pairs? Not much, but baseball is becoming increasingly gynocentric.

Now I don’t want to appear insensitive to anyone who has lost a mother, sister, aunt, wife, daughter, grandmother, niece, cousin, second cousin, neighbor, classmate, workmate, roommate, great aunt, great grandmother, or friend (just trying to be inclusive) to breast cancer. Admittedly, a few teams have made efforts on Father’s Day regarding prostate cancer awareness. But why stop there? Why not a day to fight all forms of cancer? Other than gynocentrism, is there any reason to single out breast cancer for special treatment? At a women’s tennis or golf tournament maybe…but at a professional baseball game?

Well, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos have plenty of company. In recent years, you might have seen highlight videos of ballplayers swinging pink bats in Mother’s Day games. This might seem trivial, but keep in mind that the rules of baseball strictly prohibit colored bats. You can stain it black if you want, but that’s about it. When it comes to good old mom, however, throw out the rule book. For Mother’s Day, all 30 major league teams are not only allowed but encouraged to wield pink bats.

A number of minor league teams have related promotions. For example:

In Buffalo, the Bisons had a Turn the Park Pink promotion, encouraging people to wear pink and offering free admission to breast cancer survivors. (No info on how the survivors proved up their status.)

In Richmond, Virginia, the Flying Squirrels featured caps with a pink and gray design. Even more unusual, pink bases adorned the infield.

In Charlotte, they handed out pink logo baseballs to the first 2,500 ladies. It is more than appropriate that the Charlotte team’s nickname is the Knights. For sure, Charlotte Knights sounds better than Charlotte Manginas.

In State College, Pennsylvania, the Spikes handed out pink camouflage (sounds like a contradiction to me) jerseys.

In Jacksonville, the Suns are auctioning off pink military jerseys – as part of Military Appreciation Night! Tell it to the Marines…they would probably stare at you in disbelief.

Baby, you’ve come a long way, baseball-wise. If you don’t believe it, just pick up any of a number of coffee table books that are devoted to old ballparks. The pictures therein reveal that, with few exceptions, the fans sitting in the stands are men. For all practical purposes, the ballpark was an outdoor saloon. You can almost smell the spilled beer and cigar smoke. Gambling was rife in the bleachers despite “NO BETTING” signs. It was indeed a safe space, free from the baleful influence of suffragettes and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

Though men formed the overwhelming majority of the fans, team owners figured out a long time ago that adding more females to the fan base was a reliable way to increase the revenue stream. The New York Gothams (later better known as the Giants) of the National League held the first Ladies’ Day in 1883.

Like any other free sample, free admission to the ballgame for ladies was designed to turn them into paying customers. It obviously worked to some degree, as, “Katie Casey was baseball mad, Had the fever and had it bad.” Those are the opening lines of the first verse of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which dates back to 1908. If all you’ve ever heard is the verse sung during the seventh inning stretch, you may not know that the song is about a woman begging her beau to take her to the ballpark (and presumably pay for her ticket).

The Ladies’ Day concept spread throughout organized baseball. Left unaddressed is the number of men who stayed away on Ladies Day because their estrogen detectors were in the red zone.

Female interest in the game itself, its history and its welter of statistics, is rare. I suspect that most female fans are interested not so much in the game itself as in individual ballplayers.

A case in point is pitcher Win Mercer, the subject of the Ladies’ Day Riot at a Washington Senators game on September 13,  1897. The casus belli was an argument between umpire Bill Carpenter and Mercer in which the former threw the latter out of the game.

Only 23 years old, Mercer was enjoying his second straight 20-win season in 1897.  Described as “young and handsome with piercing dark eyes, and an outgoing personality,” Mercer was particularly popular with local fem fans. One can imagine his appeal to hypergamous young women, not to mention middle-aged women who might perceive him as the son they never had (or a big upgrade on the sons they did have; in other words, the old “Why can’t you be more like…” syndrome). In fact, he was so popular with the ladies that the Senators tried to arrange his starts on Tuesday and Friday home games when Ladies’ Day was in effect.

