BOOKS | SPORTS
JUNE 30, 2008
Diamonds are for Everyone
That was a rejected title for a new book that explains baseball to female would-be fans—and offers tidbits unknown to this lifelong fan.
Deidre Silva and Jackie Koney’s guide for women who want to understand baseball shouldn’t be judged by its pink cover and cheeky title. It’s a serious sports volume. I’ve spent an alarmingly high percentage of my waking hours playing, watching, reading, and writing about baseball, but I didn’t know that Ted Williams used his Hall of Fame induction speech to call for the inclusion of Negro League stars, nor that there are seven different ways for a batter to reach base.
It Takes More Than Balls: The Savvy Girls’ Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Baseball is, as its title suggests, targeted mainly at female readers and men who may buy it for them. It’s a handy rebuttal to traditionalist—some might say retrograde—male fans who think casual female fans are a blight on the game. “I don’t sew, crochet, nor knit, but why would I care if a bunch of people want to get together and do that at a game?” Silva asks. “It doesn’t ruin my experience.”
“I like to feel educated about whatever it is I’m doing, and it has nothing to do with attracting men.”—Jackie Koney
Gelf spoke to Silva and Koney about the book’s cross-gender appeal, why manicures on the concourse may not suffice to draw in female fans, and how one Ted Williams at-bat contains multitudes. The following interview has been edited for clarity. You can hear Silva, Koney and other baseball writers read from and talk about their work at Gelf’s freeVarsity Letters event on Thursday, July 3rd, in New York’s Lower East Side.
Gelf Magazine: Given the title and the pink cover motif, I expected the book to be targeted much more at women. But it seems to me that the bulk of it is gender-neutral and certainly could appeal to men. Yet I felt a little self-conscious reading it on the subway. Are you hoping men buy the book, too? Is it a difficult sell, given the name?
Jackie Koney: Sorry you feel self-conscious! But what a guy for forging ahead.
Agreed, the book’s content does appeal to men as well as women. We definitely hope men buy the book for themselves—maybe out of sheer curiosity—but what we can easily imagine is men buying the book for women as gifts, but reading it themselves, perhaps on the sly. We know that men will be as amused and entertained as our women readers. And men will likely become even more informed in the ways of baseball. You know, they have to keep up with the women in their lives! (Even if it’s on the sly.)
The book’s main title was taken from a chapter title (which still is in the book) and it was the publisher’s choice. We were worried that it would turn too many people off and we did get our share of groans. Interestingly, most of the groans came from men. But once we saw the cover and saw how well it stood out, we liked it. It is certainly provocative and eye-catching. It’s pretty easy to remember, too, so we got the URLItTakesMoreThanBalls.com, which directs people to our main website (where people can read Deidre’s blog and buy stuff). Overall, the title has been overwhelming well-received.
Marketing ourselves as something different was important in getting a publishing deal. We are women writing to women about baseball. And that is rare. Being non-celebrity women writing a serious baseball book to women is completely unique. It gave us an edge to get a deal and hope it’s giving us an edge on the bookshelves.
GM: Who chose the title? What else was in the running?
JK: The publisher chose the title. The editor liked another chapter title—”Is that a can of pine tar in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”—but it was too long. Earlier options included: The Savvy Girls of Summer: Baseball Unveiled and Diamonds are for Everyone.
GM: What, if anything, sets apart female baseball fans? Were you trying to avoid the stereotype of watching the game for the purpose of checking out the cute players in their uniforms, or of women trying to learn the game so they can relate to or appeal to men?
Deidre Silva: There is no avoiding those stereotypes—so why try? They exist for a reason, though I don’t think its purposeful. Just like some football fans are obnoxious drunken louts, there really are women who go to the game purely to watch the guys’ butts. Or maybe they are trying to impress a new date—or even an old husband. There’s no harm in any of those pursuits. They aren’t hurting anyone.
