Girls and Baseball

Out of Left FieldHere’s a partial list of the people who should read Ellen Klages’s latest book, Out of Left Field:

  • Baseball fans
  • Any woman or girl who’s ever been told “no girls allowed”
  • Any kid who likes to play sports
  • Any kid who likes to read
  • People who don’t know that women play baseball and have played since the game began
  • People who don’t think women can play baseball
  • People who don’t know much about U.S. history from the 1950s
  • Actually, pretty much anybody who likes to read good books

This book blew me away. I came close to tears on the last page. And mind you, it’s technically middle-grade fiction, meaning that I am a wee bit older than its intended audience. I am, in fact, old enough that I don’t think of the ‘50s as history, on account of I was there.

Katy Gordon is the best pitcher in the neighborhood baseball game. She’s also the only girl. When a Little League scout watches her pitch, he wants to recruit her. Only he thinks she’s a boy. When Little League finds out she’s a girl, they say no. Paragraph III-G of the rulebook says “Girls are not eligible.”

Out of Left Field tells what Katy does next. It takes us on a tour of the women who played the game, giving us a whole lot of information about the U.S. in the 1950s as part of the story. But since it’s the story of a girl who loves to throw a baseball, it’s no dry recitation of facts. It brings the era to life.

One of the pleasures in reading this book is watching what Katy does and the many things – not all of them about baseball – she learns along the way, so I’m not going to summarize her actions. I will tell you a couple of facts, because while Katy’s story is fiction, Paragraph III-G is not.

This book is set in 1957 and 1958; Little League didn’t start allowing girls to play until 1974.

The excuses the Little League in the book gives in support of its rules – that girls lack the strength and talent to play, that it will hurt their “vital organs,” and that it would be disruptive to boys – were used throughout the 19th and 20th centuries (at the least) to justify discrimination against women and girls. The “vital organs” argument is mostly gone, but strength and talent are still a problem even when a woman shows she can do something. “Disrupting influence” never seems to go away.

And no woman has ever played in the major leagues.

Like Ellen Klages, and as a long-time baseball fan, I hope I live to see the day when a woman does just that.

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Girls and Baseball — 4 Comments

  1. The history in Out of Left Field is meticulous–as with Klages’s other books–but it never feels like a lesson. Also (for those who don’t notice) it’s a sequel to her first two middle-grade books: The Green Glass Sea and White Sands, Red Menace. Dewey and Suze, the protagonists in those books, are Katy’s older sisters. You can read Out of Left Field without knowing that, but it added a fillip of enjoyment for me.

  2. I had — still do have — a friend, Barbara, who was the absolute best home run hitter on the boys’ team in high school. She was allowed to practice with the boys, but not play in any games. Some of the boys were furious that she was kept in the stands. They needed her bat.