These women broke barriers in baseball

April 8th, 2023

Rachel Balkovec was named manager of the Yankees' Low-A Tampa affiliate in 2022, making her the first woman to manage in affiliated Minor League history.

But she's far from the first woman trailblazer in Major League Baseball, or baseball period. Women have been doing amazing things to break barriers in baseball throughout the history of the sport.

Here are just some of the women who broke barriers in baseball.

Ronnie Gajownik -- First woman to manage at the High-A level

Continuing her rapid rise in the D-backs' system, Gajownik was named manager of the club's High-A Hillsboro affiliate for 2023. Gajownik joined the D-backs organization as a video assistant at Hillsboro in '21, then she was promoted to first base coach for Double-A Amarillo in '22. She was also a coach with the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League last fall. Prior to her coaching career, Gajownik won a gold medal with Team USA's women's baseball team at the 2015 Pan-American Games.

Olivia Pichardo -- First woman to make a Division I baseball roster
After trying out for Brown University's baseball team at outfield, middle infield and pitcher, Pichardo was named to the squad in November 2022 as a utility player for the 2023 season. The organization Baseball For All listed 16 women who played college baseball prior to 2022, but Pichardo is the first at the Division I level. Before making collegiate history, she participated in several of MLB’s youth programs, including the Breakthrough Series in 2018, ’19 and ’21, the 2019 MLB GRIT Girls Invitational and the Girls ID Tour in 2020 in New York, and in ’21 in Boston. Pichardo also pitched and played outfield for the USA Baseball Women's National Team.

Rachel Balkovec -- First female Minor League manager
Prior to her hiring as manager of the Low-A Tampa Tarpoons, Balkovec was already a rising star in the Yankees organization as the hitting coach for their Florida Complex League team. When she was hired for that position in December of 2019, she became the first full-time female hitting coach in a Major League organization. She has extensive experience in baseball analytics, having conducted research on eye movements for hitters and hip movements for pitchers at Driveline Baseball in Washington state. She has also coached in the Australian Baseball League during her 10-year professional baseball career.

Kelsie Whitmore -- First woman to join an MLB partner league team
Whitmore made history by becoming the first woman to join an MLB partner league when she signed with the Staten Island FerryHawks of the Atlantic League on April 8, 2022. Whitmore, who will pitch and be used as a utility player for the FerryHawks, was a part of USA Baseball's women's team, where she held a 1.35 ERA from 2014 to 2019 and helped guide the team to two gold medals in the Pan-American Games. The Atlantic League is one of the most prestigious independent baseball leagues in North America, with big leaguers such as Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, José Canseco, Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir and Mat Latos all passing through their ranks at one point in their careers.

Genevieve Beacom -- First woman to play in ABL
Beacom made history on Jan. 8, 2022, when the 17-year-old made her Australian Baseball League debut on the mound for the Melbourne Aces, becoming the first female player in the league's history. She threw a scoreless sixth inning for Melbourne against the Adelaide Giants. Dozens of future MLB players have played in the ABL, with Ronald Acuña Jr., Liam Hendriks, Didi Gregorius, Kevin Kiermaier, Ji-Man Choi, Rhys Hoskins, Adam Engel and Andrew Kittredge among the league's notable alumni.

Sara Goodrum -- Astros director of player development
Prior to being hired as Houston's director of player development in Jan. 2022, Goodrum became the first female hitting coordinator in affiliated Minor League history when the Brewers hired her for that position in 2021. Her role with the Astros is to oversee all player development staff and collaborate with coordinators on the core duties of the recruiting, hiring and development of the player development staff. It also includes spearheading the formation and execution of coaching philosophies as well as the formation and execution of the player development goal process.

Kim Ng -- MLB's first woman GM
When Ng was named the Marlins' general manager, she made history as MLB's first female and second Asian-American GM. She is also believed to be the first woman to hold a GM position in any of the professional men's teams in the major North American sports. Ng came to the Marlins with immense experience in baseball, having worked in front office roles with the White Sox (1990-96), Yankees (1998-2001) and Dodgers (2002-11) -- winning three World Series championships -- before moving on to the Commissioner’s Office, where she had worked since ‘11. When the Yankees hired Ng as an assistant GM at 29, she was the youngest person to hold such a title in MLB.

