SAN DIEGO -- Among the many activities that took place at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday was the annual luncheon that honors a longtime baseball executive and celebrates her legacy by offering support to women working in the game today.
For the past six years, Major League Baseball has held the Katharine Feeney Leadership Luncheon, which brings nearly three dozen women executives from around baseball together for an afternoon of networking and sharing ideas. The luncheon is a part of the Katy Feeney Leadership program, which started after Feeney’s passing in 2016 and honors her 40-year career as an MLB executive.
Thirty-two women from Major League clubs, the MLB central office and MLB Network were nominated by their respective employers and chosen to attend the luncheon. The keynote speaker was Mariners president of business operations Catie Griggs, one of two active female presidents in an MLB front office (Caroline O'Connor serves in the same capacity with the Marlins).
In her address to the group, Griggs said that while doing her research ahead of this event, she noted that she counted up more than 350 years of baseball experience among the women in the room.
“There is such a wealth of knowledge representing all different facets of the business,” Griggs said.
Griggs shared details of her career path -- she was recruited by the Mariners after serving in a similar role for Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United -- and noted that when she was a youngster growing up in North Carolina, she didn’t have strong aspirations to work as an executive in the sports industry. It wasn’t because she didn’t want to; she just never imagined opportunities for women in that capacity existed.
Times have changed. The Mariners named Griggs their club president in the summer of 2021, and since then, she has made her mark on the club, expanding the ticketing sales and corporate partnerships staffs, helping orchestrate a long-term sponsorship with Coca-Cola and creating three new VP positions.
Griggs’ wide-ranging experience made her a logical fit to address this particular group of women, who come from dozens of departments in front offices for all 30 teams. That includes public relations, marketing, human resources, charitable foundations, talent acquisition, and sponsorship -- just to name a few.
Griggs noted she was looking forward to getting to know the women in the room beyond delivering her keynote address, and stressed the importance of having these types of events that allow for executives who normally are not able to spend time face-to-face to get to know each other better.
“It really matters getting to know other people in the industry and making connections and realizing you don’t have to have all of the answers,” Griggs said. “There are incredible people throughout the industry who are here to help you, and building those connections is important.”
Among the executives in attendance were Billy Bean -- MLB’s senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion and special assistant to the Commissioner -- whose team coordinated the leadership luncheon. Bean, one of only two openly gay former Major League players, was hired by the Commissioner’s Office more than eight years ago to begin the process of educating current players the importance of inclusion and acceptance in the game.
He recalled what Feeney said to him on one of his first days of work.
“'This is one of the proudest days I’ve ever had in baseball,'” he remembered her saying. “Just because she could see what we were trying to do.”
Since then, progress is everywhere. Women are being considered for, and hired to, positions in all areas of baseball, including many that traditionally were considered open to only men. On the business side, there are more high-ranking positions held by women than at any time in the sport’s history.
While the Katy Feeney Leadership Luncheon is exclusive, with just under three dozen women invited to join, the pool of candidates is deep. Those who are chosen leave the experience with more contacts in the business, and also an appreciation for how the namesake of the program contributed to the industry, at a time when opportunities for women were, at best, scarce and, at worst, non-existent.
“There’s a long history -- Katy Feeney was really known for empowering everyone across the league,” said Karin Timpone, MLB’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “And by having women come here in her honor and talk about how their careers are growing, we’re really honoring her legacy.”
2022 Katy Feeney Leadership selectees
Angels: Mayra Castro
Astros: Caridad Cabrera
Athletics: Melissa Guzman
Blue Jays: Michelle Seniuk
Braves: Jori Palmer
Brewers: Meg Pirics
Cardinals: Jennifer Needham
Cubs: Andrea Burke
Diamondbacks: Jaclynne Brown
Dodgers: Emily Walthouse
Giants: Anica Chavez
Guardians: Mailynh Vu
Mariners: Renee Steyh
Marlins: Rocio Hernandez
Mets: Julianna Sabra
Nationals: Betsy Philpott
Orioles: Jackie Harig
Padres: Rosa Pou
Phillies: Sarah Hartsell
Pirates: Jackie Riggleman
Rangers: Madison SanFilippo
Rays: Jeane Drury
Reds: Lisa Braun
Red Sox: Tyler Petropulos
Rockies: Brittany Haby
Royals: Kristin Lock
Tigers: Heather Nabozny
Twins: Venika Streeter
White Sox: Gail Tucker
Yankees: Carol Laurenzano
MLB central office: Raquel Wagner
MLB Network: Alicia Hayden