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April 18, 2016

Prospectus Feature

The Women's Version of Baseball is Baseball

by Kate Morrison

Softball isn’t baseball, and yet we’re told it is. We’re told from a very young age that if we want to play baseball, we have to satisfy ourselves with this different sport entirely, a sport that should have its own rich heritage and history but instead, despite the fact that it comes from a different place, is looked down on as inferior to baseball[1].

This is not a piece about Sarah Hudek. I don’t know her motivations, and I can’t blame her for taking a reported softball scholarship to a well-reputed university instead of continuing to play baseball at a community college in Louisiana. I don’t know what her thought process was, I don’t know what might have gone into this decision, but I do know that even if she had continued to play baseball, there wasn’t really anywhere for her to go after two years.

It’s hard enough to find and maintain and grow a competitive college baseball team on the anemic number of scholarships maintained and mandated by the NCAA. I can understand why a coach, especially a D1 coach, especially a D1 coach in any kind of competitive conference, would shy away from giving any part of a scholarship to a woman, and why a woman might not be able to take even the piddling amount potentially offered to attend an expensive university.

This isn’t a story about that, though. It’s a story about false equivalencies. If you took an American football player and told them that sorry, you’re not... I don’t know, it’s hard to make the analogy here. But if you told them that they couldn’t play American football, that they had to go play some other sport... like Canadian football, where the rules are different but the same, where it’s looked down upon by those “in power” and where salaries are so much less, and they had to play this other game since childhood because of some characteristic, that’s what you’d have.

But Canadian football isn’t like that. Not every American football player is going to make the NFL, of course, and not every one of them is going to get a scholarship to go to college[2]. They all have the chance to try, though. Half of them aren’t sorted out at age five, told to go play Canadian football right away.

Softball isn’t baseball. The women’s version of baseball is baseball. It’s the same sport, played under the same rules, with the same ball, and the same field. This, then, is the problem—it barely exists. The United States does have a women’s baseball team, operated under the same federation as the men’s team. This is well and good, except that the selection out of baseball happens below then. It’s not an issue of having a national team. It’s the issue of having a middle school team.

Baseball[3] is like a pyramid scheme. You start out at the base of the pyramid in Little League, where there are thousands and thousands of players. A limited number of those play through middle school. Of those, a limited number play in high school. Of those, an even smaller percentage play for select teams or get noticed by scouts or college coaches. That turns into the minuscule percentage drafted or signed by a major-league team, which is a larger number than those that play minor-league ball, that leads to the ~750 active players on a major-league roster, a good number of whom didn’t actually come through the US-based pyramid, but instead an international one.

In order to be competitive, in order to develop a sport that is pleasing to the eye, and “high-quality[4]” you have to start with a huge base of the pyramid. When girls are told in in saccharine-sweet voice, “Oh, baseball? No, you want to play softball,” we choke off the base of that talent and make it almost impossible for the rest of the way up.

We all got really excited last year when AT&T put out an ad imagining the future with the first female major leaguer. For now, though, that’s going to remain wishful thinking.

If we’re going to ever have women playing baseball, it starts now, and it starts at the bottom. Mo’ne Davis can’t be the only girl at the Little League World Series. Sarah Hudek can’t be the only girl pitching in college. We have to stop peddling the doctrine of false equivalency.

[1] While softball may not be viewed as inferior de jure, it certainly is viewed that way by a majority of the sporting population (de facto). Additionally, there has been no real viable professional softball league to date. All this leads towards this question: If men played softball, and women baseball, which would be considered the "legitimate" sport?

[2] Though, with the 85 scholarships each D1 school not under restrictions is empowered to offer, a hell of a lot of them do.

[3] All sports, particularly ones with little leagues.

[4] Whatever the hell we’re deciding that means this week.

Kate Morrison is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kate's other articles. You can contact Kate by clicking here

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<< Previous Article
The Prospectus Hit Lis... (04/18)
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Prospectus Feature: Ba... (04/14)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Feature: Yo... (04/22)
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Life at the Margins: G... (04/18)

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