Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

I became a baseball fan when I was about 11 or 12 years old. To this day, I don't know why: my father wasn't a big fan, and I had no brothers. (Back then, the common wisdom was that girls hated sports-- and only pretended to be interested if they had a brother or a boyfriend who played.) And once I discovered baseball, I especially loved listening to it on the radio-- Curt Gowdy and Bob Murphy were the play-by-play announcers in the '50s, and they really knew how to make the game enjoyable. In fact, even though our family had a TV set, I preferred listening to the games rather than watching them. (I was attracted to radio from a very early age-- I loved the deejays, of course, but I loved the sportscasters too.) And if a game went long, and it was past my bedtime, I'd hide my transistor radio under my pillow and listen till the game was over.

But I didn't know a lot of female fans. And when I tried to talk baseball with the guys, they seemed uncomfortable about it, especially if I knew more about the game than a girl was supposed to. So, I dreamed that one day, I might be a sportscaster or a sportswriter (two occupations I was told were not suitable for girls), and I listened to as many games as I could-- whether the Red Sox (my home team) or teams from other cities (late at night, distant signals came in very clearly on AM, and I could hear the Baltimore Orioles on WBAL, as well as other teams, in the major and minor leagues).

I never did get the chance to be a play-by-play announcer, but I did become a deejay (as many of you know) and I've remained a baseball fan to this day. In the late 1980s, when I began researching the history of broadcasting, I was finally able to answer the question about whether there had been women fans in the old days-- as it turned out, yes there were. In fact, in the famous song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the original 1908 version was about a young woman named "Nellie" who was "baseball-mad" and couldn't wait for her boyfriend to take her to the ballpark so she could watch the game.  There were even young women who tried to play baseball, and not just as a stunt: I have a new article about that in the current issue of the Baseball Research Journalhttps://sabr.org/journal/article/marvels-or-menaces-how-the-press-covered-the-lady-baseballists-1865-1915/       

Today, it's no longer unusual to find women baseball fans, women baseball players, women baseball writers, and a few sportscasters are women too. Five years ago this week, I had the privilege of giving a talk at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown about some of the earliest women baseball writers, one of whom (Ina Eloise Young) covered the game as far back as 1906. Among the others I discussed were Pearl Kroll, who covered baseball for Time magazine in the late 1930s/early 1940s-- but the male sportswriters refused to let her into the press box; and Willa Bea Harmon, who covered the Negro Leagues in the 1940s.  It was a joy to tell their stories.  

But unlike when I was growing up, I don't see as many young people-- male or female-- at the ballpark these days. I also don't see many kids playing ball in the neighborhood or at local fields, the way they did when I was growing up. (I even used to go to watch semipro games in the Park League sometimes, and there were lots of young people in the stands.) There are many possible reasons for a lack of young fans: tickets these days are impossibly expensive, most of the games are at night, other sports have grown in popularity (like basketball and football) and overtaken baseball... but as a long-time fan, I would love to see more kids playing ball again. And now that the pandemic is finally receding, I can't wait to once again see some games in person. Meanwhile, I'll keep listening on the radio, and watching on TV. I can't help it: when I think of summer, I think of baseball...  

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dr. Halper, do you also enjoy scoring live ballgames or at least did so in the past? Sports Collectors Daily shared a profile of Boston collectibles on April 9, 2023, that includes 1914-18 scorebooks by a Red Sox super fan named Dolores Mitchell who appears to have a long connection to the team and baseball overall. I encourage you to check that out, given what you shared in this post.