Writing a novel requires many decisions regarding subject matter, plot, character, motivation, scene, conflict, rising action, and more. Once I decided to write my first novel, back in the early ‘80s, I chose as my subject matter the first woman to play major league baseball. This is fiction.
I won’t bore you with all the decisions I had to make regarding plot, character and the like, but I will say that of all the decisions, there were two I felt had to be absolutely right — both in order for me to tell the story I wanted to tell, and in order for the reader to enjoy the story.
The first of these was motivation. Specifically, what would motivate somebody to sign a woman to play in the majors? A sense of justice, equality, and fair play, you say? Possible. But, based on history, highly unlikely. Baseball has erected formidable barriers against female players, chief among these barriers the assumption that girls and women have neither the strength nor skill to play baseball. In addition there is the sowing of false concepts through the use of terms such as “boys’ game” and “men’s game” to describe baseball. This false logic is an attempt at victory by definition. There is nothing about baseball that justifies defining it in these sex-exclusive terms.
Thanks to the work of people such as Justine Siegel and her organization Baseball for All, the barriers against women in baseball are being assaulted through a twofold approach: providing opportunities for girls and women to play baseball on their own teams around the world, and continued publicity about and support for women’s gains in the world of minor and major league baseball. But this organization didn’t exist back in the early 1980s, when I was writing She’s on First.
As I brainstormed and researched and doodled, I did come up with a motivation for somebody to sign a woman to a major league team. That motivation is deep and believable. I won’t tell you what it is, because you might want to find out by reading She’s on First.
The other decision I had to make (one which, like motivation, was at the heart of the story) was this: what position would my hero, Linda Sunshine, play? In most women-in-baseball novels, both the one(s) written before She’s on First and the ones written after, the female players are pitchers.There’s a lot of history behind that decision. In real life, women who have established brief toeholds in the minors have been, for the most part, pitchers. Jackie Mitchell pitched in an exhibition game for the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1931, striking out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The great Babe Didrikson pitched spring training games for and against several different major league teams. Ila Borders pitched for the St. Paul Saints of the Independent League in 1997.
Choosing to make the protagonist in a women-in-baseball book a pitcher can help create many dramatic situations in which she faces opposing players one by one: in which she faces men, one by one. It’s a legitimate and appealing solution to the question of “Which position?” And it has history behind it.
But this wasn’t my solution. I saw my hero as a Harriet Tubman: a person who was in the thick of the battle against slavery and who risked her life many times in order to enter enemy territory and lead others to freedom.
While all ballplayers contribute to a team’s wins both during at-bats and by playing their position, I’ve always thought of the infielders as being in the thick of the battle. In particular, I think of the shortstop as being the heart of the infield. And so I created Linda Sunshine as a shortstop. In making her an infielder, I wasn’t coming out of left field, so to speak. During the years I was writing She’s on First, Hank Aaron was quoted as saying that he believed women could play major league baseball because of their quick reflexes. He felt they would most likely play in the infield because of these reflexes.
She’s on First was published by Contemporary Books in 1987 and came out as the lead Paperjacks mass market title in spring of 1988. I reprinted She’s on First in 2010. Here’s a review written by Patrick Reardon on the 25th anniversary of the novel’s publication. To be honest, I had not noticed that it was the 25th anniversary of my novel’s publication, and so I was very pleased to read such a review.What is equally pleasing, though in a very different way, is an event that made news on June 22, 2015 — the addition of 16-year-old Melissa Mayeux to Major Leage Baseball’s international registration list, which makes her eligible to be signed by a major league club. Melissa Mayeux is a shortstop.
When I read this, I was thrilled. Thrilled first and foremost because cracks are appearing in the barriers: cracks from without, and cracks from within. But the lesser, secondary, reason I was thrilled is because Mayeux plays shortstop. This reality reinforces my feeling that all my thinking, all my research, led to a good fiction-writing decision.