The Case for Bringing Back Ladies’ Day

There's more to women in baseball than the Girls Professional Baseball League. (via Florida Memory)

There’s more to women in baseball than the Girls Professional Baseball League. (via Florida Memory)

Last June, I assembled a crew of women–some old baseball fans, some new–to watch the Cubs play the Diamondbacks at Wrigley. Settling into the bleachers, we received a number of curious looks and comments from strangers fascinated by the sight of 18 women of various ethnicities decked in Cubbie Blue. Some of the women in my group were even keeping score. Why are you surprised that we’re here? What makes you think that women who grew up with baseball as part of their culture wouldn’t enjoy watching it or playing it?

Well, it could be that the average baseball fan is white, male and over 50. You can see this by simply turning on your TV and catching a game. Any team, any city. Nearly 50 percent of baseball fans are women, but almost no attempt is made to include women in the sport. The few efforts that exist tend to cater to the idea that women don’t know anything about the sport, and need to be taught enough to be good companions for the “real” fans. Men.

The exclusion of women in baseball, and professional sports leagues in general, is so glaring that it appears, dare I say, intentional. According to Dr. Richard Lapchik’s findings in the “2016 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball,” women make up 28.9 percent of all front office employees. MLB has yet to introduce female umpires, while only seven women have officiated in the affiliated leagues. The mask of Ria Cortesio, who was the sixth female umpire, hangs at Cooperstown. Women should be included in all facets of baseball: officiating, commentating, writing and front office decision-making. And that is why I’d like Major League Baseball to bring back Ladies’ Day.

On Tuesday, June 16, 1883, the New York Gothams (later known as the Giants) introduced the idea of offering women free admission to their game against the Cleveland Spiders. It is unclear who actually came up with the idea of Ladies’ Day, though some credit player/owner/manager Charles Abner Powell.

Powell implemented the idea in New Orleans to increase revenue for his struggling team. Ladies’ Day was always on a weekday, and women were usually admitted free with ticketed male escorts. With this promotion, Powell hoped the presence of women in the stands would discourage rowdy behavior from men. Eventually, it helped bring fervent female fans to the mainstream. Other professional baseball teams began experimenting with the idea, specifically advertising games as Ladies’ Day.

The National League would abruptly end the promotion in 1909; some believed it was partly due to a near-riot in 1897 caused by female George Mercer fans, upset over his ejection from a Washington Senators game. The practice would still thrive in the American League, where teams took quickly to the gimmick.

As thinking progressed with the times, women were free to attend games without men in 1917, and, in some places, had separate entrances. The Kansas City Monarchs, a Negro League team, even attempted to woo female fans with half-price tickets. In 1929, the Chicago Cubs advertised a Ladies’ Day and 30,000 women showed up to get tickets. As many as 20,000 were admitted to the game, while the others were given tickets to the next Ladies’ Day.

Despite its popularity, and its role in helping professional ball clubs recognize women as fans, Ladies’ Day essentially ended in 1970 when a man claimed discrimination. According to Jean Hastings Ardell in her book Breaking into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime, a New York man argued that discounted tickets on Ladies’ Day was reverse discrimination because it economically favored women.  So in 1973, the New York Human Rights Commission ruled in his favor, and ended free and discounted ticket sales for women at New York baseball stadiums. Some feminists at the time agreed. After all, baseball teams were demeaning women with Hot Pants (Washington Senators and Kansas City Royals) and Halter (Cleveland Indians) nights, using them to draw male fans to the games. Others believe the end of this marketing tool lost young fans to other sports.

Throughout the years, teams have had events for mothers and sons, fathers and sons, teachers, nurses, police and firefighters and colleges. A quick Google search turned up nine major league ball clubs with advertised “Girls’ Night Out” promotions: the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins, Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks.

However, every single one of those teams gets it wrong. They attempt to draw female fans out with things like massages, makeovers, team handbags, wine, and, the always cringe-worthy “Baseball 101.” Ladies’ Day (and Girls’ Night) as we know it, is overwhelmed with patronizing sexism. This isn’t to say massages and makeovers and pink jerseys aren’t perfectly okay things to like, but, when inviting women to a baseball game, why not make baseball the actual draw? Why not assume that women are coming to baseball games because they already like baseball?

