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She Throws Like A Girl
July 26, 2010 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Chelsea Baker throws like a girl. Of course, she is a 13 year old girl, so that is to be expected. She is a pitcher that went 12-0 with 2 perfect games in the Plant City FL Little League this season. She hasn't been tagged with a loss in 4 years. Her secret is the knuckleball that was taught to her by a former coach, retired MLB pitcher Joe Niekro.
posted by COD (142 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wasn't it here on Metafilter that somebody had a comment on the order of: the first woman to play Major League Baseball in the US will probably be a knuckleball pitcher? Oh yeah, here we go. It was hincandenza.
posted by penduluum at 10:56 AM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can someone who actually knows something about sports (unlike me) tell me: Are there actually rules that specifically disallow women from joining major league sports teams or leagues? Or is this a custom that could, theoretically, be overcome by a forward-thinking team/coach/owner?
posted by serazin at 10:57 AM on July 26, 2010


I don't know of any rule that bars women from becoming professional baseball players, serazin. I'd love to see this happen.
posted by bearwife at 10:58 AM on July 26, 2010


I've always said there are many things in sports, where upper-body strength isn't a factor, women can be as good as, if not better than, men, and they should compete on the same levels.

Throwing a knuckleball is a perfect example. Pro knuckleballers rarely top 80 mph, and a well-trained woman can throw at that speed.

Same goes for basketball. You're telling me that the 12th man on an NBA bench -- who's typically a complete stiff -- gives you better options than the best WNBA shooting guard? Please.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:58 AM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Are there actually rules that specifically disallow women from joining major league sports teams or leagues?

Nope. There are several examples of women playing in minor leagues and in exhibition games.

Or is this a custom that could, theoretically, be overcome by a forward-thinking team/coach/owner?

Yes.

Annika Sorenstam is a recent example, albeit in a solo sport (golf). But golf is a sport where raw strength is indeed helpful (although not required ... lots of light-hitting guys are on the Tour).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:02 AM on July 26, 2010


Boy, that video gave me hives. I would have loved to have seen a bunch of real-speed scenes of her pitching, maybe highlighting a whole at-bat with a good hitter, but no, it had to be all this quick-cutting crap and fluff quotes from her and coaches instead of letting her skill do the talking.
posted by norm at 11:02 AM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cool about Annika. I guess it's not surprising she broke through in a non-team sport.

You're telling me that the 12th man on an NBA bench -- who's typically a complete stiff -- gives you better options than the best WNBA shooting guard? Please.

This is what I've always assumed as well. I know about sexism and everything, but I'm honestly surprised that some flamboyant NBA team owner hasn't hired a WNBA star just for the publicity factor.
posted by serazin at 11:05 AM on July 26, 2010


The Knuckleball is key here. I remember what Willie Stargell said "I don't even try to hit the knuckleball. I'm afraid if I do, I'll mess up my swing." (and this young lady is learning from the best, the Neikro brothers were badasses on the mound.)
posted by jonmc at 11:07 AM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Bowling. At least one case thereof. But no qualifiers on that, it seems - just beating all comers.
posted by el_lupino at 11:09 AM on July 26, 2010


I'm so sick of this "throwing like a girl" cliche crutch. What is this, the NY Post?
posted by Plutor at 11:10 AM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a great story but the gimmicky cinematography gets old quick -- it should help tell the story, not distract you from it.
posted by starman at 11:11 AM on July 26, 2010


Unless things have changed since I was in it, 13-year-olds are not allowed in little league. They belong in Babe Ruth or Junior League.

I doubt this is Babe Ruth since most of the kids interviewed looked a long way from 13-15. This girl is incredibly impressive and they do mention that her spotless record goes back years, but she shouldn't be pitching to 11-year-olds if she's 13.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:13 AM on July 26, 2010


You can be 13 in Little League, as long as you were 12 on whatever the arbitrary cut off day is. She probably turned 13 during the season.
posted by COD at 11:16 AM on July 26, 2010


I know about sexism and everything, but I'm honestly surprised that some flamboyant NBA team owner hasn't hired a WNBA star just for the publicity factor.

Wrong kind of publicity. "Oh man, the [SPORTS TEAM] sucks so much they just hired a girl to help out!"
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:17 AM on July 26, 2010


You're telling me that the 12th man on an NBA bench -- who's typically a complete stiff -- gives you better options than the best WNBA shooting guard? Please.

This is what I've always assumed as well. I know about sexism and everything, but I'm honestly surprised that some flamboyant NBA team owner hasn't hired a WNBA star just for the publicity factor.


Yes he probably is. The players in the NBA are bigger, stronger, faster, better shooters, and all around better basketball players than anyone in the NBA. I would be willing to bet good money that if you picked anyone who is currently on an NBA roster who is not in the process of a career ending injury and put him on a WNBA team he would completely dominate. It is not a matter of individual skill, or talent, it is just physiology. Basketball is an incredibly physical sport, and a 5'10 shooting guard with limited range and speed with no realistic chance at penetration to the basket is not valuable to a team at all. If she was on the team she would know that she is not contributing and is nothing more than a publicity stunt which is pretty rotten in my opinion. These individuals regardless of gender are athletes, they are there to compete, not be a sideshow.

As for a pitcher, I don't think there are any rules prohibiting women from pitching because there don't have to be. If this girl can continue to get good movement on her knuckleball then she should continue to be successful, but when she cant get movement she is going to get drilled pretty much every time. I would be curious to see how she is doing in a few years when the batters have caught up growth wise, but I wouldn't be surprised to see her having continued success throughout high school.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:18 AM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


You're telling me that the 12th man on an NBA bench -- who's typically a complete stiff -- gives you better options than the best WNBA shooting guard? Please.

The best WNBA shooting guard offers novelty, but the 12th man on the worst team in the NBA is much, much better than her. She would probably be a better pure shooter or passer, but the athletic disparity between her and the man she's assigned to guard would be ridiculous.

Maybe if she were put in only on offense in a situation where she might get a wide open look or be fouled intentionally at the end of a game, she would be the best choice. But there are probably hundreds of men who could play that role equally well or better (a 45 year-old Steve Kerr, for example.)

I haven't been lucky enough to play with any WNBAers, but I've played with Div 1 female NCAA basketball players, and they couldn't defend the average male pick-up player. They could, of course, out-shoot anybody in the gym if they were remotely open, though.
posted by callmejay at 11:19 AM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm so sick of this "throwing like a girl" cliche crutch.

I always assume this means "throw the ball directly at the sexist's face and lol" but YMMV.
posted by elizardbits at 11:20 AM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


"My fastball is about 65 miles an hour"

Well, she's already caught up with Tim Wakefield. :D

I'm sure someone will tell me why it shouldn't, but this story makes me so very happy.

(I think it's a mistake to say she has "mastered" the knuckleball, however. It is a cruel mistress.)

Hey, Geena Davis!

You're telling me that the 12th man on an NBA bench -- who's typically a complete stiff -- gives you better options than the best WNBA shooting guard?

Um, yes, he does. NOBODY in the NBA is a "stiff" (OK, no one under 7' is a stiff. Or else they are stiffs with specific necessary skills.)

I'm all for getting women into the game with men, but I think you're way off here. I don't think there aren many WNBA players that could compete honestly in the men's college game.

I'm honestly surprised that some flamboyant NBA team owner hasn't hired a WNBA star just for the publicity factor.

Yeah, that's the thing. If there were any WNBA players who could even remotely complete against NBA talent, it would be done. The only reason it's not because it would be seen as a publicity stunt--which it would be.

Don't get me wrong--I'd love to see a Lisa Leslie-type player make the NBA. But watching the WNBA, I think it's a looooong way off. Baseball, golf, and other more technical sports like billiards, darts, and curling are where women have a much more equal footing.

The size and speed factors in American and world football, basketball, and hockey make it very difficult for women to break through there, imo.

I'm so sick of this "throwing like a girl" cliche crutch. What is this, the NY Post?

To be fair, "throw like a girl" (which this girl throws nothing like) is a sexist analogy, but it is a definite reality for many kids, including yes, girls who have unfortunately not been correctly taught how to throw a ball. I don't like the descriptor "throw like a girl" either, but it was pretty accurate when I was growing up. A good question would be what alternative should we use? To "throw like somebody who doesn't know how to throw" is not catchy.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:20 AM on July 26, 2010


Annika Sorenstam is a recent example, albeit in a solo sport (golf).

And more recently, Michelle Wie. Although she hasn't done particularly well in the men's events she's played in, if memory serves.
posted by antifuse at 11:21 AM on July 26, 2010


""After I usually strike somebody out with a knuckleball, they sometimes start crying back to the dugout, and a lot of them just like open their mouth like they can't believe it," she said."

God, I love this kid. Good for her!

There's some editorializing in the Manon Rhéaume entry on Wikipedia right now, which is who I thought of when I first read this:
She was signed as a free agent to Tampa Bay Lightning and played games against the St. Louis Blues in the 1992 preseason and the Boston Bruins in the 1993 preseason. She was pulled from both games early despite doing nothing to warrant a change in goaltenders (although goaltenders are regularly replaced mid-game during the NHL preseason).
(emphasis mine)

Makes me wonder if pro baseball would be capable of letting someone who turns out to be very, very talented have her turn on the mound, even if it happens to a woman.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:21 AM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]



Makes me wonder if pro baseball would be capable of letting someone who turns out to be very, very talented have her turn on the mound, even if it happens to a woman.


If you can reliably get major league hitters out, and you dont have an enormous amount of skeletons in your closet, someone will sign you, the key word being if.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:25 AM on July 26, 2010


Got something in my eye there near the end. Did not know that Joe Niekro had passed. Enjoyed the fact that they didn't overdramatize the final faceoff.

For Joe, an unhittable .
posted by chavenet at 11:25 AM on July 26, 2010


mrgrimm: "To be fair, "throw like a girl" (which this girl throws nothing like) is a sexist analogy, but it is a definite reality for many kids, including yes, girls who have unfortunately not been correctly taught how to throw a ball. I don't like the descriptor "throw like a girl" either, but it was pretty accurate when I was growing up. A good question would be what alternative should we use? To "throw like somebody who doesn't know how to throw" is not catchy."

I don't have a problem with the saying. I agree that although it's a sexist phrase, it's a real thing. I just don't like that everyone who uses it in the context of "this really fantastic female pitcher who pitches better than you" thinks they're being the first one to lampshade it.
posted by Plutor at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would have loved to have seen a bunch of real-speed scenes of her pitching, maybe highlighting a whole at-bat with a good hitter, but no, it had to be all this quick-cutting crap and fluff quotes from her and coaches instead of letting her skill do the talking.

Me too. I still have very little idea of what a knuckleball is, does, or why it's hard to hit from that. Nor why she is good at one, or if it is too hard for most people to throw anyway and she's just capable of it, rather than skilled at it. The Ferris Wheel explanation from Chelsea in particular made zero sense to me at all - the wind doesn't do what she says it does in any way that I can relate to. I looked it up, and so get it now, but that video was annoying from that respect. It'd be nice to understand why she is so good at it.

I mean, it's obvious she's good at Baseball, but understanding why or how from an outside perspective is really hard and that video does nothing to help in that regard. It doesn't even make it really clear that a knuckleball is hard at all never mind for a 13 year old (boy or girl).

I wonder, though, how much the psychology of 'boy in prime of puberty and associated mental mess' versus 'skilled girl in nominally boy's game' helped her at any point. She seems to be well respected by her team members as an equal from the brief interviews, but Chelsea herself said something about "they see a girl and try so hard to hit it I strike them out". She's already beaten them before they get to face her throw, if they're not mentally strong. They're SO determined not to get beaten by a girl that they play badly as a result.

