Who Gets to Call the Game?

New York Times
July 29, 2017
By Doug Glanville
You don’t need to be a former player — or a particular gender — to analyze baseball.
It was another early summer baseball game last year at Chicago’s “friendly confines,” and in my expert opinion, the Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler was playing too shallow. The newfangled analytics backed up my conclusion, and I could also draw on my playing days: having stood in the outfield in Wrigley Field, knowing the numbers can lie to you, especially given Wrigley’s unpredictable ricochets, ivy-covered entanglements and temperamental weather extremes.
My color-analyst colleague in the ESPN booth, Rick Sutcliffe, knew I was going to “go there.” Get on a rant about Wrigley’s challenges and Fowler’s depth, tapping into my major-league history of playing center field. Rick could set it up with his Cy Young Award-recipient pitching pedigree. We ran with it for an entire inning.
Jessica Mendoza, the ESPN baseball analyst, does not have the advantage of being able to start any sentence with, “When I played for the Chicago Cubs.” True, she is an Olympic gold and silver medalist in softball; a trusted insider, according to colleagues, M.L.B. players and staff; and a diligent, inquisitive and passionate commentator.
She is also — even though some data suggests that 45 percent of baseball fans are women — ESPN’s first and only female M.L.B. analyst. Today, the vast majority of color commentators are either former Major League Baseball players or had direct major-league experience.
Still, Mendoza’s standing brings out the underbelly of sports fans’ taste for sexism. It goes beyond casual disagreements about her opinion or jabs because she picked one team over another, and gets at the core of her existence. These comments, mainly from social media, tell her she has no business even being there:
“She doesn’t belong in the booth with men discussing a game she knows nothing about. It’s like watching a game with a girlfriend.”
“So glad we have Jessica Mendoza to commentate. Her years of playing a completely different sport totally makes her qualified.”
“Jessica Mendoza is that annoying sister your mom makes you bring everywhere.”
“I just changed the channel to ESPN2 so I could stop listening to Jessica Mendoza. BTW I don’t understand Spanish.”
“I hate hearing men commentating softball, and I hate hearing women commentating baseball.”
And yet this weekend another woman will be presented with the highest honor in baseball journalism, the J. G. Taylor Spink Award. Every year, the winner of this award is recognized with a display in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Claire Smith, a news editor at ESPN (and a former baseball reporter for The New York Times) is the first woman ever to be so honored.
Smith’s journey as an African-American woman covering baseball has been fraught with challenges, yet she held on to the words of wisdom from her father, which ring true for Jessica Mendoza and countless other women in sports: “You will always have to prove what you are not, before you can prove what you are.”
About Mendoza, incidentally, Smith recently wrote me: “I wish those doubters could see how the players, the people in uniform, interact with her. They know they’re speaking with a peer. They are so comfortable talking baseball with, not at, her.”
I root for Mendoza’s success because her journey inspires me, and many others, to think optimistically about what we can overcome despite the stereotypes attributed to our demographic boxes. As an African-American, I can find the similarities of her walk in mine, a reminder that I am not alone in this world even when I feel isolated because of my identity.
Yet gender has its own slant. Men tend to get a lot of reinforcement that they are in power in this world, that they call the game, literally and figuratively.
This is often irrespective of qualifications. Men are usually afforded the luxury of a biased duality. It allows us to be both competent and likable, cutthroat and inspiring, inappropriate and employable, equal but better. The “benefits” of these dichotomies and contradictions are rarely granted to women.
It explains how comments can be made that dismiss Mendoza for “never having played,” yet in the same breath recognize that Vin Scully and countless other men who never played pro baseball are regarded as among the greatest announcers ever.
The double standards for women are all around us. Whether we look at their effort to secure pay equity, opportunity gaps in promotions and advancement or how I, as a dad, often receive gold stars from random people for parenting my own children, while my wife just gets a nod that suggests it was her duty.
Mendoza could just say: I am a baseball analyst for ESPN, I have two degrees from Stanford, I brought home two medals for my country, I set a boatload of Stanford collegiate softball records and I delivered two babies into this world.
At the very least, we owe her respect. She is working in a world where a segment of men will harass, denigrate and question her place. Just by showing up in the arena where she is working, she has already endured more than the man next to her.
And let’s not assume that it automatically gets better over time for Mendoza and others. Time does not always help unless a commitment is made to change the culture.
After 31 years of work, Suzyn Waldman, the longtime Yankees announcer, still regularly encounters people who doubt her knowledge and sometimes express that viciously.
“There is not an 18-year-old intern or an engineer that does not think he knows more than I do about the game,” she told me. “They don’t.”
Sports, on and off the field, should set an example for fairness, decency and humanity for all of our children, not just the legacy of boys already in the boys club. Sports are loved by so many of us, and we need to appreciate that everyone has a story to tell about the games we love. Yes, women too.
I don’t know whether Jessica Mendoza will become the next Vin Scully. Even Vin Scully didn’t know he would be the next Vin Scully. But I would like to give trailblazers a chance to make it happen, because they move mountains — and people, some of whom have had to overcome significant obstacles. In Cooperstown, after decades of male faces on the wall of Spink Award recipients, Claire Smith’s face will now shift history.
Instead of using Mendoza as an example of someone being out of her lane, I would rather tell my children that this is what you can aspire to be. You can break barriers, expose people to another perspective on the game, challenge conventional thought and show strength in the face of people whose gripe against you is simply because of your identity. Pioneers never fit in.
These women are pioneers in baseball, and they have reminded us of two overlooked elements about sports.
Having been a player is not a requirement for great commentary.
And neither is being a man.
Republished from The New York Times
Photo: Jessica Mendoza when she was on the United States Olympic softball team in 2008. She is now ESPN’s first female baseball analyst. 
Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images


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