Regardless of sport, women are rarely, if ever, treated equally as fans. They’re constantly quizzed on their knowledge of the game, its players and its rules. Our presence is even questioned. Can there be some sort of compromise that draws women who aren’t typically interested in baseball, but also empowers women and girls who are already fans of the sport? A way to incorporate Baseball 101 for those who might need it with fantasy leagues for those who don’t? Maybe even some baseball gear that isn’t pink?

There are so many ways that MLB and its clubs can remix this idea. Teams can make an honest and deliberate effort to attract female fans by simply treating them like sports fans. (Hold the condescension, please.) It should be celebratory. It should honor women of the past in baseball whose stories are mostly unheard. Women such as Edith Houghton, Gayle Gardner, Helene Hathaway Britton, Mamie Johnson and Olivia Taylor.

There’s more to women’s baseball than A League of Their Own. Young girls should be encouraged to take an interest in and play the sport. Girl Scouts and girls’ little league teams should be invited to attend. We can still have the wine and the glittery merchandise, too, but let women of all backgrounds know that they are welcome in the ballpark. Create a new culture and foster an environment that makes women and girls comfortable and a part of the baseball experience, one that acknowledges their contribution to the sport in any way possible.

We’ve been left out for far too long. I know plenty of women, myself included, who would enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to have the same camaraderie that men are afforded without so much as a second thought. Shows like Pitch are a good start, but there is so much historical perception to overcome that clubs really need to work twice as hard to convince women that they are not only wanted, but needed as an essential part of creating baseball.

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Celebrate women outside of breast cancer awareness and Mother’s Day. Hire women. Bring back Ladies’ Day.

References & Resources


Shakeia Taylor is an avid sports fan, bibliophile and budding vinyl collector who owns too many pairs of shoes. She can be found sitting in a pile of books or on Twitter. Follow her there @curlyfro.
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Michele R Stokes
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Michele R Stokes

Yes, I agree, we do need Ladies Day once again!

crew87
Guest
crew87

Agreed, would like to see my local team do something like this. Lana Berry had an article where she attended one of these “baseball 101” things and it was hilariously awful (the event, not the article).

I’m a man and I hate the thought of teams trying to encourage my daughter as a fan by patronizing her. She likes going to games and running the bases afterward– she doesn’t need the ballpark to be another avenue to Disney princesses to get her to go. Baseball should sell baseball.

Rob Wiseman
Guest
Rob Wiseman

Clearly the promotions aren’t for her. She’s not required to attend any of the special events or accept any of the free giveaways. If your daughter just wants to watch baseball, she’s allowed to do that. But because your daughter is offended by the promotion, or realistically, you are offended on her behalf, no one else can enjoy said promotions, because they have to end? I hate most baseball promotions. They are usually poorly done, over commercialized, and the giveaways are crap. But if people enjoy them, and it doesn’t put me in any sort of physical harm, why should… Read more »

Crew87
Guest
Crew87

Right, because I said all these promotions have to end, not that I dislike them.

Your acting offended over your perceptions of other people acting offended is pretty tiring anytime an author on this site offers an experience or perspective different from your own.

Rob Wiseman
Guest
Rob Wiseman

This really is just glorious, isn’t it? Lets break this down a bit: 1. “The exclusion of women in baseball, and professional sports leagues in general, is so glaring that it appears, dare I say, intentional.” Um, no. You’d need a mountain of evidence to suggest that there is an INTENTIONAL exclusion of women from the sport. Within that mountain would be some sense of collusion or proof that teams simply won’t hire women out of malice or other wrong-doing. Any one who has ever worked with civil rights cases will tell you this is close to impossible. Good luck.… Read more »

Marc
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Marc

Wow! You went to great lengths to…..actually, I’m not even sure what your intent was. You used quite a few personal experiences (“Not once was my wife’s presence questioned….”) to refute the authors’s own experiences. Almost as if your experiences hold more weight than the evidence and feelings presented in the article. You then went inside the minds of marketing teams for these franchises to speculate on why they do the things they do. How could someone who gathered almost 20 women (and continued to do so throughout the season) together to not only watch baseball but to show that… Read more »

Nelly The Bee
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Nelly The Bee

He seems a little hurt by all this, doesn’t he?