While that doesn't detract from her skill at all (certainly not from my perspective), it may have gone some way to have boosted her reputation initially. The longer she plays in the league/sport, though, that effect will wane, so it's interesting and telling that she continues to set these records after you'd think the intimidation/humiliation (for a teenage boy) effect has presumably worn off; the emphasis moving from "I got struck out by a girl' to "I got struck out by a great pitcher (who happens to be a girl". Getting past that slight mental advantage and retaining the momentum certainly shows she's a strong player, but I imagine the effect of it helped to build her confidence in her ability while it was still being formed. Now that she's completely confident, hitting the statistics and the results, those boys are screwed, now. If you give someone a large hurdle to jump to be accepted, and then the leap over it and come out fighting, then you've created a seriously confident and strong athlete.
posted by Brockles at 11:31 AM on July 26, 2010


I have no problem with people saying "she throws like a girl". The phrase just means that she throws however girls throw, and according to the video, that means girls throw better than you. It's all about evolving what started as a sexist cliche.

I played baseball when I was a kid. My favorite t-shirt had a stick-figure picture of a girl and a boy playing baseball, with the caption "See Jane throw. See Dick strike out." Loved it.
posted by phunniemee at 11:32 AM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are there actually rules that specifically disallow women from joining major league sports teams or leagues? Or is this a custom that could, theoretically, be overcome by a forward-thinking team/coach/owner?

Not so fast --- I'm probably not MeFi's most authoritative baseball historian, but women's exclusion from the sport didn't just happen. There is a history of specific actions taken to bar women from playing Major League baseball, not unlike the set of conditions used to bar black people from playing in the Majors. Before the codification of today's league setup, the world of baseball was much more fluid and much more active, and there were professional players of every stripe, including women, attempting to work their way into major clubs via exhibition games and stunt games.

Commissioner Ford Frick Bans Women
Old Boys' Club doesn't fashion women as athletes
In 1952 Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick sent notice that women are not to play on major league teams, stating his 'purpose was to prevent teams from using women players as a publicity stunt.'

The result of this banning has kept highly skilled women, especially fastball pitchers, from playing in the minors or major leagues. Even 10 years later in 1964, an all-female team petitioned to join the men's class-A Florida State League but was rejected.
it looks as though Frick's ban has never risen to the level of official regulation, yet it has clearly been de facto policy. However, the short article linked makes the point that regulations on the books aren't the only thing keeping women from Major League play -- it's the entire chain of player development, from Little League on up, that isn't set up to cultivate female talent.

Despite its painful text layout, this simple term paper page has some great info:
Although Title IX makes it illegal to discriminate against girls and women in baseball, three factors will continue to prevent them from playing. First, Little Leagues shunt girls off to softball. Second, most parents of girls still see softball as the acceptable female alternative to baseball. Third, since there are no girls’ baseball leagues, girls must compete with boys and suffer both blatant and subtle forms of prejudice and discrimination. The girl who somehow overcomes the odds and tries out will continue to be seen as the exception. As for women playing professional or semi-professional baseball the prognosis is dismal. Yet women did play semi-professional baseball in the 1800s.. (Berlage 110)
.
posted by Miko at 11:34 AM on July 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


bitter-girl.com, the parenthetical bit right after the part you italicized for emphasis is actually really key to the situation. NHL teams switch their goaltenders partway through the game more often than not during preseason play. If you're a coach, it makes a lot of sense to spend the preseason getting all of your goalies into as many games as possible, unless you want to assess the 60-minute stamina of a particular player.
posted by saturday_morning at 11:35 AM on July 26, 2010


A-and anyway, maybe Chelsea's got a nail file too. ;-)
posted by chavenet at 11:37 AM on July 26, 2010


Oops, meant to link to this portion of the 2nd article I linked:
The real tragedy is that since the early 1970s girls should have had the opportunity to dream to play baseball," Brooks said in a telephone interview. "Women players are so far beyond the playing fields of MLB that I think nobody even wonders about why there are no women….there are no pathways that allow girls and women to get to the skill level where a team would be interested in you."

Brooks said her own recent experience playing for the Western Canada Minors, in the professional independent Arizona Winter League, reinforced the importance of training. "I'd never been exposed to the level of the Arizona Winter League. But then I got the kind of training and coaching the guys take for granted and about three weeks into the game I blossomed and started hitting and pitching better."
PS - I was a Title IX kid and played Little League for one season in 1979. It wasn't very welcoming at all, and I was definitely begrudgingly tolerated, not cultivated. I enjoyed it and am proud I did it, but even 30 years later (and with a lot more athletic talent than I actually had) I doubt that this is easy.
posted by Miko at 11:38 AM on July 26, 2010


"Makes me wonder if pro baseball would be capable of letting someone who turns out to be very, very talented have her turn on the mound, even if it happens to a woman."

The woman would definitely get a chance in the minor leagues (like all baseball prospects). For a minor league team the publicity alone would be worth the gamble. Once there she would have the opportunity to show her stuff. I imagine that if she played well in the minors, that is if she provides empirical proof that she can pitch successfully against professional men, some pro-team would give her a chance. A lot of the poorer, small-market teams have nothing to lose. If she proves herself with, let's say Pittsburgh, the good teams would definitely consider signing her (she would also no longer be a curiosity so the good team wouldn't face the stigma of doing just as a publicity stunt).
posted by oddman at 11:39 AM on July 26, 2010


bitter-girl.com, the parenthetical bit right after the part you italicized for emphasis is actually really key to the situation.

Figured as much, saturday_morning -- the part before seemed to be really editorializy, though.

I imagine that if she played well in the minors, that is if she provides empirical proof that she can pitch successfully against professional men, some pro-team would give her a chance.

Well, that's good. I'd love to see it happen.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:42 AM on July 26, 2010


There have already been a few women in minor league baseball, like Ila Borders and Alta Weiss, and now there's Eri Yoshida from Japan.
posted by Miko at 11:43 AM on July 26, 2010


a 5'10 shooting guard with limited range and speed with no realistic chance at penetration to the basket is not valuable to a team at all.

Here's 2006 NBA data, the latest I could find quickly, that lists the shortest players.

You're telling me that Diana Taurasi (6 feet tall) can't play with these guys? Who would you rather have come in on a set play where you need shooters -- Adam Morrison, who rode the pine all season with the Lakers, or Diana Taurasi? Keep in mind that Morrison, who's supposed to be a great shooter, is only .710 from the line, while Taurasi is up over .900.

Morrison hasn't won anything. Taurasi has three NCAA championships, an Olympic gold medal and a WNBA championship.

Oh, and yeah ... Morrison has already blown his knee out.

DUDE.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:47 AM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


You're telling me that Diana Taurasi (6 feet tall) can't play with these guys?

I am telling you that. Remember that even these shorter guys outweigh Taurasi. Remember that even the slowest of them can probably outrun Taurasi. Remember that these guards are used to getting around and shooting over defenders that have 6 inches in height on them. Remember that these short guys often have astounding vertical leaps. Remember that the worst player on an NBA bench is an incredible athlete.

No offense to Diana Taurasi or any other WNBA athlete, but basketball is a game where physical strength and speed are of paramount importance. A great shooter who can never get a shot off won't help the team.
posted by Mister_A at 12:02 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


And best of all, once she goes to college, she'll be able to be on...um...the cheerleading team. So uh, yeah.
posted by happyroach at 12:04 PM on July 26, 2010


So basically the worst player in the NBA is better than the best player in the WNBA? Am I understanding the sports fans in this thread correctly?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:09 PM on July 26, 2010


Who would you rather have come in on a set play where you need shooters -- Adam Morrison, who rode the pine all season with the Lakers, or Diana Taurasi?

Adam Morrison. Assuming that wasn't a rhetorical question.
posted by inigo2 at 12:11 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


So basically the worst player in the NBA is better than the best player in the WNBA? Am I understanding the sports fans in this thread correctly?

Well, I was a sportswriter that covered the Lakers and the Clippers. I don't agree with the other sports fans in the thread, but it's a classic conversation to have over beer.

And I think I'll have another...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:15 PM on July 26, 2010


So basically the worst player in the NBA is better than the best player in the WNBA? Am I understanding the sports fans in this thread correctly?

Yes. The worst player in the NBA is also better than every other male college basketball player that didn't make it to the NBA (just about-- obviously there are extenuating circumstances in some cases) and I'd guess a fair number of non-NBA male players would be better as well. As suggested up-thread, a lot of it is just physiology, but there's a logic error at play here. If you don't play sports or didn't play sports very much, it's not obvious just how wide the gulfs of talent are between levels. I was an ok-to-crappy high school basketball player who got by on height. I had a friend in college on the basketball team who could easily beat two of us at a time. And that was a D3 school. Try not to think of progressions between levels as a simple straight line moving upwards. There are vast, firey pits that most players fall into when they try to "make the leap".

The other error is to assume that the talent curve in a woman's sport can be laid over the men's version of the sport, that players in the WNBA are just a hair's breadth below NBA players in talent. They are not. I don't think there's any way to make the claim otherwise. To a certain extent, it would be difficult to devise a fair test as the women would be compelled to play the men's version of the game. While the rules may be the same (or close enough to look the same), the way they game plays varies with the players. The very best shooting guard in the WNBA doesn't get defended like Kobe Bryant does every night and doesn't suffer the wear and tear. Moreover, the disparity in talent among players in the WNBA is probably a lot greater (since there's less money invested in finding players and paying them), so the best players look better than they are in the abstract.
posted by yerfatma at 12:19 PM on July 26, 2010


So basically the worst player in the NBA is better than the best player in the WNBA? Am I understanding the sports fans in this thread correctly?

I don't know enough about basketball or the WNBA, but the conversation reminds me of whenever there's a truly hapless NFL team and a very dominant NCAA football team, there's always talk about how they could beat the hapless NFL team. The truth is that this would never happen. As bad as any NFL team can seem to be, they're still physically light years ahead of any college team, even the best. Even if an NFL team went winless again, they're still playing with and against guys who have years of physical development and training on the college guys.
posted by kmz at 12:21 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


What would really be interesting to me would be to take Diana Taurasi, travel back in time and have her play high school and college ball on the boy's/men's teams. Then maybe she could succeed in the NBA. Point being, you don't get to be the best unless you're playing against (and with) the best. I don't think anyone will seriously debate that Ms. Taurasi has not had an opportunity to play Men's Div. I or NBA-quality opposition.
posted by Mister_A at 12:21 PM on July 26, 2010


So basically the worst player in the NBA is better than the best player in the WNBA? Am I understanding the sports fans in this thread correctly?

It's not quite fair to use the terms "better" and "worse" here. A female player may be a better passer, shooter, and dribbler than a male player.

But I think you would be very hard pressed to find female players who can defend and rebound on the NBA level.

WNBA players do not (yet) have the abilities to compete with NBA players, in my opinion, but that could be a factor of the way the NBA game has been structured. That structure can obviously change (3-point shot, shot clock, etc.), but for now, yeah, I would take any NBA player over WNBA player when starting an NBA team. Maybe not for a pickup game, but for competing in a professional basketball game, yes.

This is such a lame derail, though. Can we get back to Chelsea?

Does anyone have any other video highlights? I, too, was a little cheesed at the ESPN olympic-human-interest-style presentation.

On preview: I don't think anyone will seriously debate that Ms. Taurasi has not had an opportunity to play Men's Div. I or NBA-quality opposition.

I agree with your general point, but I'm gonna bet that last part isn't true. I know that article is about Rutgers, but I have a feeling Ms. Taurasi has spent plenty of time practicing with Men's Div. I-quality opposition.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:26 PM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


I understand your point, mrgrimm, but these were practice players, not Div. I Big East bangers the Rutgers women were practicing against. However, it seems that playing with decent male players really helped the women.

