I would like to have been a fly on the wall when Rick Singer and Kevin Falls “pitched” their idea for a new television series about a woman baseball player who makes it to the major leagues. The series, aptly named Pitch, debuted last week on Fox.
Ginny Baker is the pitcher who is given a change to play in the major leagues. Her debut performance is abysmal, but she bounces back and, although she doesn’t finish her second game, pitches long enough to earn credit for a win. The story, of course, is about relationships: the relationship she has with a former teammate who is her restrained cheerleader, the complicated relationship she had with her father, and relationships with the men who see her as an intruder on their turf. I understand the relationship with her mother will be introduced later in the series.
Although the producers say that they didn’t have a particular race in mind for the part, they cast the black actress Kylie Bunbury, and now the writers are free to introduce thematic material around her color. In the first episode much is made of the fact that the number on her uniform is 43, one off from Jackie Robinson (who, by the way, has the only number in baseball retired by the entire league).
The possibility that some television executives thought this might make good television is certainly a sign of the times. That the Major Baseball League (MLB) is a partner in the venture, allowing the producers to use their stadiums and logos, is even more remarkable. On the show Ginny plays on the San Diego Padres.
The real San Diego Padres aired the show on their video board the day before the series ran nationally. Their advertising for the game encouraged fans to bring their “girls and families” to the park for this event. Perhaps this is all a marketing ploy to get more girls to major league baseball games, but I can’t forget one image from the show. Ginny Baker arrives at Petco Park and a mob awaits her. As she is rushed through the crowd she sees a small, blonde, white girl in her daddy’s arms holding a sign that says, “I’m next.”
“To be the head of an institution that’s associated with knowledge and reading and scholarship when slaves were forbidden to learn how to read on punishment of losing limbs, that’s kind of something.” [Carla Hayden]
In the United States 83% of librarians are women, but a woman has never served as Librarian of Congress—until now! Carla Hayden, sworn in on September 14, is the First Woman to head the Library of Congress. She is not only the first woman, but also the first African-American and, surprisingly, the first professional librarian to hold this position.
You might have heard her name before. She was Baltimore’s chief librarian during the 2015 riots in Baltimore and she chose to keep libraries open so that people would have a safe place to go. Young men from the community stood outside the library to secure its safety while buildings across the street went up in flames.
The particulars of her background and appointment seem to me to hold many similarities with the appointments of other women. Perhaps it was accidental, but it seems likely that women must meet different standards than men, even today.
- Carla Hayden has full credentials for the position. – Among the fourteen Librarians of Congress there have been politicians, businessmen, authors, poets and lawyers. Hayden, however, is credentialed in her field. Not only is she a librarian, but she was President of the American Library Association. I’m sure it didn’t hurt her application to Congress that Fortune magazine ranked her one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders earlier this year.
- She had done the job before. – Research shows that men are often hired for their potential, but women are more likely to be hired if they have already held the same position elsewhere. Hayden ran a failing library system in Baltimore with 22 branches. She upgraded the technological capacity of the libraries and opened the first new library in Baltimore in 35 years.
- She knows how to clean up messes. – I have said for years that women make great managers because their domestic duties give them practice at multi-tasking. Women also have learned to straighten up other people’s messes. The Library of Congress is struggling, a lumbering beast being drug into the technological age. Hayden is determined to see that records are digitized and accessible to all.
- She knows the job from the bottom up. – It is not unusual for men to either start near the top or work their way up the ladder quickly. Too many of them don’t know how to perform the simpler tasks of their professions. Hayden began as a children’s librarian and this focus makes her committed to assuring that children and teachers can use the Library of Congress to teach the wonders of our nation’s history.
- The appointment of a woman gave the organization an excuse to change the rules. – Amazingly, in over two centuries there have been only fourteen Librarians of Congress because the position was held for life. The law has changed with Hayden’s appointment: she will serve for only ten years.
I will be so surprised if Hayden does not do a bang-up job. She has all the credentials; she’s done the job before; she can clean up messes; and she understands that the Library of Congress is not just for Congress and the powerbrokers. Her tenure should lead to a vital, community organization–provided the guys get out of her way.
