Incredible Women Making Waves in Baseball

Since its creation in the late 1800s, baseball has been considered a male-only sport, but women have always been around the game and nowadays are breaking more gender barriers than ever before.

Women in Baseball Overview

In baseball’s early days, women played on collegiate and barnstorming teams. In 1931, 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell, a player on the minor-league, barnstorming Chattanooga Lookouts, claimed to have struck out Major League Baseball (MLB) Hall-of-Famers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game.

Then, women participated in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1943 to 1954. Chicago Cubs owner and chewing gum manufacturer Phillip K Wrigley started this league to entertain the masses when many star players of that era went overseas to fight in World War II.

This story inspired the classic baseball film A League of Their Own, starring Madonna and Tom Hanks. Yet, the only female in the baseball Hall-of-Fame is Efra Manley, who got elected in 2006 for her Negro League work as co-owner of the Newark Eagles alongside her husband from 1935-1948.

Traditionally, girls have stuck to softball while boys play baseball. Many young girls play alongside boys in Little League, but after that, the opportunity to continue their baseball journey stops for most. For instance, the Little League World Series (LLWS) happens annually in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Over the years, only 22 girls have played in the tournament. Mo’ne Davis went on to play college softball at Hampton University after becoming the first girl to get a win and pitch a shutout in 2014’s LLWS.

Women Making Waves Now

Today, many women are playing, coaching, announcing, and taking on other roles in baseball. The USA Baseball Women’s National Team, established in 2004, wrapped up group play in the 2024 Women’s Baseball World Cup last summer. They finished the first round undefeated and will look to win the tournament and prevent Japan from winning its seventh straight World Cup this summer.

Their manager, Veronica Alvarez, played catcher on the team from 2008 to 2015. In addition to managing, she serves as an Oakland Athletics’ Spring Training coach and the team’s Coordinator of Player Development for Latin American players.

Alvarez is not the only woman making waves in this sport. The women below have worked hard to ensure their place in baseball in this country. These women are following in the footsteps of Kim Ng, who made history as the first female general manager in MLB, National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), or National Hockey League (NHL) history. She led the Miami Marlins’ baseball operations department from 2021-2023. Despite building a roster that made the playoffs last year, she declined her contract option following the season when the team’s owner, Bruce Sherman, wanted to demote her seniority by hiring a president of baseball operations to lead that department. The penny-pinching Marlins proceeded to poach Tampa Bay Rays’ executive Peter Bendix as her replacement and have not spent a single dollar on an MLB player this offseason.

1) Jen Pawol, Soon-to-be MLB Umpire

While MLB continues to recognize its many legacy players, managers, and general managers who have paved the way for the game’s modern era, most umpires remain in the shadows. Throughout the sport’s history, only ten umpires have made their way into the hallowed halls of the Hall-of-Fame. Jen Pawol hopes to change that as the trailblazing female umpire will work full-time for 2024 Spring Training games, the final step before a potential Major League promotion.

Unlike MLB, the NBA and NFL have given opportunities to female referees for many years;  the NBA broke the referee gender barrier 27 years ago, and the NFL gave its first opportunity to a female ref nine years ago. The 47-year-old Pawol got her start umpiring college softball before making the switch to baseball. She received training at MLB’s Umpire Training Academy in Florida. In 2016, she began her climb through the minor leagues, ascending to a prime opportunity as the home plate umpire for last year’s Triple-A championship game.

Only a few women have umpired minor league games in the past, with Pawol set to be the first with a Spring Training gig since Ria Cortesio in 2007. Women’s eyesight is as good as males, so Pawol could do as good a job calling balls and strikes as the 76 male umpires scheduled to work MLB games this season. Her presence also could boost attention for a league that continues to fall behind the NFL and NBA in popularity, and improve umpiring before the looming possibility of robot umpires further impacts this part of the game.

2) Olivia Prichardo, history-maker

Brown University student-athlete Olivia Pichardo made history in 2023 as the first woman to make a collegiate baseball team’s roster. She only received one at-bat in her first year, so it will be interesting to see if she gets any playing time over the next few months. In the meantime, she was a key contributor with the USA Women’s Baseball team last summer.

3) Alyssa Nakken, MLB Coach to Watch

In 2020, former San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler appointed former collegiate softball player Alyssa Nakken to his coaching staff. Following the 2023 season, the Giants replaced Kapler with veteran manager Bob Melvin, who decided to retain Nakken. She will spend another season in the dugout during games as Melvin hired new first and third-base coaches.

The Giants think highly of Nakken, interviewing the first-ever full-time female coach and first to coach on the field during their managerial search process. Given her trajectory, she could become the first female bench coach or manager in league history.

4) Rachel Balkovec Spearheading Minor League Development

Another college softball player, Rachel Balkovec, became the first woman to serve as a minor-league hitting coach and manager, both assignments coming in the New York Yankees’ organization.

Over the past two years, she led the Yankees’ Single-A affiliate Tampa Tarpons, helping young players take their first steps into full-season minor-league baseball. In both years, the Tarpons only achieved 61 wins, suffering back-to-back losing campaigns. Yet, her gender seemed to cause no issues in this role, and she is now transitioning to her new gig as the Marlins’ Director of Player Development.

It will be up to her to help improve a Miami farm system that has proven adept at developing pitching prospects (Sandy Alcántara, Braxton Garrett) but struggles to do the same with young hitters. For example, the club’s selection with the sixth overall pick in 2022’s MLB Draft, Jacob Berry, has largely struggled in his first two minor-league seasons.

Women in the Broadcast Booth

Lastly, several women are making history in the broadcast booth. Melanie Newman has done some play-by-play for the Baltimore Orioles, and Jessica Mendoza is an analyst for ESPN’s weekly Sunday primetime baseball telecast.

On February 13, NBC Sports California announced Jenny Cavnar as the A’s new television play-by-play announcer, making her the first woman to do full-time play-by-play for an MLB team. Cavnar covered the San Diego Padres before spending the last 12 years working with the Colorado Rockies. Now, she will team up with the eccentric Dallas Braden to broadcast A’s games in what could be the team’s final season in front of an apathetic fanbase frustrated by the miserly owner’s plans to move the team to Las Vegas.

The increasing number of women making their mark in the MLB is good for the game as it shows increased growth and equality in the sport. These trailblazing women also create a path for more women to claim roles in baseball, but, for now, they are playing in a man’s world.

Main Image: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

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Thanks for highlighting women in such a male dominated sport. Hopefully more to follow!!

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