From the article you linked:
He and Javois have been practice players for the women's program at Rutgers for two seasons. The two juniors played high school basketball in New Jersey and were involved in intramurals at Rutgers when Michelle Edwards, associate director of operations for the women's team, recruited them.
So, these were pretty good players, but not good enough to make the Rutgers men's team.
posted by Mister_A at 12:32 PM on July 26, 2010


So basically the worst player in the NBA is better than the best player in the WNBA? Am I understanding the sports fans in this thread correctly?

Yeah, unfortunately this is likely the case.

Take hockey for example. You know how in women's hockey the two most dominant teams by a huge margin are Team USA and Team Canada? They're really good. And Team USA, at least, plays practice games against men's teams. To be more precise they play against boy's teams; high school boy's teams, to be precise. And they sometimes lose.

Leaving aside the position of Goalie where the top woman is occasionally as good as a minor league men's Goalie, the top women are about as good as a very good male high schooler.

Basketball is similar; the very best women's player in the world is probably at about the level as a good male high school player. Not as good as the top high schoolers but good enough to be on most teams.
posted by Justinian at 12:33 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


So basically the worst player in the NBA is better than the best player in the WNBA? Am I understanding the sports fans in this thread correctly?

I've heard, but can't find evidence for right now, that the US Women's Soccer Team, in preparing for the World Cup, scrimmaged against a high school boy's team in Texas and lost heavily. Puberty is a hell of a thing.

In terms of actual, verifiable evidence about the difference in athleticism between men and women, 100-meter Dash world records for Women and Ohio High School boys. Florence Griffith-Joyner, in the best race of her life (and allegedly with a massive tailwind and possibly steroids) would just barely have beaten the Division II record, and would have lost significantly to the Division I and III. If her 10.49 is excluded because it seems anomalous, she would have been smoked by the entire high school field.

On preview: Agreed that this is kind of a lame derail. As a vehement pro-knuckleballer, I would be very pleased to see Chelsea playing in the Majors some day, hopefully wearing those sweet goggles.
posted by Copronymus at 12:39 PM on July 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


And best of all, once she goes to college, she'll be able to be on...um...the cheerleading team. So uh, yeah.

The funny thing is, my daughter has just played her first football game[1], and had a ball. Someone I mentioned this to at work said, "Well, how do you feel about America?" I went "huh", and he followed up by pointing out that if she turned out to be any good that's her only option to play seriously.

[1] After seeing the highlights of Germany - Argentina, then demanding more, sitting in front of the football bits in Bend it like Beckham[2], getting to the practise scene and announcing, "I want to do that."
[2] The only football-related stuff in the house I can play on-demand.
posted by rodgerd at 12:39 PM on July 26, 2010


FWIW, I work with a woman who tried out as a pitcher for the Padres in 1996. As she told the story, she took a hell of lot of unwarranted shit from the other boys trying out. Except for one. There was only one player in the whole set who was polite to her. She didn't catch his name, but his uncle was in the stands sporting a an '88 world series ring and he was also the only one to get signed out of that camp.

She didn't make it, but I hope she cracked a door open that Chelsea can walk through.

As a side note, when I was a kid, while at a Yankees game early, I asked my dad why fastball pitchers don't pick up a knuckle ball. My dad talked to me in length about the difficulty in controlling it and how the catcher usually switches to a custom larger glove. And as if by magic, Rich Gossage (IIRC),, who routinely threw in the high 90 mph range, was doing some work in the bullpen and my dad spotted him throwing knuckle balls and one of them didn't go quite as planned and ended up in the upper deck. Yeah. That's why.
posted by plinth at 12:39 PM on July 26, 2010


Brockles: "Me too. I still have very little idea of what a knuckleball is, does, or why it's hard to hit from that."

A normally thrown baseball has a certain amount of spin on it. This keeps the ball traveling in a smooth line, though not necessarily a straight one. A curve-ball for instance has a LOT of spin and this actually forces the ball to, well, curve. However the flight of a curve ball is a smooth line.

A knuckle-ball on the other hand has no spin therefore it begins it's flight on a straight path (sort of, it's a falling object so it's a parabola) but the strings catch the wind and buffet the ball back and forth. This means the final flight path of the ball is crooked and the ball sort of flutters.

example 1 (Tim Wakefield)

example 2 (Charlie Hough)
posted by Bonzai at 12:41 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had a long comment about the Diana Taurasi thing, but I'll defer to everyone else who says, basically, lack of requisite physicality (strength, speed, endurance, etc.) would prevent even the best WNBA player from properly filling an NBA roster spot.

/Reel in the train: The beauty of the woman-knuckler-in-the-MLB idea is that it escapes these arguments of physicality (at least, in all the important areas): this is a question of pure skill.
posted by 3FLryan at 12:44 PM on July 26, 2010


FWIW, I work with a woman who tried out as a pitcher for the Padres in 1996. As she told the story, she took a hell of lot of unwarranted shit from the other boys trying out. Except for one. There was only one player in the whole set who was polite to her. She didn't catch his name, but his uncle was in the stands sporting a an '88 world series ring and he was also the only one to get signed out of that camp.

It's massively unlikely to be Tony Gwynn, Jr., but, dammit, I kind of hope it is.
posted by Copronymus at 12:48 PM on July 26, 2010


I bet the best WNBA player could strike out the worst NBA player with her wicked knuckleball.
posted by mullacc at 12:52 PM on July 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


One important thing to remember about basketball is there are--at most--450 NBA players in the world at any given time. As sad as it is there are likely hundreds of male players not in the NBA who could outplay the best of the WNBA players. It's not just that they've (unfortunately) had better coaching along the way, it's that they're all fighting for one of those 450 spots, and the guys who are in those spots already are total physical freaks. The level of competition that they're subjected to just to grab the 15th spot every summer outstrips that level of the WNBA.

My guess is that we'll see a female pitcher, MLS player, or NFL kicker decades before we ever see a WNBA player cross over. It will be a great day when someone like Chelsea Baker is able to make their way into the major leagues, no matter the sport, but my guess is that it's not happening in basketball.
posted by togdon at 1:00 PM on July 26, 2010


The mistake I think you guys are making is comparing teams to individuals and extrapolating a result. Of course a team of good male players would beat a team of good female players. And in 1v1 sports, like tennis, the same would be true.

But ... if you cherry-pick individuals and look at specific roles on teams, I think you'd reach different results. Five Adam Morrisons beat five Diana Taurasis. But one Taurasi can be more valuable than one Morrison in specific situations, which is exactly what you see coming from bench players. There's the "get in there and rebound" situation. There's also the "get in there and float around the 3-point line in case Kobe needs to make an outlet pass to someone that can hit a jumper." Or the "get in there to take the inbounds pass, so you can get fouled and go to the line" situation.

There was a time when Seattle had a women's ABL team. I got to see Teresa Edwards play one night, and I thought, "Steve Scheffler plays across the street for the Sonics, and he's little more than the team mascot. He's Shawn Kemp's tackling dummy. He's a human victory cigar, but he makes 10 times her salary."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:03 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can't we just give them their own organization? We could call it the Neikro Leagues.
posted by machaus at 1:09 PM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


I've always said there are many things in sports, where upper-body strength isn't a factor, women can be as good as, if not better than, men, and they should compete on the same levels.

Throwing a knuckleball is a perfect example. Pro knuckleballers rarely top 80 mph, and a well-trained woman can throw at that speed.
posted by Cool Papa Bell


Upper body strength IS a factor. Throwing over 60 feet at 80 miles per hour for a hundred pitching every 5 days is not easy (and I'm just talking about pitching, not getting anyone out). I mean, I get what you're saying, but I think you're making light of the strength and stamina required.
posted by justgary at 1:17 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Actually, your lower body and core strength are just as important, if not more important, than actual arm/shoulder strength when it comes pitching. Throwing power comes from the hips.
posted by Mister_A at 1:24 PM on July 26, 2010


Keep in mind that Morrison, who's supposed to be a great shooter, is only .710 from the line, while Taurasi is up over .900.

---

The mistake I think you guys are making is comparing teams to individuals and extrapolating a result.


But it's a team sport. Taurasi's shooting percentage against WNBA defenses isn't a good predictor of her would-be shooting percentage against NBA defenses.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 1:27 PM on July 26, 2010


I don't see it, CPB. To stipulate that a good male team will beat a good female team and that a good male player will beat a good female player in a 1v1 contest but to then hypothesize that a good team which includes a female player might be better than the same team which replaces the female player with a good male one just don't make sense. It's wishful thinking.
posted by Justinian at 1:32 PM on July 26, 2010


Keep in mind that Morrison, who's supposed to be a great shooter, is only .710 from the line, while Taurasi is up over .900.

Taurasi's shooting percentage against WNBA defenses isn't a good predictor of her would-be shooting percentage against NBA defenses.


Call me crazy, but I think WNBA players defend against free throws just as well as any NBA player.
posted by mullacc at 1:34 PM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Heh. Somehow, I skipped right over "from the line". In context, I thought CPB was talking about field goal percentage (which, in hindsight, 71% should have tipped me off).
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 1:48 PM on July 26, 2010


Actually, your lower body and core strength are just as important, if not more important, than actual arm/shoulder strength when it comes pitching. Throwing power comes from the hips.

Well yes, you need both. But the comment was referring to 'upper body strength'.

And while power comes from the hips, throwing is done by the arm. You'll find a lot of pitchers with careers finished because of arm injuries, very few from hip problems.
posted by justgary at 1:57 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Throwing power comes from the hips.

Or, as Nolan Ryan once said in the locker room, while riding a stationary bike following one of his starts, "Ya'll gotta have a fucking great big ass."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:59 PM on July 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


Career 3-point percentages (which is more relevant to CPB's point): .366 for Taurasi vs .331 for Morrison.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 2:04 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


penduluum: Wasn't it here on Metafilter that somebody had a comment on the order of: the first woman to play Major League Baseball in the US will probably be a knuckleball pitcher? Oh yeah, here we go. It was hincandenza.
That's odd, everyone here knows I'm the most woman-hating sexist on Metafilter. This does not compute!

You have no idea how excited I am by this. I've been hoping for a woman in the majors for years, and this Chelsea Baker is phenomenal! Agreed, I'd love to see a lot more real-time video and not the slowdown/speed up gimmickry. But what I did see in some of those shots is a pretty smooth fastball motion to reach 65mph (by way of comparison, the fastest 13-year-olds in the Little League World Series hit 70-75mph, and those are the ones that will grow up to throw 100mph). Even with the disparity in maturation rates, this girl should likely have an 80mph+ fastball, and there's one section of video showing her throwing the knuckler in slow-motion from a side shot, and it's smooth. As I said in that Eri Yoshida thread, my one gripe with her is how slow her pitch is: without the 65-70mph speed it won't knuckle as much and will be too slow to fool people.
justgary: Upper body strength IS a factor. Throwing over 60 feet at 80 miles per hour for a hundred pitching every 5 days is not easy (and I'm just talking about pitching, not getting anyone out). I mean, I get what you're saying, but I think you're making light of the strength and stamina required.
That's bullshit, justgary. With Eri Yoshida it was a legitimate gripe but the beauty of the knuckle ball is that it doesn't put unnecessary strain on the arm- and the pitchers throwing it don't tax themselves as much because they aren't fastballers hurling it at 95% velocity pitch after pitch.

She's already throwing 65mph, which is as hard as Tim Wakefield throws his. There's zero reason to believe that she won't have the ability to throw plenty of pitches- that's a training thing. She is throwing a knuckleball so well that she's undefeated. A knuckleball that doesn't knuckle is called "batting practice", and is the reason so few knuckleballers can stay in the pros; if you only throw it with 90% consistent, you're going to get hammered and not last 5 innings.

Chelsea looks stupendous, has great form, top notch velocity and a proven track record. If she was a guy we wouldn't even be debating her chance of success; she'd be an exciting young pitcher! She has 5 years to continue to perfect the knuckler (as much as anyone can perfect it), a pitch that puts almost no strain on the arm other than the effort to "play catch" at 65-70mph. Granted her body will likely mature less than an equivalent 13-year-old boy (although the ones that throw 75mph in the LLWS are already growth spurted beyond normal), but she's going to add velocity.

