Fox TV’s new drama Pitch, about the first woman to play Major League Baseball, may seem like politically correct fantasy to many.
But the show actually portends the near future. There are several women who could sign with a major league team in the next year or two.
The most probable scenario is a female knuckleball pitcher working her way up the minor league system of a major league team. The knuckleball is most effective when thrown at about 75MPH — easily within reach for a good female pitcher. Or, some have speculated a soft-tossing, left-handed female pitcher with a wipe-out curve ball might make it.
The TV show, however, portrays a flame-throwing, right-handed black woman making it to the majors, and the problems and challenges that any rookie faces when breaking in.
While the show will no doubt have its critics, the producers are trying to get the baseball part as right as possible. The show has MLB’s blessing, and Petco Park appears just as it does during real games. Some scenes have been filmed at Dodger Stadium and some will be filmed at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Bunbury is being tutored by former big league reliever Gregg Olson, who also serves as a consultant.
”I’m sure there are going to be some naysayers, I’m sure there are going to be people picking us apart,” Bunbury said. ”But that’s not the point. It’s still a show. People need to remember. This is just an imaginary circumstance. The heart is what’s the most important and the most beautiful about this.”
The pilot explores who Baker is and how she got to the big leagues, including the strong influence of her father. It also begins to explore how a woman would mesh with the clubhouse culture, starting when catcher Mike Lawson, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, pats her on the backside in front of other players.
Her debut is painful to watch, as she throws 10 straight balls, including three wild pitches, to fall behind the rival Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0. When the manager comes out for a mound visit, she begs out of the game. A real-life performance like that would get a pitcher a ticket on the next plane back to Triple-A. But there are, after all, nine more episodes to go. She sticks around and gets her first victory.
Future episodes will have Baker pitching in the All-Star Game – coincidentally, the Padres hosted it this year and Fox Sports broadcast it – the Padres signing a Cuban catcher and a beanball war that involves Baker and leads to a brawl.
Kevin Falls, the lead writer and executive producer, calls it ”a big-tent show.” Meaning it’ll range from family-friendly to having some ”soapy” elements that might not be suitable for young kids.
”If you’re a baseball fan, there’s going to be some good baseball stories,” Falls said.
It is highly unlikely that a female position player is ready to be signed — even to a minor league contract. Nor is it realistic to think that, for the foreseeable future, there will anything but a handful of women who could make the Big Show.
But this is a matter of developing girls at a young age to play “league” ball and not softball. Girls are on Little League teams all over the country, but that’s a factor of many girls that age being taller and stronger than boys. There are a few girls who play high school ball with the guys and a couple who have pitched for junior colleges. Until girls and women have the opportunity to develop their skills to play league ball, women in the major leagues will be nothing more than a curiosity.
A side note: 3 black women were signed to contracts in the old Negro Leagues in the 1950s. By all reports, they were good players. But could they have made the white major leagues? We’ll never know — and that’s our loss.