March is Women’s History Month, and as such, I thought a post acknowledging women in baseball was appropriate. There has been talk recently about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hiring two full-time female coaches — a football first — and earlier this month, the New York Mets hired ESPN broadcaster Jessica Mendoza as a baseball operations advisor.
That having been said, women still make up a tiny fraction of those involved in sports, particularly baseball. If you ask a fan to name females in baseball history, you may hear Mendoza’s name, and perhaps Marge Schott, former owner of the Cincinnati Reds. Among those who pay close attention to the game, you might have someone answer Kim Ng, who has worked in front offices and with MLB since the early 1990s. Beyond those names, you may be greeted with silence — or, possibly, with someone mentioning Geena Davis or Rosie O’Donnell or Madonna.
Those three actresses starred in A League of Their Own, a wildly successful movie released in 1992 that just about every baseball fan (and non-baseball fan) has seen. For most people, this film is their sole exposure to females in baseball. That’s certainly not a bad thing; the real-life AAGPBL — the women’s league depicted in the movie — was a very important part of baseball history.
For a time in the 90s, the success of the movie created an opportunity for merchandising, and this bled into the realm of card collecting. The women had specially-made cards printed up to sign at various events. I met Dottie Kamenshek in the mid 1990s at a toy show and got her autograph. She was there with a few other AAGPBL players, though I don’t remember who. She and the other players had these simple cards of themselves to sign, and as a kid I really just wanted the cards, but they weren’t available for purchase on their own and you could only get a card if you bought an autograph. Looking at signatures on Ebay shows that many others in the 1990s got autographs this way, as signed cards similar to the design of the card I have appear all over.
The upstart Ted Williams Card Company released cards of some AAGPBL players in its 1993 set. Kenner made Starting Lineup figures (and cards) of a select few AAGPBL players in 1997. The most robust release came in 1995, when Larry Fritsch Cards released its own set of AAGPBL players. At 421 cards over 3 series, it’s a huge set that is still available for purchase online.
But what’s amazing to me is that despite the success of the film and the lasting cultural impact of the AAGPBL, no major card company has released cards of these players. Even with all the products Topps releases now that include people outside of baseball — outside of sports entirely, sometimes — they haven’t found a checklist to fit in a few female players made famous by a hit movie 25 years ago. Doesn’t Allen & Ginter have space for one a year? Upper Deck hasn’t found a place in its products like Goodwin Champions to stick a couple of these incredible women? What about a cut autograph in a product?
As women rise to more roles of prominence in sports, it would be great to see cards honoring not just the AAGPBL players, but other women who were trailblazers as well. Representation matters — a young girl pulling a card of Edith Houghton, who was a scout from 1946 to 1952, might recognize that her interest in Major League Baseball could lead to a career. A card of Gayle Gardner, the first woman to call baseball play-by-play, could inspire a young girl to work toward her dream of the same. With dozens of product releases each year, and a wider range of subjects appearing in certain products every year, there is certainly space for a few of these pioneers in a major company’s release. I hope that some day, I can pull a Dottie Kamenshek Topps card from a pack and place it next to my Starting Lineup and my signed unbranded card.