Based on how hard she's throwing now, I don't see why she won't be able to throw 65-70 without being at her own redline. It sounds like she's got control, which means if she wants she can strive to be a Jamie Moyer-meets-Tim-Wakefield control artist who mixes an ~80mph fastball, breaking stuff, and a knuckler to keep hitters off balance.

Like I said, this has me so excited because she looks like the most promising female player I"ve seen, and she's not been sports-ghettoed off to play softball! She's absolutely got the tools, and other than ridiculous sexism she could be a very legitimate draft prospect for the 2nd or 3rd round by the time she graduates high school. Baseball, for all its backwards behavior at times, is egalitarian enough that if she's eating up innings and maintaining a low ERA in A-ball, she'll get promoted to AA, etc. I am so rooting for her! Best news I've heard all day.
posted by hincandenza at 2:06 PM on July 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


And I'm a little ashamed at how much I just said I was "excited" by a thread about a 13-year-old girl. :S But still... I want to see the gender barrier tumble in baseball, and this pitching phenom looks like the one who may do it!
posted by hincandenza at 2:08 PM on July 26, 2010


Two comments.. one, are little leaguers allowed to throw knuckleballs? I though it was fastballs only. Also, the she turned 13 durning the season doesn't hurt especially if she's big for her age. There's a HUGE spread in terms of size & strength at that age for both boys & girls (having a 12 year-old littler league player in the house).

Two, as for boys crying in the dugout after she strikes them out - in fairness I see 11 year-old kids crying in the dugout after being struck out on normal all-boys teams too. 12 year-old don't have much of a mental game and some kids are batting .800 at that age so the one time in 5 they strike out they really don't take it very well. It's less to do with sexism and disbelief that a girl can pitch and more the rampant egotism that puts every 12 year-old boy at the center of his own universe.
posted by GuyZero at 2:13 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


hincandenza, I hope you're right but I think you're being optimistic. There's no such thing as a pitching prospect, and in this case, we're talking about a 13 year-old who's had a good season in Little League. I'd love to see a woman in the MLB, and I agree that a female major leaguer will be in the Wakefield or Moyer mold (or more likely a left-handed one out specialist). This is a hopeful development, but there's a long way to go.
posted by chrchr at 2:38 PM on July 26, 2010


She's already throwing 65mph, which is as hard as Tim Wakefield throws his.

Uh, that was (kinda) a joke. Wakefield's fastball has dropped quite a lot through the years, but has it dropped that much? (I honestly don't know, but I figured it *had* to still be in the 70's.)

My fear for Chelsea is that she hits a speed wall on her fastball. Without a semi-decent fastball, the knuckler better be amazingly good.

To be (embarrassingly) honest, I'd rather see a women in MLB than in the White House. I hope it happens in my lifetime.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:39 PM on July 26, 2010


Tim Wakefield is my favorite.

That is all.
posted by Put the kettle on at 2:45 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


chrchr: there's no such thing as a pitching prospect? What the hell are you talking about? The top pick in the first round of 2009 was Stephen Strasbourg in a first round that included 16 pitchers of which 5 were high schoolers. The 2010 draft was similar; 14 of the 32 1st round picks were pitchers, of which 7 were high school pitchers. This is even with the growing knowledge over the last few years that drafting pitchers highly is a waste of a pick.

It sounds like she didn't have just one good season, but has been dominating for a while now, and hasn't lost in 4 years (granted, only 12 games). She's got a fastball that would be impressive with a boy of the same age, she's developed a knuckleball good enough to get outs with, and she's got 5 years before she graduates high school. The top pitchers in the Little League World Series are already eyed as future first round draft picks; there's no reason to think at least a couple of teams will keep an eye on her development. She may not become a first-round draft pick or perennial All-Star, but I'm excited because she looks to have the stuff that she might be a major leaguer one day- or at least make a very serious go of it working her way through the minor leagues.

mrgrimm: Agreed, she's more likely to hit a speed wall than a boy of the same age as she's probably going to grow less and put on less muscle. But she doesn't have to be much faster to be successful. Wakefield's knuckler is 65-71 typically. A knuckleball won't knuckle much if any over 75mph. It's intentionally thrown that speed, Wakefield hasn't really lost any velocity over the years.

The knuckler always has to be amazingly good to throw it at all, because just the littlest bit more rotation than desired and it'll be crushed to the upper deck. This is what happens when a knuckleball doesn't knuckle, after all.

The fastballs, such as they are "fastballs" when thrown by knuckleballers, are usually thrown in to keep the hitters off balance, and because it's a free strike much of the time if they use it judiciously. Wakefield will toss it in every now and then, sometimes 3 pitches in a row, because the knuckleball is so baffling hitters don't even swing. But he principally throws the knuckleball and throws it well enough that he's still employed.
posted by hincandenza at 2:59 PM on July 26, 2010


a) I can shoot better than 90% from the free-throw line. Seriously. I can. Consistently. But I'm not a better basketball player than Diana Turasi, and I shouldn't be on a WNBA team. Comparing free-throw percentages of two players is really missing the point.

b) So is comparing 3-point percentages. The 3-point line is further back in the men's game, for one thing, and for another thing the defense Morrison faces is much tougher.

Everybody agrees that it would be great if a female could play in the NBA. But hell, it's not gonna happen. Maybe - maybe - Cheryl Miller could have done it, and she was a straight freak of nature. You'll see someone like her come around once every 50 years, maybe.

It's funny, the last few weeks I was watching a lot of NBA developmental league games on the NBA channel (don't judge). I dare any non true-blue basketball superfan to watch those games and point out which players were going to make an NBA roster and which were playing in Italy next year. The difference between the worst player in the NBA and the best player not in the NBA doesn't exist. It's not there. There is no difference, it's just blind luck in some cases. Did you have a good series of games for the scouts? You're in. Did you get the flu for a week when it mattered? You're out. These guys are huge, fast, strong, extremely dedicated, coordinated, and intelligent. Maybe not SAT scores intelligent but 15 years of basketball knowledge intelligent. Okay, I'm getting off topic. Basically, fans of the game - both the male and female versions of it - know that the discrepancy between the two leagues is vast. That's just the way it is.

Best of luck to Chelsea, though. It'd be great if she could make it to the Minor (and maybe Major?) Leagues. Remember there have been other improbable stories in baseball (Jim Abbot, off the top of my head). Not to compare being female to being sans-arm, but, well, you know what I'm saying. Okay, I think I've dug a deep enough ditch for myself.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:00 PM on July 26, 2010


Oh and the ball is smaller.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:03 PM on July 26, 2010


Five Adam Morrisons beat five Diana Taurasis. But one Taurasi can be more valuable than one Morrison in specific situations, which is exactly what you see coming from bench players.

The only "specific situations," though, are wide-open shots (including free throws.) There are hundreds of men who are as good as Taurasi at that absurdly specific situation who can also defend, rebound, and create their own shots against NBA defenders. There are probably a couple of dozen Div I male shooting guards who don't make the NBA every year who could fit that role, for example, plus dozens of ex-NBA players who are old enough to have slowed down but are still faster than Taurasi.

You wouldn't rather have Reggie Miller than Taurasi as your 12th player?

I'm all for a level playing field, but lets not just make stuff up. A female knuckleballer could be successful in the MLB. The NFL (except maybe kicker) and NBA are just not gonna happen barring some really, really aberrant woman.

A female NBA head coach, though. That could happen.
posted by callmejay at 3:05 PM on July 26, 2010


That's bullshit, justgary. With Eri Yoshida it was a legitimate gripe but the beauty of the knuckle ball is that it doesn't put unnecessary strain on the arm- and the pitchers throwing it don't tax themselves as much because they aren't fastballers hurling it at 95% velocity pitch after pitch.
posted by hincandenza


Bullshit? Then can I call you hopelessly naive?

Until we have a female throwing 100 pitches 5 times a week (pick a speed, any speed) and doing that for an entire summer (which alone is taxing) your assumption that she's capable of doing just that is nothing more than that.

I'm as excited as you about the possibility of a woman playing major league baseball. I think that would be awesome. I'm rooting her on. But your vision that being she'll be the next wakefield with an 80 fastball while throwing in a little breaking stuff to keep major league hitters off balance because she's successful at the little league level is comical.
posted by justgary at 3:05 PM on July 26, 2010


I'm pretty sure that endurance is one area of physicality in which men don't have a big advantage. For example, in ultra-endurance events (e.g. 100 mile footraces) women compete on even footing with the best men.
posted by callmejay at 3:09 PM on July 26, 2010


A female NBA head coach, though. That could happen.

Yeah. And they already have female NBA refs, FWIW.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:12 PM on July 26, 2010


I'm pretty sure that endurance is one area of physicality in which men don't have a big advantage. For example, in ultra-endurance events (e.g. 100 mile footraces) women compete on even footing with the best men.

If that's directed at my comments I don't believe the comparison really holds water.

Throwing, even a knuckleball, isn't a natural motion, and just the motion can cause injury (wakefield has had his share of injuries). Pitchers lift weights and put on muscle so they can get through the season healthy.

Someone said the power comes from the hips. It does (well, the legs), but it also takes stress off of the arm. Wakefield is 6-2, 210. Phil Niekro was 6-1 180. She's 5-4, 117. I have no idea how big she'll eventually be, but a smaller frame isn't an advantage.

Again, I'd love for her to make waves. I just don't share the enthusiasm that she will. She has a lot to overcome beyond just the normal hurdles it takes to make it to the majors.
posted by justgary at 3:22 PM on July 26, 2010


This is from the Women's Sports Foundation founded by Billie Jean King:

POSITION: After puberty, coed competition should be permitted and encouraged in situations in which there are equal numbers of females and males on both teams and there are rules governing fair competition between the sexes.

Coed competition, when appropriately governed to prevent female or male advantage, is desirable. Mixed doubles in tennis, coed volleyball and coed basketball are good examples of competitions in which females and males on the same team and in equal numbers compete against identical number of females and males on the opposing team. As long as rules are designed to offset the physiological advantages of males, such competition is safe, healthy and desirable.

II. WHEN ARE SEPARATE-SEX TEAMS NECESSARY OR APPROPRIATE?

POSITION: After puberty, separate teams should be provided for girls and boys in competitive athletics. However, girls and boys should still participate in co-ed environments in instructional and recreational programs.

Once boys reach puberty, in general, it is difficult for girls to compete against boys on equal terms. Due to the male hormone androgen, boys develop more muscle mass per unit volume of body mass than do girls. Thus, even though a girl and boy may be of equal height and weight, the boy will have more fat-free mass (a greater percentage of his body will be muscle) than the girl. He will be stronger, able to run faster, throw farther, etc. This is why after the age of 11 or 12, boys and girls typically compete (and should compete) on separate, same-sex teams. This is also the reason why separate-sex teams are required to give girls an equal chance to play. All sports (with few exceptions like shooting, archery, etc.) involve propelling an object through space or overcoming the resistance of a mass, thus strength is an advantage. If there were only one team open to both girls and boys, boys would be overrepresented because of their physiological strength advantage.


Article about Girl's playing High School Baseball
posted by HappyHippo at 3:39 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


justgary, I think you're being obtuse about this. First, she's 5'4", 117... as a 13-year-old girl! She'll get a little bigger, and for this pitch you don't need to be Randy Johnson. Pedro Martinez was a slightly built guy at optimistically 5'10" and 170- so much so that an idiot like Tommy LaSorda dismissed his chances of ever making it in the majors- yet he could get it up into the high 90's and in his prime was probably the most dominant pitcher in history. So don't be like Tommy, justgary!

