Monday, November 17, 2008

She's Crafty

A team in an independent league in Japan has drafted a 16 year-old girl:

A 16-year-old schoolgirl is making a unique pitch to become the first woman to play professional baseball in Japan.

High school student Eri Yoshida was drafted by the Kobe 9 Cruise, a professional team in a new independent Japanese league that will start its first season in April.

"I always dreamed of becoming a professional," Yoshida, who is 5-feet (152-centimeters) tall and weighs 114 pounds (52 kilograms), told a news conference Monday. "I have only just been picked by the team and haven't achieved anything yet."

Yoshida throws a side-arm knuckleball and says she wants to follow in the footsteps of Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, who has built a successful major league career throwing a knuckleball.
Whether it's inspired by fastballs from Jeannie Finch or ill-advised comments from Keith Hernandez, the subject of women playing professional baseball comes up every couple of years. My take each time it comes around: (a) I'd love to see it, because you know that ballplayers would say all kinds of stupid things if it happened, and ballplayers saying stupid things makes for great blogging; (b) if we do see it, it will take the form of a deceptive knuckleballer like this Yoshida appears to be; but (c) we probably won't see it outside of the independent leagues any time soon, if ever, because baseball is a really damn conservative institution that, at least in this day and age, isn't all that willing to take chances.

None of this, by the way, constitutes an opinion on my part regarding whether a woman could be successful in professional baseball. Yes, I've heard all of the arguments (all of which are required by law to include the phrase "upper body strength"), but I have no idea if it's possible. Part of me looks at the David Wells and Dimitri Youngs of the world and thinks "man, there HAS to be a dozen women who could do what those slobs can do." Part of me looks at Tim Wakefield and notes that even he has to sneak in an accurate 80+ MPH "fastball" once in a while, and there aren't even a ton of men who can do that.

NOTE: I don't have a particularly dirty mind, and I'm not that big a conspiracy theorist, but when I read the headline Sports Illustrated chose to run with this story, I can't help but think that they were hoping for the extra traffic that may come from guys with no interest in baseball Googling the phrase "Japanese teen girl."

(thanks to Alex Brissette for the heads up)


Justin Zeth said...

I have to think that, if she stays involved in baseball from a young age forward, there's more than one woman out there that could reach the major leagues with the Juan Pierre skill set: Blazing fast, rangy in center field, slaps singles.

It's either that or a Tim Wakefield/Chad Bradford type, I agree (and even then, the successful submarine guys tend to be quite tall).

RoyceTheBaseballHack said...

Awesome topic, Shyster. A few thoughts:

1) Seeing a female make it up through the ranks of the American Baseball Infrastructure is highly unlikely (this cannot be the first time this has been breeched on Shysterball...!). Not impossible, but the odds of it happening are pretty long. By the time athletic young ladies with an interest in baseball hit 12 or 13 years old, they get steered to volleyball, basketball or softball. Once they get absorbed in that, it would have to be a very talented and strongly devoted kid, blessed with parents who have armour-plated stomachs, to make it into a high school baseball program and, from there, have even a glimmer of hope of being scouted, much less picked up, by a college or minor-league program. Again, not impossible. I have to confess, however, that I completely blanked on a female baseball prospect angling her way into American professional baseball from another country. I think it would be as neat as the day is long if it did happen and I'd like to see it in my lifetime.

2) I always envisioned the first female in MLB as a wily, crazy-skilled infielder: an Ozzie Smith type.

3) The, "Kobe 9 Cruise" is a monster cool team name, if nothing else. One of those that would make a great band name.

Marcel said...

You obviously haven't seen much of Wake lately. His fastball barely cracks 75mph now, nevermind 80. And he still manages to get swings ans misses on it. It's really quite incredible.

mkd said...

I've long believed I'd see a female ballplayer in my lifetime (though I always pictured her FORM OF: Scrappy 2nd Baseman) and have staked my Barroom Argument Honor on seeing it happen. You just can't convince me there is enough of a difference, physically, between David Eckstein and some of those badass softball players that they couldn't hang in the MLB. I just watched Jose Vidro hit a punchless .200 for most of the year. I say: Give the ladies a try!

The trick, as Royce noted, is actually bringing girls up to play baseball rather than more traditional girls sports. This, more than any physical issue, is what keeps gender integration at bay. Thus, I have also long said that that first female ballplayer will come from a family without boys and from a father whose own baseball dreams went unfulfilled.

Go Eri!

Wickethewok said...

Earlier this year, I wrote about this sort of thing:

Softball isn't an acceptable substitute for baseball and I wish people (schools, leagues, etc.) would stop pretending that it is.

Anyway, I would guess that the first female player's skill set would be those skills associated with middle infielders. Not particularly fast, but not slow in the least; good fielder, but not particularly rangy; mediocre arm; no power; decent contact and patience at the plate. There will always be room for average-OBP MIs with solid defense in baseball.

Blogger of La Mancha said...

My initial reaction upon seeing the headline in my news reader was to assume it was a story from the Onion. Then upon realizing it was a real story I thought maybe she will take Charlie Zink's place someday as the heir apparent to Tim Wakefield assuming he ever does retire.