Rob Wiseman
Guest
Rob Wiseman

“And while that may be written off as anecdotal, it’s no less anecdotal than the suggestion quoted.” That’s a quote I made. Which you ignored. I recognize that my wife’s experience and the experience of others I know is anecdotal. It was merely an effort to show that some people actually enjoy these promotions as they are. What do we do, take them away because my wife isn’t offended enough? As for your comments, I’m all for gender equality. But this has nothing to do with gender equality, because there’s nothing that has been proven to make women unable to… Read more »

Rob Wiseman
Guest
Rob Wiseman

For what it’s worth, it was a nice Twitter mention you gave me on Shake’s Twitter. I am neither mad, nor am I the guy who “who asks women stupid shit and thinks we all like massages and sequin jerseys.” I’m the guy who realizes that people like a variety of different things. I’m the guy who realizes the planet doesn’t stop spinning because one person got offended. If there’s a lot of women who like pink jersey give aways and massages at the games, why is it a crime for the teams to offer those? Isn’t that being good… Read more »

Some Person
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Some Person

I’m a woman and I write for another baseball site (in which I actually write about baseball and not thinly veiled gender politics.) and I mostly agree with your points. Nothing stopped me from being into baseball, nothing stops me from learning advanced stats, nothing stops me from going to games. I guess a lot of these ladies night promotions might sound patronizing to a girl whom already knows and likes baseball, but I assume they aren’t really for them. Promotions for us are just regular promotions because we already like baseball like any other baseball fan. As a side… Read more »

Rob Wiseman
Guest
Rob Wiseman

Corinne Landrey published an article earlier this year on THT about the same nonsense. Many, myself included, called her out for it. What bugs me is that Landrey is an exceptional baseball writer, with an unbelievable knowledge of the game. I’ll admit she likely knows more about baseball than I ever will, a fact of which I’m okay with. Something tells me Ms. Taylor is equally as good a writer and equally as knowledgeable, otherwise Fangraphs wouldn’t waste their time. So, her first article is an ironic post about how terrible this sport is to women. How baseball needs to… Read more »

Nelly The Bee
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Nelly The Bee

A hit dog sure will holler, won’t it?

JediSlider
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JediSlider

My wife and I met in college. Our first date was a minor-league game as were several afterward (her idea often). . She watched several of my games in college (when we were courting). She even watched the games I didn’t pitch in. We married and had two daughters, now teenagers. We took them to our local minor-league games. At some point, baseball wore on her. Now, after twenty plus years of marriage, none of the women in my house go to baseball games. This has been a mutually-beneficial agreement. My girls don’t like baseball and I do. So I… Read more »

Rob Wiseman
Guest
Rob Wiseman

I might use the term “wife-free evening” as opposed to “woman-free”, just so you don’t anger the precious butterflies fluttering around here.

Yehoshua Friedman
Guest
Yehoshua Friedman

Wife-free is dangerous because the wife might entertain suspicions that there are other women involved.

W
Guest
W

I think Rob’s hit the nail on the head, actually. If you want to be treated like every other baseball fan, just be a baseball fan. There’s no one checking tickets at the ballpark gate, asking women, “Do you know what the success odds are on a hit-and-run” before allowing them in. If women fans were just like male fans, there wouldn’t be “hand-bag giveaways” – I’d love it if just making baseball the draw were all that was needed, but hey, if those things get more people to come watch, I’m a pragmatist. 🙂 For those women who find… Read more »

Hingle McCringleberry
Guest
Hingle McCringleberry

In light of this article, I did a quick look at who was holding the roles of Promotional Managers and Guest Relations Directors amongst MLB clubs.

Out of the 60 people I found in the two roles combined, 39 of them were women.

In terms of Promotional Managers, only 8 teams had a man leading the charge. Only one team (the Angels) did not list many of their Front Office staff on their web page.

I would find it interesting to see what those women in charge of guest relations and promotions (and even the men) have to say about this.

Bono
Guest
Bono

In light of all the butt-hurt Dads whining here I thought I’d say that I appreciated this piece and the influx of women’s opinions on the sport in the past couple years. Women are reaching out to ask baseball to do better at making them feel a part. I hope baseball, and that means other fans too, will listen, rather than trying to argue.

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