The problem I do see, however, is that women fans have become a lightening rod, of sorts, for a backlash from “real” fans who claim that the game’s more casual fans are ruining baseball’s venerable traditions—often by way of the dreaded Pink Hat. As if the game could really be threatened by new ideas. Traditionalists were against other new things. Remember night games? TV? Interleague play? Traditionalists were up in arms then, too. I mean, who’s paying for these big player salaries, anyway? Is it the guy in the stands scoring each pitch while wearing a set of headphones? No.
Why does it matter so much how someone spends their time at a game or what they wear to the game? I don’t sew, crochet, nor knit, but why would I care if a bunch of people want to get together and do that at a game? It doesn’t ruin my experience. Nor do I wear a pink baseball hat—but why would I care if someone else chooses to? I don’t care if someone wears an Ichiro shirt, after all, so why would a pink hat be such a big deal? It’s silly. I think there are more important things to get upset about in this world.
For the two of us, how we watch a game depends on the game and how our week went. We aren’t groupies and aren’t interested in checking out players’ butts (although some do deserve notice). We might go one day simply because it’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Other days, we score the game, which I often do with my kids, who are six and seven. If it was a stressful week and we’re there with our husbands and friends, it may be a night to just hang out, talk, and drink beer—maybe even a lot of beer. That’s traditional, right?
JK: We didn’t write this book off the tops of our heads. We were trying to write a book that we would want to read. We are the target audience. I like to feel educated about whatever it is I’m doing, and it has nothing to do with attracting men. And although I don’t have kids, lots of women have kids in Little League and spend a huge amount of time at ballfields. It sure is a lot more fun to know what’s going on.
So we weren’t necessarily trying to avoid the stereotypes, but it was easy to avoid them when we wrote the book we wanted to write.
About what makes female baseball fans different: Again, there are many types so this answer is a complete generalization. Most women didn’t grow up playing the game so are missing some basic institutional knowledge. What’s the difference between a leadoff hitter and a No. 4 hitter? What are the specific talents that make a player a better fit for third base as opposed to catcher? Most women have always been spectators who experienced the game from the sidelines—or, rather, foul lines—and may or may not have had someone explain some of these things.
DS: We thought hard about our market when looking at the role of statistics in baseball. It is clearly very important but it takes someone dedicating a load of time in order to dig up, remember and recite some stats. It can be a full-time hobby. Most women decide that’s not the best use of their time. It’s not because they don’t care or don’t get it; it’s mostly because they have a lot of catching up to do, since most of them didn’t grow up paying close attention to the game and weren’t swapping baseball cards with their friends.
Yet, stats are important in baseball, and for all fans to truly understand baseball, they need to understand a semblance of stats. But not to recite them—to understand them in context. And this is how we introduce statistics in our book. Women are not opposed to stats. For example, it should be pretty basic to know that a 6.00 ERA stinks and that Ken Griffey, Jr., reaching 600 HRs is a big deal. It’s about context.
GM: How well have teams designed the game experience to appeal to female fans?JK: The vague answer is it depends on the team and the fan. Some women fans hate events like Stitch ‘n Pitch while others love it and wouldn’t otherwise come to a game.
This is a huge question. If you’re specifically talking about the game experience and not products, stadium design, food, events, etc., I’m not sure they are doing anything special to appeal to women fans.
But many are trying all sorts of things that are ancillary to the game but may help women enjoy their experience more. I’d say that too many of the efforts are too simple—pink shirts, manicures on the concourse—and don’t go deep enough into truly understanding women. And there are some teams that do more than that by supporting fan clubs and running clinics like Baseball 101. Others have women in the front offices, which does, or will, impact the game experience more deeply.
GM: What did you think of the complaint from a Mariners fan who is a lesbian about her treatment at the ballpark?
JK: While I respect the Mariners for trying to create a family friendly experience, I often think it goes too far. I wasn’t there, so don’t know what happened, but if it’s even close to the story the women tell, I am angered and embarrassed—by the woman who complained and the reaction from the staff.
And I don’t think that the Mariners should use the “no public displays of affection” angle on this because they have a Kiss Cam during games where they find couples in the crowd who are kissing, or will kiss, for the camera.
The Dodgers had a similar incident, and I appreciated their reaction much more than the Mariners.