There has never been a building at any of the major military academies named after a woman—until now! The First Woman to have this honor is Grace Hopper whose name will grace the U.S. Naval Academy’s new cyber facility. Grace Hopper was a pioneer in computer programming and a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral.
Hopper holds the title of First Woman in several other instances as well:
–She was the First Woman director at Ecker-Mauchly Computer Corporation where she worked on compiler-based programming languages for UNIVAC. Back in the days before many others realized that someday we would all have computers, Grace Hopper was working to make computers accessible.
–She was the first recipient (not just woman) of the (catch the name) Science Man-of-the-Year award presented by the Data Processing Management Association in 1969.
–She was named a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society in 1973. Not only was she the First Woman in the world to receive this honor, she was also the first person from the United States who was recognized.
Prior to the Naval Academy’s decision to name a building for her, Grace Hopper also had a guided missile destroyer christened in her name. I can’t help but wonder is she wasn’t a guided missile herself, aimed directly at destroying stereotypes about women.
(For more information about Grace Hopper, read my earlier blog from 2013)
Simone Manuel is the First African American Woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming. Her time in the 2016 Olympics of 52.70 seconds set both an American and Olympic record. An amazing feat for a woman who belongs to the meager 1.3% of African Americans who are members of USA Swimming. Manuel is majoring in science, technology and society.
There were other African-American Women who medaled at the Olympics before Simone Manuel and Simone Biles, the gymnast who will carry the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies. Some of the more famous are:
–Alice Coachman was the first woman of color to be a member of the U.S. track and field team. She became the First African-American Woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1948. Her medal in the high jump was the only gold medal for the U.S. Team that year.
–Wilma Rudolph was the First American Woman to win three track and field gold medals at the Olympics. A sickly child who wore a brace on her leg as a child, she medaled in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.
–Vonetta Flowers was the first black athlete, male or female, to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. She started her athletic career as a sprinter and long jumper but switched to bobsledding in the 2002 Olympics. She and Jill Bakken won in the first year this event was included in the Olympics for women. (Men had been competing in the bobsled in the Olympics for 70 years by then).
–In 1996 Dominique Dawes was the First Black Person of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. She was also the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics. During this year’s Olympics she introduced a trailer for an upcoming movie, “Hidden Figures,” which is about three African American women mathematicians who provided critical assistance to John Glenn’s first flight.
For every sport and every event in the Olympics, there is a First Woman who won a medal in a sport when women were permitted to compete. Their names would fill a ledger book. The women featured here hold more than one first (although not all in the Olympics):
–Aileen Riggin swam in the 1920 and 1924 Olympic games. She won a gold medal at the 1920 Antwerp games, the youngest American to win Olympic gold. She was the first woman to medal in both swimming and diving. She was still swimming at 85 when she competed in the world masters championships—and broke six world records in her age group.
–Martha Norelius was the First Woman to win successive Olympic gold medals, in 1924 and 1928. She beat out Gertrude Ederle, the First Woman to swim the English Channel.
–Connie Carpenter-Phinney was the First Woman to compete in the winter and summer Olympics. She competed in speed skating in 1972 and still holds the record as the youngest competitor in the Winter Olympics. She won a gold medal in the cycling road race in 1984.
–Deborah “Debbie” Meyer was the First Woman to win three individual Olympic gold medals—in the 200-, 400, and 800- meter freestyle swimming races.
–Bonnie Blair was an Olympic speed skater. She won a gold medal in 1988 and two golds in 1992, the First Woman to medal in two consecutive Winter Olympic games.
–Joan Benoit was the First Woman to win a marathon at the Olympics. This did not happen until 1984 because women were not allowed to run a marathon until then. She had previously won the Boston Marathon and set a record that held for 11 years.
–Maria Gorohkovskaya of the Soviet Union was the First Woman to win a gold medal in women’s gymnastics when the sport was added to the Olympics in 1952. It was not until 1984 that an American woman won the gold. Mary Lou Retton went on to have her face featured on a Wheaties box. Wheaties had been putting athletes on its cereal boxes since 1934, but Mary Lou Retton was the First Woman.