- Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball
In her evocative text, Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball, political scientist and lover of the game Jennifer Ring makes a compelling argument towards understanding why American women have been outcasted and ostracized from baseball since its inception. Complete with references to the historical, political, and economic barriers inlayed into baseball’s cultural fabric, she provides a meta-view of the game’s dynamics and highlights many specific athletes and incidents that correlate to the constant battles of female ball players.
With gusto and courage, she writes about her struggles as an academic, a mother, and a baseball fan when her talented daughter was excluded continually from local and school baseball teams. At the onset, in “Prologue: Entitlement and Its Absence,” she reveals her biases and opinions of the baseball field. For example, Ring writes of the immature drama in Little League coaching: “[The coaches] are preparing them for a chance at baseball glory. This is where the fathers’ lost dreams come to dominate the baseball diamond” (p. 5). In sheer frustration and seeking answers, Ring constructs each chapter to piece together the puzzle of baseball’s current predicament. She outlines the history of women’s participation in baseball in the late 1800s and early twentieth century, highlighting the successes of teams at Vasser, Smith, and Wellesley women’s-only colleges and the inroads of various spirited women who signed with minor and negro league professional teams. Ring shows how pioneers such as A.G. Spalding re-wrote baseball history and inculcated the middle-class ideals of manliness and respectability into the game, thereby solidifying its place in American (male) mythology. She expands on the development of softball as a respectable and convenient substitute for baseball, makes parallels between the exclusion [End Page 163] of particular ethnic groups over time with the similar economic and prejudicial barriers women confronted, and shares similarities and differences in the history of women’s participation in cricket in England. To round out her argument, she highlights the major legal cases in the 1970s against Little League organizations and explains the challenges women face to enforce Title IX in the current intercollegiate sport system. She concludes with opportunities to alter the future of women’s participation with such solutions as support for grassroots structures necessary to foster early participation, acknowledgment of USA’s victory in the World Championship (of which her daughter was a member of the team), and encouragement of girls-only baseball leagues at all levels of play.
Ring writes in a very descriptive, forthright style, always managing to complement the material of each section with her personal position. This however, is where I found myself noting consistently: “Too much?” For instance, Ring uses sarcasm to challenge Little League’s exclusion of women and teaching “American manhood”:
Conversely, teaching girls that they are toxic if they are more effective than boys at anything is acceptable. To teach a girl that her health, strength and spirit are dangerous to boys and her own well-being, and must be suppressed for the sake of the boys, is irresponsible and unforgivable. It is not far removed from the practice of female infanticide in cultures that we feel superior to. This attitude kills the soul and spirit of girls if not directly their bodies(p. 127).
Also, in the final paragraph of the chapter on legal challenges to baseball and equal rights under Title IX, Ring writes, “No big league dreams are available for girls. An American girl has a better chance of growing up to be president than of taking the field in a major league baseball stadium. In the end, the hubbub over girls playing Little League hardly mattered” (p. 133).
As a sport historian who values reflexivity, controversial arguments over purely descriptive history, and making oneself vulnerable in the scholarly domain, I respect Ring’s willingness to strike at the core of inequality in baseball. And I wonder if her constant...