I guess on the Mariners’ side, they are also clearly willing to kick out lots of people, even though there are very few people at the games. I was at a game right after “the lesbian kissing incident” and the ushers were harassing a group of about 20 young guys who were about 20 years old. The group was in front of me in the bleachers and I thought they were awesome—starting the wave, standing and cheering, etc. The usher talked to them a few times, telling them to sit down. There were four empty rows behind them and everyone in our section thought they were great and we appreciated their spunk. I went to the usher and told him no one was complaining and that, in fact, we were happy to see someone excited at Safeco, but he kept needling them. They finally sat on their seats and stopped the boisterous cheering.
DS: I’m a mom and if a couple is kissing—or even groping—in the ballpark I can handle explaining it to my kids. That’s if they even care. Just as I’d handle it if someone were being really obnoxious behind me—I’d explain it to my kids. Or, if I really felt it was necessary, I’d say something to the person. I’d like to think that parents don’t need the ushers—or anyone, for that matter—doing their dirty work for them. But maybe that’s the lure of Safeco Field for some people. I like to think of the ballpark experience—in all its glory and gore—as a place to teach my kids about behavior. It’s easy enough to say, “Sounds like that guy has had a little too much to drink, doesn’t it?” And most kids can handle hearing that.
GM: For both of you: Name your favorite team, player, manager, and stadium.
JK: The Tigers are my hometown team, so they are my favorite, but I like lots of teams.
I really don’t have a favorite player—it changes all the time. As a kid it was Aurelio Rodriquez, but I loved all the Tigers. Then when I lived in Minnesota, I loved Kirby Puckett. Out here, it was Edgar Martinez. Currently I really like Vladmir Guerrero,Albert Pujols, Magglio Ordonez—there are lots of guys.
When writing the book, I liked guys that provided great stories—Ty Cobb, Moe Drabowsky, Richie Ashburn, Moe Berg, Mark Fidrych, and many others.
Managers? Geez, I guess I have to say Sparky Anderson and Lou Piniella are favorites, but I fell in love with Leo Durocher, Gus Schmelz, and Connie Mack when researching the book. Oh, and Tony La Russa, mostly because he saved a cat that wandered into the stadium and then started a pet-rescue organization.
DS: I grew up a Red Sox and Orioles fan. Guess that makes me the ultimate anti-Yankee, huh? As for players, I always loved Cal Ripken‘s lunchpail approach to baseball. As much as I hate to admit it, I think that A-Rod is the best that this generation has seen. But I’m not alone in that. I thought he should be playing shortstop in New York.
Managers? I always liked Earl Weaver‘s and Lou Pinella’s spunk. Ozzie Guillen would be in there, too. For smarts? La Russa.
GM: You write that neither of you have played baseball. Do you know many women who have? Do you think the fact that softball is a more-popular participatory sport among women limits baseball’s popularity with them? Who are notable female baseball players, besides Babe Zaharias?JK: I don’t personally know any women who played baseball.
I firmly believe that baseball would be a big participatory sport among women if they were allowed to play. Or when they are allowed to play, to be welcome. It starts in Little League—only those who have an intense desire continue past about age 10, and they have to put up with loads of garbage. So most move to softball.
I’m not that versed on women players, and any who played should be considered notable! Our book is about Major League Baseball, so that excludes women players. But a couple who stick out in my mind are Jackie Mitchell, who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game, and Ila Borders, a pitcher who made it to the minor leagues in the late ’90s.