Alyssa Nakken -- MLB’s first woman Major League coach
The former Sacramento State softball player joined manager Gabe Kapler’s staff in San Francisco in January 2020, becoming the first full-time female coach on a big league team’s staff, with the title of Major League assistant coach. She then continued breaking barriers when she spent some time coaching first base during a Giants exhibition game prior to the start of the season. It marked the first time a woman had served in an on-field capacity during an MLB game. After Opening Day, Nakken donated her No. 92 Giants jersey to the Hall of Fame to commemorate the occasion. Then, on April 12, 2022, Nakken became the first woman to serve as a coach in an on-field role in a regular-season game, replacing first base coach Antoan Richardson after Richardson was ejected from the game.

Rachel Folden -- Hitting coach for the Cubs
The Cubs hired Folden in 2019 to be a lead hitting lab tech and fourth coach for their Rookie-level Arizona League affiliate in Mesa, Ariz. The 32-year-old provided baseball and softball instruction based on biomechanics, science, technology and data since launching Folden Fastpitch in Indiana in 2010. She also served as a hitting consultant for Elite Baseball Training, which was created by Justin Stone. Stone was hired to be the Cubs' new director of hitting earlier in the same year. Folden also played five seasons in the National Pro Fastpitch league (2008-12) and worked as an assistant softball coach at Valparaiso University ('09-10).

Andrea Hayden -- First woman strength and conditioning coach in MLB
When Hayden became an official member of the Twins' coaching staff in November 2019, that made her Major League Baseball's first woman strength and conditioning coach. She was part of a wave of female coaching hires in MLB, including Nakken being hired by the Giants and Balkovec and Folden being hired as Minor League hitting instructors by the Yankees and Cubs, respectively.

Raquel Ferreira -- Becomes highest-ranking woman in baseball operations
Ferreira was part of a four-person group that took over baseball operations for the Red Sox in September 2019 after Dave Dombrowski was dismissed. When she stepped into that role, Ferreira, then a senior VP of Major and Minor League operations with Boston, became the highest-ranking woman in a team's baseball operations department during the regular season. (Ng held a similar position with the Dodgers in the 2005 offseason before a new GM was hired.) Ferreira has now been with the Red Sox for 22 years and was promoted to executive VP and assistant GM in December 2019.

Justine Siegal -- MLB’s first woman coach
When the A’s made Siegal a guest instructor for the team’s Fall 2015 instructional league in Arizona, she already had made history by becoming the first woman to throw batting practice for an MLB team during 2011 Spring Training. In '09, she became the first woman to coach at the professional level, when she manned the first-base coaching box for the independent Brockton Rox. Siegal, who founded a nonprofit organization called "Baseball for All," also served as an assistant coach at Springfield College from 2008-10, before earning her first opportunity with an MLB team.

Jessica Mendoza -- First analyst for nationally televised MLB games
One of the best softball players of all time and a two-time Olympian, Mendoza began working for ESPN in 2007 and served in a variety of television roles there. She began appearing on the network’s Sunday Night Baseball telecasts late in the '15 season and then was named to that broadcast team in '16. Four years later, as part of the ESPN Radio team for the '20 World Series, she became the first woman to serve as an analyst on a national radio broadcast of the Fall Classic.

Mo'Ne Davis -- Little League World Series star
Davis became a baseball sensation for her amazing pitching in the 2014 Little League World Series. Throwing a 70 mph fastball for her Philadelphia team, Davis became the first girl to pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history. She even made the cover of Sports Illustrated, the first Little League baseball player on the cover of the magazine.

Eri Yoshida -- First woman to play professionally in Japan
A knuckleball pitcher, Yoshida played for the Kobe Cruise 9, an independent league team in Japan. She later made the journey to the United States (at only 18 years old) and pitched in 21 more pro games from 2010-12, with the Golden Baseball League’s Chico Outlaws and North American League’s Na Koa Ikaika Maui.

Effa Manley -- First woman inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame
In 2006, Manley was inducted into the Hall of Fame -- 60 years after her Newark Eagles won the 1946 Negro World Series. Manley and her husband, Abe, took ownership of the Eagles in '35 and held it until she sold the club in ‘48. Effa, as co-owner, was directly and deeply involved in running and promoting the team. When Major League clubs began signing Black players, Manley fought for Negro Leagues owners to be compensated.