Second, the knuckleball is not a power pitch, it's a pitch that physiologically any healthy adult, male or female, can throw in theory, although of course almost no one can throw consistently well. We're not extrapolating whether she can increase her velocity to the necessary level: the velocity she has, right now at age 13, is "good enough" for this pitch. Any additional velocity just adds the bonus that she'll be pushing her body less hard to generate that velocity.

Third, Wakefield's injuries are back injuries- not arm injuries. The history of knuckleballers is that they have insane longevity because they aren't getting injured and they aren't taxing themselves. Wakefield was known to occasionally do spot work out of the bullpen in between starts, because he isn't the kind of pitcher icing his arm after starts.

Lastly, I think any claims that as an adult she won't be able to handle the pitching load of 100 pitches every 5 days is quite frankly a little sexist. Endurance, pain thresholds, these are areas women can compete on equal footing. From this article about Chelsea Baker from a couple of months ago is this:
She has thrown two perfect games within the past year, including one in an All-Star Game. She is unbeaten this season in nine starts, throwing 54 innings and striking out 103 batters while allowing only four runs. She also is hitting .569, playing third base when she doesn't pitch
Do the math, man: she's thrown nine starts for 54 innings. If Little League rules are the same in Plant City as where I grew up, a game is six innings: she's throwing the full game, 6 innings, striking out more than two batters an inning. If her control is laserlike, then she's throwing almost all strikes and is still putting up 8-10 pitches an inning, which is a 50-60 pitch start. And yet you claim somehow, as a girl, she won't be able to do the ~100 pitches as an adult that a regular pitcher in the majors would put up?

Probably the biggest concern I'd have is that she's predominantly a fastball pitcher who uses the knuckleball as an out pitch. That makes me wonder how good her knuckler is, or if it's just set up very well by a fastball that seems difficult for 13-year-olds to hit. The reality is her velocity won't likely peak as high as a comparable boy, so she'd have to become a predominantly knuckleball pitcher as she ages.
posted by hincandenza at 4:11 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


She seems surprisingly close to Little League per-player pitch limits based on those numbers. I'd hate to see her throw her career away with an injury at 13 or 14 just because she's trying to run up her numbers. An injury at that age can be far more debilitating than an injury for an adult.
posted by GuyZero at 4:21 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Throwing knucklers to little league kids isn't exactly fair, or a predictor of future success. Eri Yoshida, mentioned several times upthread, is already a female professional baseball pitcher (albeit in the independent league) and is much more worthy of the mantle of future MLB pitcher.

To be a successful knuckle ball pitcher at the higher levels, you must consistently get the ball over the plate week in and week out. This takes tremendous amounts of discipline, concentration and endurance.

I agree 100% though with hindcandenza that the first "top level" female athlete will be a knuckleball pitcher. But it may take a very long time. Currently there are only 2 knuckleball pitchers who have any success in the MLB, and given how devastating that pitch is when thrown for strikes consistently, you'd expect that if it were at all easy to master, everyone would be doing it.
posted by chaz at 5:13 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


another thing though, hincandenza, by the numbers tommy was right about pedro. He's the exception that proves the rule-- very few small pitchers have been successful over long periods of time.
posted by chaz at 5:14 PM on July 26, 2010


I feel a little embarrassed asking this, but I'm doubly hampered by not knowing anything about sports and not exactly having that whole throwy-catchy thing with my father. Exactly what does it mean when they say that someone "throws like a girl?" What's the stereotype here? Is it a distance issue? Purportedly poor aim? Is there a particular throwing style associated with females? Do women have to hitch up their bras instead of scratching various impolite locations first? Something even more unlikely? I've heard the phrase many times and just do not get it.
posted by adipocere at 5:21 PM on July 26, 2010


"throwing like a girl" is stereotypically not using your shoulder but throwing from your elbow/wrist.

Pick up a ball. put your arm at your side. fold your arm so your wrist is near your shoulder and your elbow is still at your side. pronate your wrist/tilt your hand as far back as it will go. Now throw the ball without moving your elbow. You're "throwing like a girl".

Strangely, my daughter threw exactly like this until I taught her how to throw properly. I have no clue why anyone would throw like this, but some kids do.
posted by GuyZero at 5:39 PM on July 26, 2010


And throwing like that is a bad thing because you're not using the biggest muscles you have available - your deltoids and to a lesser extent your pectorals as you rotate your arm around your shoulder joint from back to front.
posted by GuyZero at 5:40 PM on July 26, 2010


I have no clue why anyone would throw like this, but some kids do.

And so do a lot of adults, when throwing with their non-dominant (and non-trained) hand.
I think it also has a little bit to do with stepping with the correct foot, too.
posted by inigo2 at 5:44 PM on July 26, 2010


"throwing like a girl" is stereotypically not using your shoulder but throwing from your elbow/wrist.

That's only half of it, I think. The other half is stepping forward with the wrong leg. You throw a ball by stepping forward with the leg opposite your dominant hand. But someone stereotypically "throwing like a girl", having never been taught how to throw a ball properly, will often step forward onto the foot on the same side as the ball.
posted by Justinian at 5:45 PM on July 26, 2010


I'm pretty sure that endurance is one area of physicality in which men don't have a big advantage. For example, in ultra-endurance events (e.g. 100 mile footraces) women compete on even footing with the best men.

Not really. There are cases where women have won ultra-races outright (Pam Reed did it twice at Badwater and Krissy Moehl did it at the Where's Waldo 100K, for example), but it doesn't happen all that often and I'm not aware of any cases where the women have the course record. Generally speaking the top women's times will be about 10% behind the top men's times or more. Given the range of finishing times in a typical ultra and the small number of competitors, however, that does mean that women can and do place high on a regular basis.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:52 PM on July 26, 2010


Take hockey for example. You know how in women's hockey the two most dominant teams by a huge margin are Team USA and Team Canada? They're really good. And Team USA, at least, plays practice games against men's teams. To be more precise they play against boy's teams; high school boy's teams, to be precise. And they sometimes lose.

I grew up in NH watching Tara Mounsey play on the 1st line, the power play, and kill penalties on her way to an undefeated state championship as the only girl on my high school's varsity hockey team. And Salem didn't offer HS hockey, but if they had I'm sure Katie King would have dominated it as well, just like she dominated Junior hockey in NH. So I kind of find it hard to believe that after 4 years of college experience, and 5 Olympic medals between them, they would drop TOO many games to all male High School teams... at least in Tara's case been there, done that, undefeated.

I'm sure it has happened and you would be at a disadvantage at wing and center, but your defense(wo)men and goalie should be able to compete with intelligence and positioning. Play a trap.

That being said, I agree that the athleticism, size and strength of an NBA player would be too much for most WNBA players. It's just a different sport that rewards pure physical ability.

There's no reason a girl couldn't pitch in the majors with a good enough knuckleball. I remember The Onion sports page had a headline a few months ago that was "Tim Wakefield Thinks He'll Go Ahead And Throw Knuckleball".
posted by nathancaswell at 5:52 PM on July 26, 2010


Upper body strength IS a factor. Throwing over 60 feet at 80 miles per hour for a hundred pitching every 5 days is not easy (and I'm just talking about pitching, not getting anyone out). I mean, I get what you're saying, but I think you're making light of the strength and stamina required.

A fact that I think gets overlooked all too often is that a large reason that women aren't currently playing at the major league level is that they're not being trained to.

When the All-American Girls league started in 1943, the ball was 12" and pitched underhand, the distance to the pitcher's mound was 40' and the basepaths were 65'. By the time the league shut down in 1954, the ball was 9" and pitched overhand, the distance to the mound was 60' and basepaths were 85'. In less than a decade these women went from playing modified fast-pitch softball to baseball.

I agree with hincandenza that the idea that a woman cannot handle the workload of a starting pitcher is sexist. Women are not (currently) being trained and conditioned to play professional baseball because that's not viewed as a legitimate option. But it seems that if time and energy is invested, then a woman could have a chance at competing at that level.
posted by jaybeans at 5:54 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, knuckleballers are awesome. That's all.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:55 PM on July 26, 2010


Hey, you don't have to be huge to be a good pitcher — one of the best pitchers pitching today is Tim Lincecum, listed at 5-11 (in lifts) and 170 lb (soaking wet and holding his dog).
posted by Mister_A at 6:51 PM on July 26, 2010


Of course we're also ignoring the fact that Baker would have to be able to bat against pro pitchers. Full-time in the NL, occasionally in the AL... but those occasions would be during the absolute biggest games. And while pitchers often suck as batters, neither can you really afford your pitcher to bat 0.000. So her ability to pitch isn't the only thing in question.
posted by Justinian at 7:32 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Although it occurs to me that this wouldn't really apply to a relief pitcher brought in for 1 big out or whatever, so there's always that role.
posted by Justinian at 7:33 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hope she's short and have her take everything?
posted by nathancaswell at 7:39 PM on July 26, 2010


Yeah, you know you're a pitcher when it's a bases loaded full count and the coach gives you the TAKE signal.
posted by Justinian at 7:42 PM on July 26, 2010


She'll get a little bigger, and for this pitch you don't need to be Randy Johnson. Pedro Martinez was a slightly built guy at optimistically 5'10" and 170- so much so that an idiot like Tommy LaSorda dismissed his chances of ever making it in the majors- yet he could get it up into the high 90's and in his prime was probably the most dominant pitcher in history.

As someone already said, Pedro is the exception to the rule (add Tim Lincecum if you wish). Most pitchers are larger than Pedro, scouts look for larger pitchers, and most pitchers try to put on bulk. Ignoring that you're using probably the greatest pitcher of our time to show size doesn't matter, do you think she'll reach reach 5-11 170?

Also, I'm sure you noticed Pedro didn't have the longevity of a Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens. He lost speed and became injury prone.

Third, Wakefield's injuries are back injuries- not arm injuries. The history of knuckleballers is that they have insane longevity because they aren't getting injured and they aren't taxing themselves. Wakefield was known to occasionally do spot work out of the bullpen in between starts, because he isn't the kind of pitcher icing his arm after starts.

I'm familiar with the knuckleball and wakefield. His injuries are aggravated by pitching. You seem to believe that because these pitchers throw at 60-70 mph they can just roll out of bed and do it, and that it doesn't strain their bodies. I disagree. And the smaller the frame, the more stress, and she's probably going to be much smaller than wakefield or niekro.

And yet you claim somehow, as a girl, she won't be able to do the ~100 pitches as an adult that a regular pitcher in the majors would put up?

I didn't say she couldn't. I said it would be a hurdle. Just one hurdle of many. Probably not as big as that she's going to have to throw a fantastic knuckleball consistently to have a chance. Or that teams in general are weary of knuckleballers. Or that the vast majority of little league stars don't make it.

To be honest I'm not sure what we're arguing about. I think it's a fantastic story. I think what she's doing right NOW is amazing. I hope she continues to excel, and I hope she gets every chance to make it work. I wish her luck. If you're telling me she has a good chance to reach the major leagues based on her little league career, I strongly disagree. I mean, you're trying to use her little league record to prove she can handle the work load of a major league pitcher? I don't even know what to say to that.

I agree with hincandenza that the idea that a woman cannot handle the workload of a starting pitcher is sexist.
posted by jaybeans


Oh please. The reason I believe the workload would be tougher on her than, say, wakefield, is because she's probably going to be much smaller than the average pitcher. I would say that if she was a guy that was smaller. Anyone that doesn't believe size matters in baseball either knows nothing about baseball or is in denial.

I believe the workload will be tougher on her because chances are her frame won't grow as large as 99.9 pitchers. Yes, that's because she's female. Which is no different than hincandenza saying this:

The reality is her velocity won't likely peak as high as a comparable boy

Because she's a girl? In your quest to find sexism everywhere it doesn't exist I'm surprised you missed that one.
posted by justgary at 8:07 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


No silly, because she's probably closer to her peak height and weight than a comparable boy is why! It's not sexist to point out that she's probably plenty tall now, but that many of the players she's striking out will be taller and stronger than her by age 18.