After Mercer was ejected from the game, the women protested vehemently.  Exactly how vehemently they protested is a matter of some dispute. According to legend, the women came pouring out of the stands, surrounded the umpire, knocked him to the ground and tore at his clothing until D.C.’s finest broke it up.

A contemporaneous newspaper account, however, avers that the women’s response was somewhat less violent. According to The Washington Times, the umpire was assailed with upraised fans and parasols and a punch in the gut as he left the field. To his credit, “The umpire was too manly to turn upon the women, and made rapid strides for the office.” So the response was unladylike but hardly a riot, and not enough to induce the Senators to scrub Ladies Day from the schedule. (An interesting P.S. to this story is that Mercer committed suicide at age 29. His motive is still the subject of speculation.)

Well, Ladies’ Day is no longer featured on team schedules, so far as I can determine. Female fans are in abundance, so there is no need to give them free tickets anymore to introduce them to the national pastime.

One noticeable difference in recent years is the merchandise offered at team shops, If your team is offering a Turn the Park Pink night, they will be happy to sell you what you need to fit in: pink T-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, caps, and other forms of female-oriented attire are now commonplace. And if that’s not sufficiently female-friendly, you can even get officially licensed Hello Kitty merchandise with your favorite major league logo.

Of course, female-friendly merchandise creates more revenue, and baseball is big business, so it is hard to fault teams for trying to make a buck. But there are other examples of feminization that have nothing to do with revenue.

A perusal of the employee listings of major league teams shows a sprinkling of female “executives,” and “vice presidents,” typically in human resources, financial operations, or the usual administrative jobs one might find in any organization.

The heart and soul of the front office is Baseball Operations, which is directly responsible for putting together the team on the field, through scouting and signing players, assigning them to the rosters of minor league affiliates, and trades. Only three women (Elaine Weddington-Steward of the Red Sox, Jean Afterman of the Yankees, and Kim Ng of the Dodgers and Yankees) have risen as high as Assistant General Manager in Baseball Operations. Rest assured that if a woman ever gets promoted to General Manager, it will be headline news and she will become a feminist icon, even among people who never heard of the infield fly rule.

A female fixture on most teams’ telecasts is the hottie correspondent who handles pre-game or post-game shows or roams the stands in search of human-interest sidebars. More distinctive, the Giants have a female public address announcer (Renel Brooks-Moon), and the  Yankees have a female color commentator (Suzyn Waldman) on their radio broadcasts. At the national level, Jessica Mendoza, a former member of the U.S. national women’s softball team, is an analyst on ESPN baseball broadcasts.

From what I’ve seen and heard on broadcasts, these women are certainly competent, but I’m sure there are platoons of men who could do the job just as well but cannot be offered up as poster children when the time comes for diversity virtue signaling. This is hardly a problem on the field, where rosters are more cosmopolitan than ever. What makes baseball unique is that the 25 “employees” on the active roster are the true elite, not the “managers” on the organizational chart. So pro-female diversity efforts necessarily involve behind-the-scenes personnel.

Every now and then, there is some softball standout or Little League tomboy (most recently, Mo’ne Davis in the 2014 Little League World Series) who excites speculation as to whether there will ever be a female major leaguer. I say no.

Since women mature faster than men, there will always be an occasional female who can excel in a youth league. There may be one who can hold her on in high school, college, or low minor league ball. But now that the talent pool for major league ball is global, the chance of a woman reaching the big leagues is less likely than ever. A female player would surely be a gate attraction, but no team is going to waste a precious roster spot on her because winning is still the name of the game. So this particular glass ceiling is shatter-proof.

I have no idea how many feminists consider themselves baseball fans, but I have to feel sorry for them, considering all the micro-aggressions they endure every time they witness an all-male team taking the field, not to mention the sexist language of the P.A. announcer every time he says first baseman, second baseman, or third baseman.

Even pink foul poles can’t compensate for that level of mental anguish.

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