It may be called “America’s pastime,” but baseball is one of the world’s true global games.
However, even as regions like Central America, South America and Asia continue to produce some of the best players in the MLB on a consistent basis, there is one part of the population that baseball has not extended its reach very far to – women.
While basketball, hockey, soccer, tennis, golf and frankly most other sports offer opportunities for men and women across the nation to participate, baseball is not quite as accessible for women. That’s putting it lightly.
Softball has become the popular baseball alternative for women, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a different sport with a different regulation and different rules. For women who wish they could play baseball instead, their opportunities are seriously limited.
Why does baseball have this issue when seemingly every other sport offers itself to both men and women?
There might not be one straightforward answer.
Recently, there have been a few positive developments for women in baseball. In 2015, French teenager Melissa Mayeux became the first woman to be added to the MLB’s international registration list, making Mayeux the first known woman to be eligible to play in the modern MLB.
Mayeux represents a largely overlooked demographic of female baseball players who have had to overcome obstacles in order to keep playing the sport they love. It’s no secret that the MLB doesn’t have the best track record with how it treats female players.
For example, in 1931, the MLB organized an exhibition games between the New York Yankees and the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor league baseball team in Tennessee. Pitching for the Lookouts that day was a 17-year-old girl named Jackie Mitchell, and she struck out legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Then-MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was pretty classy about it to reporters afterward.
On top of that, in 1952, the MLB formally banned women from signing contracts in the league. This ban lasted until 1992.
The U.S. actually briefly had a women’s professional baseball league. When many of the MLB’s best players were drafted during World War II, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was founded in 1943 to keep baseball going despite the war. However, the league folded in 1954 once the MLB had bounced back from the war.
There is no physical reason why women cannot play baseball. There’s also very little argument to be had about women not having an interest in playing baseball. A 2009 study from the Society for American Baseball Research reported that more than 90 percent of girls at an elite international youth baseball tournament who had played both softball and baseball preferred baseball.
It isn’t surprising that elite female baseball players would probably prefer baseball to softball in most cases, as they have dedicated years to the sport, and some in this particular survey had never even played softball before.
If anything, this study is more helpful in displaying how many women play baseball with a passion. Yet, the U.S. Women’s Baseball Team gets almost no coverage whatsoever. Softball gets plenty of airtime on ESPN, so why not women’s baseball?
Softball is a sport for everybody. While not at the NCAA level, plenty of men play in softball leagues across the country. If grown men have easy access to joining a softball team, then why does baseball make it so complicated and difficult for girls and women to join baseball teams and leagues?
Those are questions left for baseball to answer.