Growing up a sports fan, you’re quietly taught two rules about broadcasting: only former players are allowed to do color commentary (explaining the game), and no girls are allowed in the booth. As the sideline reporter seeped into every broadcast across sports, more women became featured on TV—albeit in a tokenized and superfluous manner. I am a die-hard sports fan—watching all manner of team sports throughout my entire life—and I experienced a first in my 31 years on Earth last night: I watched a woman call an MLB game.
On August 3, 1993, Gayle Gardner became the first woman to do play-by-play on a televised baseball game, as she called the Cincinnati Reds’ 5-4 victory over the Colorado Rockies—a one-night fill-in spot that was never repeated. Nearly a quarter century later, Jenny Cavnar followed in her footsteps, broadcasting last night’s tilt between the Rockies and San Diego Padres. This Rockies fan watched it, and she was terrific—instantly enshrining a new home run call that fits Denver’s beloved ballpark like a glove.
The Rockies have had the same play-by-play guy for the last 17 years, and Drew Goodman is almost universally respected in Denver. He provided the soundtrack to my baseball adolescence, and it is strange watching the Rockies without his voice hovering over the proceedings. That said, I did not miss him one bit last night. Neither did many other Rockies fans.
What made last night so special wasn't just Cavnar's obvious talent, but just how natural the broadcast felt. This is quite literally an experience most baseball fans have never had, which is crazy. Betty Caywood did color commentary for the Kansas City Athletics in 1964 (because A's owner Charles Finley wanted a “female prospective on the games”). Mary Shane was the first woman in a booth, doing radio for the Chicago White Sox in 1976. It took until 2009 for a woman to work a World Series broadcast, as Suzyn Waldman took her usual spot on the Yankees radio team during the championship round. In 2015, Jessica Mendoza—one of the greatest hitters in the history of softball—joined ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball and became the first woman to analyze a postseason game on TV. That's basically it in baseball, despite roughly 35% of baseball fans being women.
Which is why Jenny Cavnar's performance last night was so important. From Doris Burke doing NBA games to AJ Mleczko calling the NHL playoffs, there have been many opportunities afforded to former female athletes to lend their credibility to men's sports, but the dominion of the play-by-play TV commentator is an unexplored frontier—save for one day in August 25 years ago, and now last night. That's it. Jenny Cavnar was awesome, and her performance should inspire other TV stations to reconsider who they broadcast for all 162 of their games.
No matter how much the “stick to sports” crowd protests, they will never get their wish. Sports have always been political because they are comprised of the melting pot that is America. Jackie Robinson is celebrated for breaking down an artificial barrier in Major League Baseball, which was modeled off those in society, and it served as an inspiration in the fight to extend his victory to the masses. Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing to join the army in 1967, which was one of the animating events of the Vietnam War protests. Colin Kaepernick is good enough to play in the NFL, yet he does not solely because he exercised his first amendment rights, and we are beginning to see his sacrifice play out in sports, politics and everything in between.
“Stick to sports” is another way for white men to squelch an uncomfortable conversation about society that must be had. Jenny Cavnar calling a baseball game is an inherent political act solely because of how inexplicably rare it is.
For too long, sports leagues viewed women just as consumers to purchase their pink-themed products. However, as the internet has opened up the range of voices one is able to access, women like Stacey May Fowles, Molly Knight, and Jennifer Ring (amongst many, many others) have risen up to prove that women are knowledgeable and passionate sports fans too. Baseball is portrayed as this sport adored by old fogies (and to a certain degree it's true), but that characterization does a huge disservice to the army of female fans who know far more about the sport than the dudebros populating Barstool's comment sections. This is one of the most savage takedowns I have ever seen, courtesy of baseball superfan Megan Brown.
There will always be impediments to human progress, no matter the venue. Despite the meritocracy it claims to be, sports has always been an old boys club—especially baseball. Jenny Cavnar’s big night is a big deal because it advances not just the cause of the female broadcaster—but the female sports fan—which serves as a potent weapon in the larger war for true gender equality. There is no good reason that Major League Baseball should be presented to you solely by men. Anyone with a background in broadcasting and a love of baseball can call a good game, as Jenny Cavnar proved last night. If baseball is truly a global game, then it’s about time that MLB incorporated the other half of the population into the heart of their broadcasts.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.