Which is again part of the beauty of the knuckler: you don't have to get it up to 95 to succeed. The knucklers who succeed have long careers: the Niekros were never dominant, but steadily racked up wins. This notion you have that a knuckler will have the same physical issues as a fastballer is odd. It's not *effortless*, but it's far less taxing. Wakefield's in his mid-40's for God's sake! He was going to have back problems mowing his lawn.

Look, we aren't fully disagreeing: the vast majority of LL stars won't make it, and her odds are long. But based on what I've seen she's as realistic a shot as any LL phenom, some of whom *do* make it. Unlike Eri who is apparently working with a 55mph knuckler that won't get any faster, this girl might have legitimate ML knuckler stuff in a few years. That there's a little league playing girl dominating her age bracket not in softball but baseball gives me hope we'll see Baker or someone similar in an MLB jersey.

Justinian: the hitting is unimportant, no teams cares if the pitchers can hit. But it's not like she isn't hitting as well, noted earlier. She sounds like an all around great athlete who's passionate and determined. That counts for a lot in determining who makes the Majors.
posted by hincandenza at 8:35 PM on July 26, 2010


Sorry, to clarify that first paragraph: a 13-year-old who throws 75 might become a 20-year-old who throws 95-98. A 15-year-old probably won't (see Almonte, Danny). Baker is likely further along her maturation curve so even if her velocity improves, she has less ceiling at this point than an equivalent boy of the same age, so we can't pencil her in as a 90mph+ pitcher as an adult.

Although with her control being excellent, I'd jump for joy if she did get into the high 80's; she'd be a legitimate prospect if that happened. Kind of makes me sad I'll likely not see the outcome of her story.
posted by hincandenza at 8:42 PM on July 26, 2010


Wakefield's in his mid-40's for God's sake! He was going to have back problems mowing his lawn.

Wake used to live in my hometown in the offseason and I have seen him mowing his lawn... he was hardly a physical force to be reckoned with, even 15 years ago.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:20 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a whole lot of confidence re: NBA vs. WNBA skills differentials.

Does it come from any actual experimental data?

Even first hand knowledge? Has anyone played against a WNBA-class player?
posted by effugas at 10:10 PM on July 26, 2010


Justinian: Take hockey for example. You know how in women's hockey the two most dominant teams by a huge margin are Team USA and Team Canada? They're really good. And Team USA, at least, plays practice games against men's teams. To be more precise they play against boy's teams; high school boy's teams, to be precise. And they sometimes lose.

nathancaswell: So I kind of find it hard to believe that after 4 years of college experience, and 5 Olympic medals between them, they would drop TOO many games to all male High School teams...

Team Canada, during the Olympics, were concerned that they had won their pool games too easily (a combined score of 41-2 in games against three of the top 8 national women's teams). To stay sharp, they played a couple of workout games against the Vancouver North West Giants, a midget (15-17) year old boy's team. Well, mostly boy's team.

Prior to the Olympics, the gold medal winning world champions had an 11-6 record in the Alberta Midget Hockey League, again all-male high school aged teams.

Hayley Wickenheiser, who is essentially the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey, managed to play some professional hockey with men in second and third tier Swedish and Finnish leagues to mixed success.

I mean, I wish all sports could be mixed gender (for Caster Semenya's sake, if nothing else). Except I'm kind of glad we get to win two gold medals in hockey.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:32 PM on July 26, 2010


Aw, c'mon 17 yr old Canadian and Russian kids don't count as kids when it comes to hockey. :)
posted by nathancaswell at 10:39 PM on July 26, 2010


I used to be a huge proponent of the "Girls aren't as good in sports as boys because they haven't trained to be" theory. In the past few years my heavy involvement in strength-and-conditioning and weightlifting has taken that theory and slapped it in the face.

You people are overlooking the effect that testosterone and muscle mass have on the body. You're overlooking the fact that, for better or for worse, men build more muscle mass and power and are physiologically able to recruit more muscles than women. This is not sexism. This isn't something you can train, and even with steroids women can't catch up.

I started Olympic-style weightlifting with a friend of mine almost two years ago. Olympic-style weightlifting is a very particular lifting sport that requires not just strength but a great deal of speed and skill.

We both had similar totally non-athletic backgrounds. I am fanatic about my training--both in consistency and maintaining a high volume. I can build pure strength more easily than many women. He is far more sporadic in his training, and has sometimes taken weeks off at a time. His lifts continue to climb at twice the rate of mine--and this is not considered to be a high rate for a man either.

You want a comparison of the difference between men and women in raw strength and power? Look at the lifting records for men and women. Notice that the only time women catch up with men is when the men are in the 56kg category (123lbs) and women are in the super-heavyweight category (where they usually weigh 110kg/232lbs or more). That is, when it involves women who are twice the bodyweight of their male counterparts.

This isn't raising, either. The countries that set these world records have those kids in the weight rooms as soon as they can pick up a broomstick, and let's just say drug-testing policies are lenient.

The best female weightlifters I know, national-level weightlifters, are out-lifted by high school boys. High school boys who aren't even considered to be all that great.

Given that women are so incredibly deficient in strength, power, and muscle recruitment, and how heavily these factors weigh on speed and all of the other aspects of sport, do you see why it is so unlikely for a woman to be able to compete with men at top levels? Skill and kinesthetic awareness only go so far as the sport grows more demanding on the musculoskeletal system. A high school boy has so much more testosterone than even the best female athletes that there is simply no contest on a pure strength basis, and if she beats him it will be due to the years she has on him in skill development.

Get in there, train some preteens, see what happens when the boys and girls hit puberty and the testosterone hits. I say this as a drum-beating, pro-choice, will-argue-for-equal-rights-and-treatment-until-I-die feminist: physiologically, men and women are not, and will never be, equal.
posted by schroedinger at 10:50 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Aw, c'mon 17 yr old Canadian and Russian kids don't count as kids when it comes to hockey.

That's certainly one way to say "I was wrong!".
posted by Justinian at 11:08 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


But schroedinger, the original post was about a girl who is competing in one of the core traditional USA sports already. Yes, she won't be as tall, fast, or strong as her peers by the time she's nearing her senior year in high school. But as I'm stressing, the knuckleball is the great equalizer in baseball: a washed-up journeyman pitcher can learn it and still get out the best hitters in the league, making them look foolish in the process.

For all that what you say is true for pure athletic effort, a Jennie Finch could learn the knuckler and have the physical ability to compete in the majors. Baseball is already the most egalitarian of the core US sports when it comes to accepting a wild diversity of body types (the aforementioned Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson were equally dominant, and slight little guys like Dustin Pedroia or Ichiro Suzuki can snag an MVP award for their stellar offense and solid defense with size and strength and speed that is not out of reach for quite a few very athletic women). While even the most athletic and sizeably muscular woman would have a hard time competing with the physical freaks of the NBA or NFL, it's hardly inconceivable that she could hold her own in MLB. Heck, a slap-hitting high average second baseman might be the first female position player in the majors.

Beyond the ability to throw the ball ~65-70mph, which a Finch or this Baker girl can do already, there isn't really any gender specific benefit when it comes to the knuckleball. You don't throw it better because you're taller, or stronger, or have better muscle density; you throw it better because your fingers have the dexterity to release it "just so", getting that perfect 1 or 1.25 rotations on the way to the plate for a strike. Too much rotation and your night ends early, but if you can get it to cross the strike zone 70-80% of the time as a fluttering knuckler, without more than a handful of non-fluttering ones per start, you can be a very successful starting pitcher.

You can no-hit the best team in the majors on any given night with just the knuckleball in your holster. You can win 100, 200, even 300 games, with just the knuckler. You can be in the Hall of Fame, with just the knuckler. In theory, if everyone at Metafilter started practicing the knuckler, it's hardly inconceivable that one of us would make it to the majors on the skill of our knuckleball.

It is, as nathancaswell notes, "awesome".
posted by hincandenza at 11:50 PM on July 26, 2010


The thing is, hincandenza, you keep saying things like "a Jennie Finch could learn the knuckler and have the physical ability to compete in the majors.". But that isn't a fact, it's a blanket assertion you're making. And one I think is probably incorrect. Obviously if someone like Finch can develop the physical strength and speed to compete we will eventually see a woman in the majors. But you're completely begging the question. I don't think anyone has ever said that a woman could never learn the skill to be a major leaguer, only that she wouldn't be able to develop the physical size, speed, and strength to go along with that for reasons of pure biology, not dedication or heart.

In theory, if everyone at Metafilter started practicing the knuckler, it's hardly inconceivable that one of us would make it to the majors on the skill of our knuckleball.

In theory I could show up at tryouts without even bothering to try to learn the knuckleball and make it to the majors. But it is vanishingly unlikely. If it were as possible as you're saying we'd see a lot more knuckleballers. But it's actually almost impossible.
posted by Justinian at 12:25 AM on July 27, 2010


You can no-hit the best team in the majors on any given night with just the knuckleball in your holster. You can win 100, 200, even 300 games, with just the knuckler. You can be in the Hall of Fame, with just the knuckler. In theory, if everyone at Metafilter started practicing the knuckler, it's hardly inconceivable that one of us would make it to the majors on the skill of our knuckleball.

This is just not true. All major league-level knuckleball pitchers have at least two secondary pitches. For the Niekros, it was the fastball and slider (Joe didn't introduce the knuckleball until about his 3rd season in the majors, but he still threw fastballs and a very good change-up). Phil Niekro didn't throw a single knuckleball for his 300th win until the final batter. Tim Wakefield throws knuckleballs about 85% of the time, but he also has a "fastball' and a curve.

As far as I know, Hoyt Wilhelm was the last person to throw a knuckleball exclusively, and he retired in 1972. Given the trajectory of most knuckleball pitchers' careers since then, there is little evidence that the modern hitting environment will ever see another pitcher work exclusively with a knuckleball. The development of secondary pitches (most importantly the curveball) resurrected Wakefield's career.

As for members of Metafilter making it to the majors, it's not going to happen. Every minor leaguer is said to fiddle with a knuckleball because if they can throw one effectively, it's a ticket to the big leagues. Wakefield came up as an infielder but never made it past AA. We see 2 to 3 knuckleballers a decade, during which time there are tens of thousands of minor leaguers trying it out. To me, at least, it is quite inconceivable that anybody on this web site is capable of developing the skills to throw a major league-level knuckleball consistently, let alone develop secondary pitches like a mid-70s fastball, thrown with the exact same mechanics as the knuckleball. And that's really the issue - not just that she's going to have to throw a fastball in the mid-70s, but she's going to have to make it look effortless, like the knuckleball. Because the fastball only works if the hitter doesn't know it's coming.

I, too, really hope that she or some other woman makes it to the majors, and I agree that it'll probably be a knuckle ball pitcher who does it. But to diminish the talent of a major league knuckleball pitcher is just crazy. Given the expected earnings over a career, if it were that easy, you'd see a lot more knuckleballers in the majors and a lot fewer champion dart throwers.
posted by one_bean at 1:40 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's certainly one way to say "I was wrong!".

It is. That being said, Sidney Crosby scored his first NFL goal at 18. So you catch my drift... it's been about a decade since I followed hockey closely, but how many American's have been drafted at 18? Or even 19? Let's be honest, it's a different level of play in Canada and Russia, especially at that age.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:52 AM on July 27, 2010


Wakefield has a "fastball" and I guess he has a curve, but they're only there to keep batters somewhat honest, right? He's not throwing the trying to get outs. I'm no baseball stats nerd so I don't know where to look it up, but what % of his outs come off non knuckleballs? Seems to me if you threw a 75 mph fastball you could throw a knuckleball at 60 and be kind of effective, especially only once around the lineup.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:57 AM on July 27, 2010


Upon re-reading your post I see you have also targeted the FB around 75mph to be effective, carry on. It is 5am and I have been drinking.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:58 AM on July 27, 2010


Although I do maintain that since I -- a relatively shitty 1st baseman who topped out at the JV level -- can hit 75 at the science museum in Philly, a really good female pitcher should be able to hit 75 enough to keep batters honest.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:05 AM on July 27, 2010


There's a whole lot of confidence re: NBA vs. WNBA skills differentials.

