Friday, July 3, 2009

30. Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don't Play Baseball by Jennifer Ring

As Ring prefaces her book with the story of her daughter's struggle to play baseball in an equal setting, I'm going to preface my review by talking about my sister. She is the one who introduced me to this book and generously loaned it to me. My sister is a star baseball player. She plays in a women's baseball league as well as a local rec team, where she is the only girl. She also plays softball for her high school and now on a traveling team. The softball was not her choice. It was foisted upon her because there are no girls' baseball teams in high school or college. There are no baseball scholarships for girls. There are no professional baseball leagues for women either. I have always wondered why people are so silent on this subject. I have never considered softball as equal to baseball. Its very name soft ball implies inferiority. It implies that women are not 'hard' enough for the real thing. Jennifer Ring speaks to my anger. She answers my questions, and flares up my bitterness.

Ring is often vitriolic, particularly against one man, A.G. Spalding. She blames him, one of the founders of men's professional baseball, and owner of the sporting-goods store, for deliberately excluding women. She says American women were excluded from baseball twice, first legally, along with non-white men, including Jews and Italians, and then with the advent of softball. As I've heard before, softball was originally a men's game played indoors in bad weather, but was adopted as a less violent and competitive game deemed appropriate for women and girls. Men's baseball organizations have consistently been unhelpful to female players. Little League responded to equality suits with Little League softball.

I agree with Ring in many points; women do not prefer softball by choice, men have created a society that encourages the exclusion of women, and, to remedy this, organizations need to be built from the ground up, to have baseball rec teams and school teams for young girls and then older girls. The question of professional teams for women can barely be bridged yet. I am not blind to her faults, however. I do think she places not entirely deserved brick-tons of blame at Spalding's door. Also, I was surprised that she seems to think most men would willingly exclude girls from private baseball teams, or at least never give them the consideration they give to boys (nor give anyone the consideration given their own sons), but her experiences would seem to justify this.

I was interested in her research into the origins of baseball. I always assumed it derived from cricket, but apparently it came from an even simpler game (from which cricket also derived), called rounders, with varying rules, and played by both boys and girls in England for centuries. Spalding rejected this hypothesis, and insisted baseball was the immaculate conception of the American male. I was interested to learn that Henry Chadwick, brother of Edwin Chadwick, hero of London sanitation, immigrated to the U.S. to become the hero of sanitizing (that is, formalizing rules and disciplining players) baseball.

I would definitely recommend this book, as I have a vested interest in forwarding the issue. Ring also apparently plans to write another book on the subject, based on a more intimate study of current women's baseball teams. My sister went to one of her book signings and was asked for her information, so she might be interviewed for the next book, which would be exciting. In the meantime, I'm rooting for all the girls out there in baseball right now and hoping opportunities continue to grow!

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