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Blog: Nov. 1, 2012

Why do women play baseball?

Some men assume that women play in order to attract attention to themselves as "different." But women's play is so far under the radar that most people don't know it exists. So attracting attention can't be the reason.

Other men think women play because they're "masculine." Perhaps a few are. But too many of them have married and had lots of babies for that to be true in general. Besides, baseball isn't a game requiring a large, masculine-looking body; plenty of successful players of both genders have been small and wiry rather than tall, muscular, and husky.

Some men believe women play because they are "feminists." But a feminist is merely someone who thinks both genders deserve an equal chance to succeed in everything. They don't realize that a lot of men are feminists, too.

So what do women say? Throughout the history of women's baseball, from the early play of the 1860s through the present, women have constantly reiterated the reason they play baseball: they love the game. This is true for amateurs, semipros, and professional players. Toni Stone, who played successfully for the professional Indianapolis Clowns, said the happiest day of her entire life was the day she got a hit off the great Satchel Paige.

That's why I was so surprised when during a panel discussion of women's baseball at a recent convention of baseball historians, a man stood up in the audience, went to the microphone, and said, "I'm one of those who believes that the young women of this country deserve the same chance to get million-dollar contracts   as the young men of this country."

He sat down amid applause while the rest of us digested this comment. I had never thought of women's situation that way, probably because I had never read a comment about money from a women player. That's why it's so obvious that women play out of love for the game.

The only comments about money by baseball women that I've ever read are the remarks of the alumnae of the All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League when they tell how thrilled they were to play baseball professionally. Some of them tack on the phrase, "And we got paid to do it!" showing their surprise and delight at earning money for doing what they loved.

Their attitude is akin to that of the young men of the early 19th century who were able to leave the amateur game for the professional game, where, to their great pleasure, they earned money for playing the game they loved. Few women have had that thrill, mostly just those women of the AAGPBL.  Many of the young women of today who love the game, no matter how skilled they are, have to pay someone else for the opportunity to play. Only those few who have managed to hook on with high school or college teams get the support they need in order to play on a regular basis.

The leagues established for girls and young women today receive some contributions from sport organizations and the government, but they are run by the women themselves, with the help of unpaid volunteers like friends and family. Despite tournaments that showcase their star players, women who play baseball seem unlikely to be offered any fat contracts to practice their profession.

Not until the public realizes that some accomplished women can actually play the National Game well enough to attract a decent audience are they likely to receive any offers from prospective backers. But the public has forgotten the AAGPBL and its skilled players, and men seem to consider it an aberration.

So girls and women will probably continue to play the game for the best reason of all: they love it.

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