Does it come from any actual experimental data?


Yes, see above.

Even first hand knowledge? Has anyone played against a WNBA-class player?

Yes.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:19 AM on July 27, 2010


This table does not present traditional baseball stats, but basically the higher the value, the more effective the pitch is. In terms of absolute value, you can see that his secondary pitches are generally as valuable as the knuckleball, although there's a lot of variance between seasons. If you calculate per 100 pitches (the second half of the table, with headings "/C"), his secondary pitches are providing a huge amount of value to him since 2007, where either his fastball or his curve was more effective than the knuckleball. They aren't just keeping the hitter honest, they are serving to get a lot of outs. Here's a visualization of that data, with a bunch of others thrown in. Wakefield's fastball is technically one of the "filthiest" pitches in baseball. Obviously, that doesn't mean he should throw it more. But it does mean it's a crucial part of his arsenal.
posted by one_bean at 3:31 AM on July 27, 2010


Wakefield has a "fastball" and I guess he has a curve, but they're only there to keep batters somewhat honest, right? He's not throwing the trying to get outs.

Sort of. His fastball isn't amazing in the abstract, but you have to remember hitting is timing and pitching is the art of disrupting that timing. If you see 82% knuckleballs (which is the rate Wakefield is throwing them this year), that 75mph fastball looks incredibly fast. And I'd maintain his curve is a good out pitch when it's on.

On preview: ha, one_bean. At least I linked to a different portion of the table.

hal, you know I love you babe, but I still maintain you can be your own worst enemy with the insistence on speaking in absolutes and being so caustically dismissive. And that's me saying that.
posted by yerfatma at 5:40 AM on July 27, 2010


And I guess I'm wrong about the curve, based on that graphic, but I did give myself the out of "when it's on". I also wonder how many bad knuckleballs are mis-identified as curves because all they do is drop.
posted by yerfatma at 5:42 AM on July 27, 2010


Every minor leaguer is said to fiddle with a knuckleball...

This is 100% true*.

*I have only my time playing MLB 10 The Show's "Road to the Show" feature as evidence in this case. It seems every freakin' team in the minors has a knuckleball pitcher. How am I supposed to succeed in my goal of "no strikeouts over the next 3 weeks" if they keep throwing my knuckleballs, COACH?

I agree with everyone who says that the worst player in the NBA is probably better than the best players in the WNBA (unless you count the 76ers...god we suck) and that, while Diana Taurasi could hit a wide-open three better than Adam Morrison, it'd be much harder for her to find that open look against a team of faster, bigger players.

For the sake of the original post, I think it's not completely unlikely that a girl like Baker could make it to MLB. Wakefield has made a career off throwing mostly knucklers, and Jamie Moyer (he went to my college!) has succeeded without a mid-90s fastball. Same can be said for late-career Greg Maddux, whose ability to hit the corners of the strike zone made him more successful than did his speed.
posted by moviehawk at 6:00 AM on July 27, 2010


One of the best things about baseball is that there's not a single body type you must have to succeed, unlike most other major sports. You don't technically even have to be that fit (even though virtually all players are, despite the jokes).

I hope this means Baseball can continue to expand in East Asia and make inroads in South Asia and eventually cross the ultimate frontier of gender.
posted by cell divide at 6:11 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, to bring the discussion back around to Ms. Baker...

... when I was in elementary school (this would have been the early 1970's), my Grandfather, who had been a pitcher for minor league and barnstorming teams in the early part of the century, started teaching me to play baseball, mostly because I was a huge Red Sox fan and begged him.

It turned out that, for a seven year old, I threw a pretty good curve ball. A curve ball that none of the boys (all the neighbor kids were boys) in my neighborhood could hit. Even some of the older kids (middle school age) had trouble with it.

You probably know (or maybe you don't) that Title IX was enacted in 1972. What you probably don't know is that in 1974 Little League Baseball, Inc. was forced to revise its rules to explicitly allow girls to play, as a result of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Maria Pepe.

Well, so now its 1975 and I've figured out that I have the physical skills to compete with the boys. And they all play little league. So my Grandfather, bless his memory, against his better judgment, went down to try to sign me up for a team. In rural Maine, though, rules or no rules, that simply wasn't going to happen. I don't know what happened that day -- he (wisely) didn't bring me with him and I never asked. I do know that he came home madder and more frustrated than I'd ever, ever seen him and he and I spent the rest of that summer watching Sox games with the sound turned down, because he prefered Ned Martin to any of those guys who did the commentary on the TV.

I never would have been a great player. My eyesight is bad enough that I've never learned to be an effective hitter. I was tall for my age, gawky, with thick glasses and long hair in braids. I had a tendency to trip over my own feet. I was a kid who, at 7 or 8, was often the butt of jokes in the classroom, who was often smarter than the other kids to my own determent. In retrospect, sucky as it was, I think my Grandfather made the right call by not pushing for me to be on the team, because I wasn't the kind of kid who could have put up with the kind of abuse I would have gotten for being the only girl, even had I been a decent pitcher.

.... but here we are, some 36 years after Maria Pepe became the first girl to play Little League, talking about Chelsea Baker as a viable MLB prospect. And I wonder if Chelsea knows who Maria Pepe is? And I wonder about all those other girls like me in the '70's and early '80's, who had the gifts to be average players, but who, despite the rules saying it was ok, never really were able to play because the social pressure against it was still too strong.
posted by anastasiav at 7:05 AM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


hincandenza, I don't know enough about baseball to judge the physical demands of each position and the general physical demands placed on each player, so I'm not speaking about this case. I'm more arguing with Cool Papa Bell's assertion about WNBA players, or the numerous times people in this thread have argued women could totally compete with men at the same professional level if the women had only started training early enough. Lower-body or upper-body, men completely dominate.

Definitely women get closer and closer to men the more dependent a physical task is on skill (or ultra-endurance, which is less dependent on pure strength and muscle recruitment)--if this is the case of knuckleballer, and it sounds like it is, then I wouldn't argue with this girl's chances.
posted by schroedinger at 7:08 AM on July 27, 2010


anastasiav, that's a great story and I still miss Ned Martin, but wasn't he the TV guy? At least when I was watching the Sox as a kid (starting around 1980 or so) it was Ned and Monty (who still does the odd minor league game on NESN) on TV38.
posted by yerfatma at 8:03 AM on July 27, 2010


Ned Martin moved to TV in the early '80's, but was the radio voice of the Sox from my childhood. [roots around on the internets] Here we go: Looks like Martin started on Radio in 1961 (along side Curt Gowdy!) and moved to TV in 1979, when Ken Coleman took over his spot. Martin's last season broadcasting the Sox was 1992, and passed away in 2002.

FYI, watching the broadcast but listening to the radio play by play was a terrific way to learn the nuts and bolts of baseball. I'd do it now if the current radio guys weren't so ... lackluster.
posted by anastasiav at 8:39 AM on July 27, 2010


One important missing point on the WNBA debate that doesn't seem to have been mentioned -- the WNBA uses a smaller (and lighter) ball than the NBA, but the same hoop/rim. So you can't directly compare even the free throw percentages.
posted by Perplexity at 8:47 AM on July 27, 2010


When I was coaching my son's 11 year old team a few years ago, one of our best all around players was a girl. And to anastasvia's point, this didn't seem to be a big deal to any of the boys on the team. They were all just baseball players. She didn't pitch though, she played first base damn well, and if the opposing pitcher lobbed it in to her at the plate because she was a girl, the outfielders were going to be chasing it.

I did throw her on the mound for fun in a game that was a blow out. She was no Tatum O'Neal.
posted by COD at 8:51 AM on July 27, 2010


No silly, because she's probably closer to her peak height and weight than a comparable boy is why! It's not sexist to point out that she's probably plenty tall now, but that many of the players she's striking out will be taller and stronger than her by age 18.

Which is exactly the point I made. If she has typical growth by the time she reached the majors she'd be much smaller, if not the smallest, pitcher in the majors. If you're going to thrown the word sexist around I'm just asking for you to be consistent.

From the video she looks like one of the largest/tallest players on the team. Unless she's genetically gifted, that's going to completely change in a few years.

Wake used to live in my hometown in the offseason and I have seen him mowing his lawn... he was hardly a physical force to be reckoned with, even 15 years ago.
posted by nathancaswell


What did you expect to see? Baseball 'in shape' isn't weight builder in shape. Roger Clemens was praised (before steroid accusations) for building up his body. If he had taken his shirt off you probably would not have been impressed (just some fat guy). And 6-2 210 is much more a 'force to be reckoned with than 5-6 140. Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, those are not bodies that are going to win beauty contests. They're in great shape though.

One of the best things about baseball is that there's not a single body type you must have to succeed, unlike most other major sports.
posted by cell divide


It's a nice thought, but again, overstated. Compared to many other sports, baseball is definitely less demanding of certain physical traits. Still, in general, it's better to be big than small, taller than shorter. Look at Yankee pitchers.

The smallest is 5-10 190. Out of 12, 10 are above 6 foot. 5 of the 12 or 6-4 or above. 9 of the 12 are above 200 pounds. 5 of the 12 are 225 or above. Pettitte doesn't look that big on the mound. He's 6-5 225.

Catchers, both above 6 foot and over 200 pounds. First? 6-3 220, 2nd? 6 ft 205, Short? Jeter is 6-3 195. 3rd? 6-3 228.

So yes, you can be smaller and play. Certain positions (center field, second, short) are often played by smaller players. In the NFL if you're not 300 pounds you have no chance to play offensive line. That's different than baseball. But size does matter in baseball, and more often than not, being taller and larger and stronger is highly advantageous.

You can no-hit the best team in the majors on any given night with just the knuckleball in your holster. You can win 100, 200, even 300 games, with just the knuckler. You can be in the Hall of Fame, with just the knuckler. In theory, if everyone at Metafilter started practicing the knuckler, it's hardly inconceivable that one of us would make it to the majors on the skill of our knuckleball.
posted by hincandenza


I understand why you (and others) are excited on the aspect of a female in the majors, and I understand why you believe it will be a knuckle baller. I get that it's less stress and you're not required to throw as hard as a normal pitcher (even though I still believe you're underestimating the stress required to do that for a full season).

But for me it's a catch-22 type situation. The fact that she throws a knuckle ball is going to make it tough to ever make if very far. There's a reason we can name successful knuckleballers over the past 50 years on one hand. It's extremely difficult to throw it well, and consistently, for strikes.

So it's exciting, and I think your excitement is great. But I think the reality is she's fighting incredible odds to be successful in the lowest minor leagues, much less the majors, if she's just throwing a knuckleball, even a very good one. I think your excitement is clouding your judgment.
posted by justgary at 9:50 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


One idea that would never be implemented: All NBA (and NFL, AFL, MLB, etc) teams could be required to include x number of women.

