It Only Took 100 Years; 5 Women Broadcast Major League Baseball game
The longer you are a baseball fan, the more you discover how slowly the game adopts changes, especially positive changes. 100 years ago, on August 5, 1921, the first baseball game was broadcast on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. Regular broadcasts began in Chicago in 1924. Why did it take another 15 years for New York, the baseball capital of the world to present its first broadcast when the Dodgers took the air in 1939. Why did it take until July 20, 2021 for a broadcast to be anchored entirely by women?
Very slow change is nothing new in baseball. It took half a century to rid the sport of the influence of gamblers. That happened when Judge Landis became the game’s Commissioner in 1921. It took until 1947 for the first black player, Jackie Robinson to make the majors and another dozen years until the Red Sox became the last team to integrate. While Latin American players were allowed, it took decades for teams to understand the need for these players to either learn English or have interpreters.
Nowhere has change been slower to come by than in the broadcast booth. Bill White of the Yankees became the first black play-by-play broadcaster in 1971. Like White, most black broadcasters since then have been former players. In a culture where women weren’t welcome in the team’s locker rooms, very few people considered allowing a woman behind the microphone. The earliest to consider it was the White Sox owner Bill Veeck who brought Mary Shane into the broadcast booth in 1977. Anything she tried to say was shouted down by the regular broadcasters, Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall. Shane was gone in a year. The Yankees’ Suzyn Waldman was an exemplary beat writer who dared to try the TV booth and drew death threats for it. She covered a handful of TV games in the 1990’s and became John Sterling’s permanent sidekick on radio in 2005. Unlike Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s sidekick who saved the Masked Man from himself more often than not, Waldman isn’t allowed to prevent Sterling from running Yankee broadcasts off a cliff. He has told her not to correct him on anything he says.
In the minors, there were 2 women broadcasters in 2017, then 4 in 2018 and 6 a year later. At that level, there’s usually just one person in a booth, but if there are two, one will be a man.
Fast forward to July 20 of this year and all 5 on-air slots were filled by women as the Tampa Bay Rays hosted the Orioles. Lauren Gardner and Heidi Watney handled the pre- and postgame. Melanie Newman, (one of the Orioles’ regular radio voices) did play-by-play while Sarah Langs did color commentary. The game aired on youtube and is part of their permanent archive, so anybody with a computer can run it at any time. The game itself was secondary to the brilliant job the broadcasters did covering it. For a blind person like me to say anything positive about a TV broadcast, it had to be good. The Rays dominated the visiting Orioles 9—3 before just over 10,000 fans. The Rays broke on top with 2 in the first. The Orioles cut the lead in half with a run in the second. The home team put up one in the third and two more on a Francisco Mejia home run to make it 5—1 Rays. The score didn’t change until the 8th when the O’s put up a pair and the Rays scored 4 of their own, 3 driven home on a triple by Mejia. Other than the broadcasters, he was the star of the night. Alana Rizzo, who was the sideline reporter speaks Spanish and conducted the postgame interview with the star of the game.
As the old Virginia Slims cigarette ad said, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” When I was a boy, Mom knew nothing about sports and said that was normal. When a radio man said the Mets were two games under .500, she said “I didn’t know they had played 500 games already.” The sad part is, she wasn’t joking. I heard a woman broadcasting basketball on the Rutgers radio station. As good as I thought she was, she was laughed off the air by the male broadcasters. I heard no women on my college radio station and just one on a radio station while I was broadcasting minor league baseball. I left the game at the end of the 2002 season. As a fan, I’ve suffered through a lot of bad changes-the present 7-inning doubleheader games, the “ghost runner” during extra innings, the demolition of 40 minor league teams. Very little change I’ve seen has been good. What happened in St. Petersburg on July 20 of this year is the exception, though it shouldn’t be. In the future, I hope to hear more blacks, Latins or Asians in minor league baseball broadcast booths which are still almost 100% white. And I hope to hear more women at the minor and major league levels. It’s time for some men, especially the ones who act like they don’t want to be in the booth—to move aside for women who want to do the job and do it right.0