A discussion with trailblazer Suzyn Waldman

March 19th, 2021

When we talk about women in baseball, and beyond that, any other underrepresented group in the sports world overall, one of the most important concepts, to me, is representation. This is powered by the idea that if you can see it, you can be it. Representation makes the trailblazers, the “firsts,” even more important.

Representation has been an important thread for me throughout my career and my life. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where my love for sports and desire to work in baseball was encouraged. My parents are huge fans, so I never even knew that I wasn’t supposed to know as much as I could about sports. I looked up to women like Suzyn Waldman, knowing that even if there weren’t many women talking or writing about baseball, there were some who were shining pillars of strength like her. I knew women had done these things, so I could, too.

I was honored to get the chance to speak with the legendary Waldman, color commentator for the Yankees’ radio broadcasts on WFAN, for a Women’s History Month conversation facilitated by the outstanding Shannon Lynch and Jessica Whitney of MLB’s social media department. At one point, Waldman mentioned how, even a few years ago, this piece would’ve likely taken place with a male interviewer. We didn’t just have a woman interviewing her -- we also had women organizing the programming and doing the recording, between Lynch, Whitney and their colleague, Sydney Woolf. That’s meaningful, and it should not be overlooked.

My discussion with Waldman resonated for so many reasons, and I can’t possibly recount all of them here. Waldman brought up how she doesn’t think attitudes among men in baseball have changed nearly enough, in terms of how women are seen and what opportunities women get. I completely understand that sentiment, but I think that something we have seen recently is simply increased representation, not just in the baseball realm, but across the board.

She agreed, offering the following story from her vast experience:

“The first time I ever did play-by-play for a WNBA game, that was way back when they were still on Lifetime, and I walked into that arena in Washington. And it was sold out, and little girls -- I cry a lot, so I was crying -- little girls with paint on their faces, standing for autographs, and the Washington T-shirts on. And … some were with their fathers, but most were with their mothers, and I thought it was just the most magnificent thing I'd ever seen.

“That's a long time ago. Those little girls are now grown up, and trust me, I know their lives have changed because of the WNBA, and because they were allowed to stand in line and get an autograph from a woman and look up the way I used to look up at Ted Williams. I saw a little girl looking up at a guard named Ticha Penicheiro and I just started to cry. … And now I think about that little girl. Where is she? What did she do? But I bet her life was changed.”

What an emotional story. I had chills as Waldman told it, and I had to keep from crying myself. I love how she talks about the little girl awaiting an autograph from a WNBA player and says, “I bet her life was changed.” This isn’t just about women in baseball, or even in sports. Seeing a strong woman doing what she wants to do -- whether that is being a basketball player or a rocket scientist -- shows little girls what is possible. Even if you can’t see someone doing exactly what you want to do, the presence of strength is representation, too.

Along the same lines, she recounted a story of appearing on a show in Philadelphia and having a former football player who worked at the station come up to her and say, “I don't like women in sports, but last night, I was sitting there and I was watching my 10-year-old daughter and she was watching you, and I looked at her and I thought to myself this is something she's never going to know she can't do, because there you are.

“He said he didn't like me, but it made an impression. I wonder where his little girl is right now. She's probably doing something wonderful.”

It’s an incredibly powerful concept. I think of my mother, an accomplished doctor and infectious diseases researcher, who loves baseball as much as anyone I know. She’s always told me how growing up, she wanted to succeed Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons as Giants announcers. Asked why, when and how she realized she wouldn’t accomplish that dream, she simply told me: “Are you kidding? It was 1962. It was my secret hope and wish. I never thought it was possible.”

She ended up pursuing a different male-dominated field instead, in science, but I often think about how she might have been able to actually pursue that dream had she been born a few years, or decades, later. In many ways, if it isn’t too self-indulgent to say, I think I’m living out her dream, even though I never set out to do that.

I think the importance of representation can get lost very easily. It’s such a simple concept, hiring a qualified individual who may not fit the typical demographics into a role. But in certain ways, if you haven’t experienced first-hand just how powerful it can be, I can see why one might not understand the gravity of the hire or move.

Whenever a woman gets an opportunity we might typically deem male-dominated -- when Sarah Fuller got to kick for Vanderbilt’s football team, when Kamala Harris was sworn in as Vice President, when Kim Ng was hired as the Marlins’ general manager -- I tweeted, “Good. More, please.” It’s simple, and I can’t remember exactly when I started doing it, but I know that I began this practice to emphasize the importance of representation.

We all know how Twitter can be, and I’d say there’s usually at least one person who responds and says something along the lines of, “Shouldn’t the most capable person get the job, not just a woman?” Of course. But the entire point is this: There are so many capable people out there who aren’t men, or who aren’t white, or both, and it’s about ensuring those individuals get the proper consideration, and get the job if merited -- to help future generations, too.

I know that my experiences and my opinions here aren’t universal. While I’m a “diverse” person by the standards of baseball media because I’m a woman, I can’t possibly speak for other genders or other races, and while I am careful here to acknowledge them and want to be as inclusive as possible, I have never lived those lives. But I think the idea of representation rings true, no matter what “difference” we are talking about. Anyone who loves baseball and is not part of the game’s traditional demographic in any way deserves to see themselves in someone in the game. And beyond the game, this goes for all of sports, and across workplaces in general.

As Waldman said to me, “[Change has] happened very quickly, but has taken much too long.” And we still have a ways to go. But every new representative is a step closer to that next 7-year-old seeing himself or herself in a new, strong role.