A while back, there was the following exchange in a Baseball Prospectus chat hosted by Ben Lindbergh:
thatjerkjames (Manhattan): Ballpark % likelihood of a female holding these positions in MLB in the next 30 years: general manager, manager, position player, pitcher, umpire.
Ben Lindbergh: Good question! And probably a good podcast topic. Okay, I’ll guess: 85, 20, 2, 8, 90.
My initial reaction was that Ben was quite optimistic with his percentages. Upon reflection, I think Ben was quite optimistic with his percentages.
Sure, 30 years is a long time, and our biases and stereotypes have changed greatly over the decades, but there will continue to be numerous roadblocks in the path of any woman who tries to make inroads into Major League Baseball.
I’d like to delve a bit deeper into each of the positions mentioned in the question above and come up with my best guess at the percentage chance of each of these roles being filled by a female at some point in the next three decades.
This may be the best chance for a woman to hold one of the five positions under discussion. A good role model for anyone—male or female—pursuing a GM position, and the woman currently most likely to land such a gig, is Kim Ng. She worked for the White Sox after graduating from the University of Chicago and then transitioned to a role in the American League offices. In 1997, Ng became the assistant GM for the Yankees, and four years later, she moved on to the same position with the Dodgers.
Now 45, Ng has interviewed for GM roles with the Dodgers in 2005, the Mariners in ’08, and the Padres in ’09, losing out each time to other candidates. Her current position is senior vice president of baseball operations for MLB, reporting to Joe Torre.
While there are other women in front-office roles, Ng remains the highest-ranking and, therefore, the woman currently most likely to get a shot at a GM position. Given Ng’s multiple interviews for such a role, her youth, and also that we’re talking about the overall odds of any woman landing a GM gig in the next 30 years, I have to side with Ben on this one and say the chances are very good.
There certainly will be more and more good candidates working their way up major league teams’ chains of command over the coming years, and despite the latent (and sometimes blatant) male chauvanism in sports, a woman general manager is pretty likely, and sooner rather than later.
Chance of a female GM in the next 30 years: 75 percent
This may be the position that’s least likely to be filled by a woman. It’s not that there aren’t females with the baseball acumen, leadership qualities and media savvy necessary to perform well in the role. It’s that there are 25 players, several coaches, upper management, ravenous media members and millions of fans who would have to be considered.
Sure, you can argue that these other people simply would have to adjust, that it’s their issue, their problem if they don’t like the idea of a female field manager. And that’s true, but it’s also far from truly honest.
The reality is, the manager has to relate to players—kick their butts, sympathize with them, and spend more than half the year with them day in and day out. There is bound to be push-back from some players—not to mention their wives and girlfriends—were a woman to be barking orders in the dugout and walking around the clubhouse before and after a game.
The media circus such a hiring would create is another big consideration. This would be big news from the initial press conference announcing the hiring to every pre- and postgame interview in every city the team visited.
The best chance for such a hiring probably would be with a team that clearly had little chance at contention in the woman’s first year on the job. In addition to setting reasonable expectations for her debut campaign, the team could deal with the focus being more on its manager and less on its on-field performance. It might even be viewed as a nice distraction for a team destined for a rough stretch.
A contending team likely would be unwilling to throw this type of twist into an already highly stressful environment. This might not be fair, but it’s most likely true.
Chance of a female manager in the next 30 years: one percent
If manager is a highly unlikely role for a woman by 2043, position player would give it a run for its money in terms of improbability. Along with the off-field drama and the dugout and clubhouse atmosphere, there’s the significant issue of on-field performance.
With today’s rosters split roughly 50-50 between position players and pitchers, this means a major league fielder is one of the 500 or so best players in the world. That’s an incredibly high standard to achieve, and there is an inherent physical advantage for men in most sports, including baseball.
Certainly, I’m not saying it’s impossible for a woman to break into the bigs, just that the mountain of obstacles—both societal and physical—make the odds quite slim. I was wrong about the manager role; this would be the toughest spot for a female to reach the majors.
Chance of a female position player in the next 30 years: 0.1 percent
It’s been nearly three years since Justine Siegal became the first woman to throw batting practice to major leaguers, first performing the task in Indians camp in the spring of 2011. The previous season, Japanese knuckleballer Eri Yoshida pitched for the independent Chico Outlaws. And more than a decade earlier, Ila Borders made headlines as a left-handed hurler in non-affiliated leagues from 1997 to 2001.
So multiple women have taken the mound for pro teams, but the jump from the independent leagues to the majors is a massive one. And many of the same barriers present for position players exist for pitchers, with one exception.
Hitters generally need to have the bat speed and strength to smack balls with authority. Absent that, the few Juan Pierres in the game use their blazing speed to provide value. And once in a while you’ll find a Brendan Ryan who can pick it but can’t hit a lick. But in general, you have to provide at least some thump with the stick.
While many pitchers fit the mold of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound flame-throwing beast, there are numerous exceptions. Bartolo Colon and David Wells have succeeded despite having the physiques of couch potatoes. Tim Collins has been getting people out as a member of the Royals bullpen for the last three seasons in spite of his listed size of 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds.
In this manner, a woman would not have to rely on pure brawn for success. Guile, excellent command, and changing of speeds could be as viable a path to the bigs as a 98-mph heater.
Will it be done in the next three decades? I don’t know, but it would be very interesting to see some women take a shot.
Chance of a female pitcher in the next 30 years: two percent
We’ve gotten close with this one in the past, and umpire ranks up there with GM as the likeliest role to be filled by a female.
The most recent example of a woman getting close to an MLB umpiring job is Rita Cortesio, who worked a spring training game in 2007 and the 2006 Futures Game. Previously, Pam Postema worked games in spring training of 1988 and the Hall of Fame game that same year.
These opportunities don’t exactly indicate females will be knocking down the umpiring door tomorrow, but at least it shows a willingness by the powers that be to broach the subject. Still, there are similar gender barriers as with the other positions.
However, there is the advantage of a certain degree of anonymity in being an umpire. It’s not as high-profile a role as a player or exec, so the media circus would be smaller—still at least the two-ring variety, but that’s better than a three-ring one. Baseball is never going to sneak a woman into any of these roles, but umpire would be one of the paths of least resistance.
Chance of a female umpire in the next 30 years: 70 percent
What do you think? Am I being optimistic, pessimistic, or just about right with my guesses? I’m very interested in what everyone else thinks, so add your thoughts in the comments below.