This would ensure the money and motivation to bring sports education to girls much more the way it happens for boys, and then, in 20 years, when those girls who had been groomed and grilled to play at a super-human level made it to the court (or the field, or whatever) we could have a real answer to the question many here seem so sure they already know the answer to. Because let's face it, we have a lot of very rational-seeming theory, but we don't actually know.
posted by serazin at 9:50 AM on July 27, 2010


I think the reality is she's fighting incredible odds

I agree with this, but I think it's worth acknowledging that part of what any girl serious about sports must battle is the sexist belief that women aren't very good at sports, and the statistics-defying belief that no one girl could ever be as good as any of the thousands of boys who make it in the "big leagues".
posted by serazin at 9:53 AM on July 27, 2010


hincandenza: there is no such thing as a pitching prospect (TINSTAAPP) is an old saw in baseball circles. All it means is that the chances that any given pitching prospect reaches his (or her) potential is incredibly small. Most peak young, fail to improve, get hurt, or burn out before making the majors. It's a fact of baseball life. Exceptional talents like Strasburg are, well, exceptional. For every one of them there's about a dozen "can't miss" prospects who do, in fact, miss.
posted by that's candlepin at 10:25 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


One of the best things about baseball is that there's not a single body type you must have to succeed, unlike most other major sports. You don't technically even have to be that fit (even though virtually all players are, despite the jokes).

You might say that about soccer (you just have to be super fast and super fit), but baseball? No.

Go down to the field level at a baseball game sometime. Take a look at the size of the players. They are generally very large.

I'm with justgary and schroedinger. I would love to see Chelsea or some other women compete in the MLB, it's still a 100,000-to-1 shot or worse.

justgary, I think you're being obtuse about this. First, she's 5'4", 117... as a 13-year-old girl!

That's 8th grade. Think about your female friends from 8th grade. How many grew after 8th grade? How much did they grow? I'd say about 50/50, and a few more inches. My mom stopped growing after 5th grade; my wife after 8th.

Even if she does keep growing, she's gonna end up probably at 5'7" and 5'8" - and we're talking about Tim Lincecum being small?

I'm excited for Chelsea, but I hope she and her parents keep the proper perspective here.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:07 AM on July 27, 2010


This would ensure the money and motivation to bring sports education to girls much more the way it happens for boys, and then, in 20 years, when those girls who had been groomed and grilled to play at a super-human level made it to the court (or the field, or whatever) we could have a real answer to the question many here seem so sure they already know the answer to. Because let's face it, we have a lot of very rational-seeming theory, but we don't actually know.

Serazin, you are not getting it. We do know. The more a sport demands the player to be strong and fast, the further behind women will be to men. The behavior of the gonads are not a function of funding. Explain to me, if you will, how forcing NBA teams to accept a certain percentage of women will cause those women to become more androgenic.
posted by schroedinger at 1:18 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


serazin, take it up with Billie Jean King. Or did you not read that part of the thread?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2010


I'd do it now if the current radio guys weren't so ... lackluster.

Aw, I don't know. I think Joe Castiglione does a heck of a job. The problem is they took away Jerry Trupiano. I understand why people didn't like him (essentially: too excited about too many long fly balls that were not home runs), but the thing they should remember is radio guys are there for 162 games. At least. It's more important they be enjoyable than be automatons. The problem with the Sox radio broadcasts now is they replaced Troop with a rotating cast of people. They'd love to have Dave O'Brien full-time, but he has ESPN commitments and the people willing to fill in here and there obviously are going to be of a lower quality. Radio guys need to sound like an old married couple to make it work. Joe & Troop got me through the darkest parts of the Sox in the '90s.

posted by yerfatma at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2010


and the statistics-defying belief that no one girl could ever be as good as any of the thousands of boys who make it in the "big leagues".

I don't think you actually know the statistics here.

It's true that if men and women are on similar gaussian distributions of physical size, strength, and speed that it would defy all logic to believe that no woman, no matter how many standard deviations above the mean, would be big, strong, and fast enough to play in the MLB. But the distributions for men and women aren't similar. The average man is significantly bigger, stronger, and faster than the average woman. And by extension (and this is the important bit) the top end of the curve for men is also significantly bigger, stronger, and faster than the top end of the curve for women.

Top woman athletes are a hell of a lot more athletic than the average man in decent shape. But the comparison isn't to them, it is to top male athletes. And just as the average man will be bigger, stronger, and faster than the average woman the top male athletes will be bigger, stronger, and faster than the top female athletes.

That's what the statistics say.

I hope that a woman makes it to the majors throwing a knuckleball. That would be awesome. But I don't think it's a rational thing to think that very likely at all. Because for every woman who can throw a decent knuckleball there will be a guy who can also throw a decent knuckleball but is bigger, stronger, and faster to boot.
posted by Justinian at 2:27 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, I should note that one of the reasons I find this troublesome is that (however unintentionally) it feeds into the belief that women's pro leagues are not really pro leagues and the real test is whether a woman can make it into the non-exclusively-women's pro leagues. Note that they mostly aren't actually "men's leagues" as they are open to anyone.

So all of this "oh, women just need the same opportunities and training and then maybe we'll see them breaking into the pros!" is problematic for that reason. It mostly isn't true and it implies that making it into the WNBA or women's soccer or a theoretical women's baseball league is not by itself a great accomplishment because the real goal is MLB, or MLS, or the NBA, or the NHL. Which may well never happen and, even if it does, would involve a vanishingly small number of women at very specific positions (goalie in hockey for example) filling niche roles. Which would be VERY COOL but is not something that can be counted on.

Women should absolutely have the same training and competitive opportunities as men but there's nothing wrong with having a WNBA or whatever and, like I said, wishful thinking about women breaking into "the pros" (meaning leagues open to men) risks minimalizing the athleticism of women who play in women's pro sports leagues.

Playing in the WNBA is excellent and should be seen as such, not as a league for women who couldn't make it into the "real league", the NBA.
posted by Justinian at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


To me this seems to be a misappropriation of feminism. The point is not to try to make women into men. Men are better at baseball. It was a sport designed by men for men, and they have the bodies to succeed at it.

Women are usually better dancers, figure skaters, and gymnasts, but of course that's not taken seriously, since they're just girly sports... Only running back and forth while bouncing something counts as a real achievement. (I'm kidding, I like basketball and love baseball - but they're kind of silly when you take a step back) The point should be to appreciate women's sports on their own terms.

Not to say this one woman won't be an unusual case - but there's no need to talk of breaking through into men's sports. Like Mary Wollstonecraft said a couple hundred years ago, sexism clearly began because men have superior bodily strength to women, and at one point physical strength was how decisions were made. It should end not because we now realize men don't have superior strength - but because we realize superior strength is not of central importance in a civilized world. Mental capacity is where it's at, and we're all equal there.
posted by mdn at 2:47 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


yerfatma: hal, you know I love you babe, but I still maintain you can be your own worst enemy with the insistence on speaking in absolutes and being so caustically dismissive. And that's me saying that.
You're probably right, I tend to do that in trying to "win" an argument. I guess I'm pretty passionate about this, because I'd love to see a woman play in the majors.

I guess my point was that if she's got a decent knuckler right now, thrown for strikes as her out pitch (one of the articles mentioned her standing in shallow centerfield and throwing a knuckler that fluttered all the way to home plate), and can hit 65mph with her fastball, she already has all the tools to succeed the way Wakefield has succeeded. If we were talking about a 13-year-old boy who was undefeated in 4 years, with two perfect games, a 65mph fastball, and a knuckler consistently thrown for a third strike that he learned at the feet of Joe Niekro, we'd say "Hey, we may be seeing that kid in the majors in a few years!".

Would it be a certainty? Well, no of course not- I do agree that while pitchers can still be drafted high, the wisdom is they aren't worth the investment because until they produce in AA/AAA you don't know what you really have, no matter how good they look on paper. No one, not even Strasbourg or Bryce Harper, are "can't miss" prospects.

What I don't get about this thread in regards to size is that while yes she'd be a small major leaguer, as a pitcher especially that wouldn't matter: Lincecum and Pedro and Pedroia and Ichiro are all "small" guys who are probably larger than Chelsea will be when fully grown. But the point of mentioning their size is they don't have to be 6'5" to succeed on the mound. Heck, the power in Ichiro's swing is its contact, not Herculean bat speed! Contrary to Justinian's last post, being bigger, faster, stronger won't make the knuckler knuckle more. That's what's so encouraging: she's good right now, and good in a way that suggests that at 18 or 20 she could have the skills and training to succeed in baseball all the way to the major league level- whether she tops out at 5'4" or adds a few more inches in height won't make a lick of difference.

I'd be wrong to suggest she'll ever be a draft pick (except maybe in the very late rounds), and I'd never suggest she'll be an All-Star (I think Wakefield's only been an All-Star once, maybe twice). But she sounds like the best little leaguer in her home town for some time now, an undefeated pitcher with really good control, a plus-fastball, and decent knuckler she's been working on for several years now. So yes, I do think she could be just like Wakefield or Dickey given time and practice, and I hope she gets the room and encouragement to try. Heck, the Red Sox gave Charlie Zink a start in Fenway a couple of years ago; teams will give a shot to a knuckler who succeeds in the minors, because if they work out they're usually cheap, reliable, and steady.

I guess I'm saying that if any woman can make it, she sounds about as promising as anyone I've yet seen.
posted by hincandenza at 3:01 PM on July 27, 2010


Contrary to Justinian's last post, being bigger, faster, stronger won't make the knuckler knuckle more.

First, that's not actually true. Well, it isn't true that being bigger, faster, and stronger wouldn't help her throw a better knuckle ball anyway. A well-thrown knuckler is a well-thrown knuckler. But being stronger would definitely help throw a well-thrown knuckler.

Second, even if it were true being bigger, faster, and stronger would help every other aspect of her game. Including her other pitches and while she could throw a knuckler most of the time, she would need a few other pitches to go with it including a fastball.
posted by Justinian at 3:10 PM on July 27, 2010


It turned out that, for a seven year old, I threw a pretty good curve ball.

Curveballs at 7? Yikes, wtf grandpa?
posted by nathancaswell at 5:02 PM on July 27, 2010


Curveballs at 7? Yikes, wtf grandpa?

Well, it had been his "money" pitch. And, remember, I was bugging him because I was watching a lot of baseball with him, and the fastball and curve were two pitches most frequently talked about. Plus, the curveball grip is pretty easy to master. And he never expected that we'd get past throwing in the backyard.
posted by anastasiav at 4:51 AM on July 28, 2010


Curveballs at 7? Yikes, wtf grandpa?

Heh. I think the danger of kids throwing curveballs has been debunked.

Apparently, the problem isn't throwing the curveball. The problem is that the kids who learn how to throw curves become so good at an early age that they get overpitched and throw their arms out:
Dr. James Andrews, the world's foremost athlete surgeon, and his team at American Sports Medicine Institute have recently finished extensive studies they say prove, conclusively, that throwing a curveball enacts no more force on the arm than a fastball. That's the good news. The bad news? Throwing a curve early can lead you down a dangerous road.

"It's not the pitch that's the problem," says Andrews. "It's the fact that kids who are throwing curveballs at the youth levels are generally dominant because young kids can't hit it," Which means that the kids who throw curveballs at that age will be trotted out to pitch as much as possible—and to throw their 'out' pitch as much as possible.
There's some mixed messages in there (such as why would throwing 70% curveballs be a bad thing if a curveball and fastball are equal?), but I think some other studies have shown that throwing a curveball per se isn't dangerous for kids
posted by mrgrimm at 7:42 AM on July 28, 2010


It turned out that, for a seven year old, I threw a pretty good curve ball. A curve ball that none of the boys (all the neighbor kids were boys) in my neighborhood could hit. Even some of the older kids (middle school age) had trouble with it.

So (not to be dismissive of the discrimination you faced but) perhaps it was better that you weren't allowed to pitch. Otherwise, you might have thrown your arm out at 13 and even developed a life-long injury. *whistles always look on the bright side of life ...*
posted by mrgrimm at 7:48 AM on July 28, 2010


studies have shown that throwing a curveball per se isn't dangerous for kids

I always took Steve Stone as an example of why to be careful on how often you throw the curve. The year that he decided to throw mostly curveballs, he won the Cy Young but the next year had to retire due to tendinitis.
posted by jaybeans at 6:08 PM on August 1, 2010


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