Jean Afterman -- Agent and executive
Afterman took over as the Yankees' assistant GM when Ng left for the Dodgers, making her just the third woman to hold the position in MLB. She jumped from one side of the table to the other, going from working as an agent representing Japanese stars like Hideki Irabu and Hideo Nomo to bringing new ones like Hideki Matsui to the Yankees. Twenty years later, she's still a Yankees executive, one of the most respected in the sport. In 2015, she was appointed to the advisory committee that oversees the Commissioner's Front Office and Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program. In '19, she was Baseball America's choice for its first Trailblazer of the Year Award.

Ila Borders -- Professional starting pitcher
Before she got a chance at the professional level, Borders became the first woman to pitch in a men’s college baseball game at the NCAA or NAIA levels, doing so in 1994 for Southern California College, where she earned a scholarship. The left-hander went on to a significant pro career, taking the mound in 52 independent league games from 1997-2000, making her the first woman to do so in integrated men’s baseball. (Women previously had pitched in the Negro Leagues and some early pro leagues -- see below.) Her debut came as a reliever for the Northern League’s St. Paul Saints on May 31, 1997, and her first start came for the Saints on July 9, 1998. Later that month, Borders notched her first win.

Elaine Weddington Steward -- First woman assistant GM
Steward was the first woman to be an assistant GM in MLB, promoted by the Red Sox in 1990, eight years before Ng became the second woman to hold the position with the Yankees. Steward's promotion was also the first time a Black woman held a position that high in a Major League front office. Thirty-two years after she first joined the Red Sox in 1988, Steward remains with the team as vice president/club counsel, making her one of the Red Sox's longest-tenured employees.

Toni Stone -- First woman to play regularly in a major men’s pro league
How’s this for filling some big shoes? In 1953, when Stone joined the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, she took the spot of none other than Hank Aaron, who had just signed with the Milwaukee Braves. Stone played for the Clowns that season and the Kansas City Monarchs in ‘54, reportedly getting a hit off the legendary Satchel Paige. Previously, she had played professionally with teams in the West Coast Negro Baseball League and Negro Southern League.

Mamie Johnson -- First woman to pitch in the Negro Leagues
The 5-foot-4 right-hander, nicknamed “Peanut,” spent three seasons on the mound for the Indianapolis Clowns, from 1953-55. Previously barred from competing in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League due to her race, Johnson made the most of her opportunity in the Negro American League. A true two-way player, she is believed to have compiled a 33-8 record on the mound while also holding her own at the plate.

Edith Houghton and Amanda Hopkins -- First female scouts
Houghton and Hopkins are believed to be the only two women to be full-time professional MLB scouts. (You could maybe also include Bessie Largent, who worked with her husband Roy for the White Sox in the 1920s and '30s.) Houghton became the first in '46, when she was hired by the Phillies, after playing as a shortstop herself in women's baseball leagues. Seventy years later, Hopkins joined Houghton when she was hired as a pro scout by the Mariners.

Jackie Mitchell -- The girl who struck out Ruth and Gehrig
In the spring of 1931, the Yankees played an exhibition game against the Chattanooga Lookouts, a Minor League team in the Southern Association. Lookouts owner Joe Engel signed Mitchell, a 17-year-old girl from Memphis, Tenn., to pitch in the game. Mitchell was a talented all-around athlete who played for an all-girls baseball team and learned a “drop ball” from Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance, who happened to be her neighbor. Mitchell came out of the bullpen and with her left-handed sidearm delivery, managed to strike out the great Babe Ruth. She did the same to Lou Gehrig before walking Tony Lazzeri. Mitchell went on to play for a barnstorming team called the House of David, but she’s remembered most for her K’s of two Hall of Famers.

Lizzie Murphy and Lizzie Arlington -- First women to play professional baseball
Murphy, later known as the "Queen of Baseball," grew up in Rhode Island at the turn of the 20th century. At age 17, she became a professional baseball player when she signed with the Providence Independents. She went on to play for traveling all-star and barnstorming teams, and even played in exhibition games against Major Leaguers, including one against the Red Sox at Fenway Park in 1922.

Arlington played for a professional men's baseball team on July 5, 1898, pitching an inning for the Reading Coal Heavers against the Allentown Peanuts in the Eastern League. A Pennsylvania native, she also pitched that year for the Philadelphia Nationals' reserve team, and she was hired by then-Atlantic League president Ed Barrow to play in exhibition games against professional teams around the country.