DS: I, too, don’t know any women who played baseball, though they are out there. Professional leagues are all over the place. However, to Jackie’s point, girls are shut out of the game at an early age. I played soccer my entire life, starting as a 4th grader right after Title IX. I was the only girl on the boy’s team. But soon there were girls’ soccer teams, and by the time I got to high school—and then college—there were soccer teams for girls. Some of the women’s soccer players are the most recognized athletes in the world. Baseball didn’t get on board and they missed out on a great opportunity. Not that they can’t make up for it. Now, the parents of 12-year-old girls are suing cities and Little League organizations so that their daughters can play baseball on the boys’ teams instead of being sent to play softball. One high-school athletic director said that he didn’t think that little girls should play baseball because they’d be disappointed when they got to high school to find out there was no baseball available to them. To think it didn’t cross his mind to start a baseball team…
“I’m a mom and if a couple is kissing—or even groping—in the ballpark I can handle explaining it to my kids. That’s if they even care.”—Deidre Silva
GM: Play Ebert & Roeper about A League of Their Own—thumbs up or thumbs down? And why?JK: I only saw the movie once and it was a very long time ago. So I don’t remember much, but I remember liking it a lot. And I think that it had a great and long-lasting impact. Most Americans had no idea women really played baseball, so it was a great way to get the conversation rolling about women playing the game, or wanting to play the game and their exclusion.
DS: I, too, saw it ages ago and not even sure that I saw the whole thing. The one quote that continues to resonate with me is a scene where Gena Davis’s character was going to quit because it was just too difficult to continue, and Tom Hanks said, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” I think about that quote every now and again, and it certainly pertains to what Jackie and I did with this book. It certainly wasn’t easy—and it took more than balls.
GM: How did you decide where to set the level? There’s a lot of there of interest even to hard-core fans. I’ve followed baseball for as long as I can remember but didn’t know some of the anecdotes; I also didn’t know, and wish I did, Phil Rizzuto’s notation of WW for Wasn’t Watching when keeping score. Do you worry that by getting rather sophisticated you may go above the head of the complete novice?
JK: Sure, there was a bit of fear about that, but like we said before, we wrote the book we wanted to read, and if it’s interesting information presented in an interesting way, people will enjoy it and keep reading.
DS: One of the early criticisms from a male reviewer and baseball “traditionalist” was that there was too much information for a casual fan. Who would care, he said, how the opposing manager dealt with Ted Williams in the 1946 World Series? Our point is, why think that women—or any casual fan for that matter—wouldn’t care? Is such information strictly the territory of those who have followed the game their whole lives? And it is also a story that reminds us that Ted Williams’s only World Series appearance was (tragically) in 1946. And it reminds us that he was a lefty. There is a lot packed into that single paragraph, and to suggest that it is simply about a defensive maneuver during the 1946 World Series is not looking deeply enough.
Interestingly, there was another male reviewer (Harvey Frommer) who dismissed the book as a guide book and he thought it was just that, nothing more, nothing less. Seeing as though the worst criticism we’ve gotten is that there is actually too much information in the book, I have a feeling he didn’t read much of the book, if any at all.
[Editor’s note: Frommer, who is scheduled to appear at Varsity Letters in September, wrote, “It is a primer of sorts, nothing more and nothing less.” Asked for his comment, Frommer said, “Of course I read the book. I do not review books that I do not review. That was my opinion. I stand behind it.”]
Also, this book is an effort to get women “caught up” to the game. Why would we leave such great stories out? The comments we receive everyday are from women who like all the background stories. Some big baseball fans underestimate what is interesting to other people. This book gives casual fans a peek into the storied world of baseball. We didn’t want to leave anything out because this book might be the reader’s only chance to get the information.
Where else would they get it? The sports pages? Those are a reporting tool, not a teaching tool. Sportswriters toss out things like “he should take more walks for a leadoff” and assume the readers know why that should be the case, and it’s the same when talking aboutERA, RBIs, and OBP. And I’m not suggesting that it is the role of sports pages to teach this information; the reporters know their audience. So where does this historical and contemporary baseball information come from in a digestible and enjoyable format? Our book.
GM: Why no pictures? I was expecting some in the sections on rules and history.
JK: We would have loved to have pictures but it costs money, the publisher wasn’t going to pop for them, and we had already spent enough money getting it done.
GM: What are your next projects? Can you envision a similar guide for football?
DS: We have lots of ideas and will probably do something together because we enjoy working together and we do well as a team.
JK: I can see one for football, but there are a couple decent ones for women out there: soccer, classical music, maybe individual baseball-team books.
Perhaps a book about a sport that women play.