Here’s something most people do not know. Women play baseball. Not softball, but hardball. In fact, they always have participated in women’s baseball. In fact, many historians believe that dairymaids in the 18th century might have invented the progenitor of modern baseball, stool ball.
Women’s Baseball, A League of Their Own, and the AAGPBL
Women’s baseball did get a lot of attention after Penny Marshall’s film, A League of Their Own debuted in 1992. Her film was based on the real-life stories of the players of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). These teams played professional baseball from 1943-1954.
Kelly Candaele had previously made a documentary also entitled A League of Their Own that caught Penny Marshall’s attention. Kelly was probably the best man to bring this story to light. His mom, Helen Callaghan played 5 seasons in the AAGPB film and his brother Casey played Major League baseball. Candaele also wrote the story for the feature film.
Many believe, erroneously, that the AAGPBL formed only to be a place holder for the men’s game during WWII. In fact, the men continued to play even though many of the marquee names enlisted in the military. The women played into 1954, well past the end of WWII.
Attendance peaked during the 1948 season. Men’s games started being commonly broadcast on television in 1947. Fans stopped coming to the ballpark as the competition for the entertainment increased. The women’s league folded after the 1954 season; hopefully more of a victim of the evolution of entertainment than prevalent sexism of the day.
The International Women’s Baseball World Cup
Even so, women continue to love, play and work in many roles in the game of baseball. In 2004, the first International Women’s Baseball World Cup (WBWC) was contested in Canada. 5 countries competed with the USA winning the Gold. For my work on my documentary Throw Like A Girl, I’ve attended three WBWCs: 2010 in Maracay, Venezuela, 2012 in Edmonton, Canada, and 2016 in Busan, Korea.
There are now 12 countries with teams participating in the Women’s Baseball World Cup.Click to tweet
It’s amazing! In just fourteen years, participating countries have increased from five to twelve. This is quite encouraging for equality, well, progress towards equality anyway. The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WSBC) – formerly the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) – has some interesting statistics. There are 72 active countries with Men’s National Baseball teams vs. 12 for Women’s Baseball. According to the World Baseball Softball Confederation, the reality is there is still much more support, promotion, opportunities and funding for men’s programs throughout the world, than there is for women’s sports.
In case you think this is because the world focuses on softball for women, there are 37 countries with Men’s National Softball teams vs. 21 Women’s National Softball teams.
Cultural Bias and Women’s Baseball
We have many cultural biases in this country. I feel that these biases are fueled by the concept of American Exceptionalism. It’s the idea that the USA is the BEST at everything. Therefore, it is not to be questioned nor can it be improved. Perhaps it was useful at one time, but it seems to cause more problems than it solves today. If I say WOMEN’S RIGHTS to you, do the countries Venezuela, India, Chinese Taipei and Pakistan come to mind? These nations weren’t on the top of my mind either. Then I started making this film and attending Women’s Baseball World Cups. My perspective quickly changed.
Another pervasive cultural bias is that no one cares about watching women’s sports. Some people think women’s sports can’t be profitable and are not a sound investment. This is used as the primary justification for the lack of funding women’s sports receive. As you can see here, the Women’s National Team and the development of it, isn’t the focus of USA Baseball. There are 7 different National Boys/Men’s teams and ONE Women’s team – no girls teams at all.
Why I traveled to Korea for the 2016 Women’s Baseball World Cup
The primary reason I traveled to Korea for the 2016 WBWC was because Pakistan and India were debuting their Women’s Baseball teams at the tournament! I had met Manager of Team Pakistan, Syed Fakhar Ali Shah at the 2012 WBWC. He came to Edmonton to gather knowledge about starting a successful Women’s Baseball Program. We stayed connected through Facebook. Team Pakistan was extremely open and helpful to me when we were in Korea. I was continually impressed by their upbeat attitude, generosity, and their commitment to growing their baseball skills.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Team USA in years past. In fact there are several players on the team now that when I started filming they played on an all-girls travel baseball team, The Dream Team, when they were 11 or 12. I’m so proud of their resilience, prowess, commitment, and all they achieved. I am driven to complete Throw Like A Girl this year, so the world can be proud of the women’s baseball teams, too.
Team USA’s women’s baseball team had a tough tournament, ending up 7th overall. I don’t believe this result is at all reflective of their skills and talent, but should be a sharp rebuke about how USA Baseball runs the team.
The truth is women are 52% of the population, and we get to care about whatever we care about – we don’t need anyone’s permission. While it’s true that not all women like sports or want to play baseball, but we can easily support the ones who do, can’t we? Together we can do anything we set our mind to do!