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Baseball's other barrier

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

On a recent Los Angeles Dodgers charter, a chatty flight attendant cozied up to the team's assistant general manager, Kim Ng. Her following observation might yet win the Nobel Prize in Obviousness.

"You're the only woman in this group," said the flight attendant, a woman herself.

Ng nodded, used to such comments. And she knew what was coming next, too.

"Who do you know that you were able to get on here?"

Ng peered toward the rear of the plane. She pointed toward the Dodgers players.

"You know all these guys?" Ng said. "They report to me."

She recalled this story with a chuckle, the kind that's borne of years spent dealing with inherent sexism in baseball that Ng wishes to excise and knows she can't.

The issue of women in baseball seems to come up about once a year, and it's generally related to a man acting like a moron. This year's Chauvinistic Equinox passed when New York Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez saw San Diego Padres massage therapist Kelly Calabrese in the dugout, referred to her as a "girl," asked "What's going on here?" and followed with "You have to be kidding me," only to top himself with this doozy:

"I won't say that women belong in the kitchen, but they don't belong in the dugout."

I won't say that pigs belong in the pen, but they don't belong in the broadcast booth.

Of course, that someone in baseball disparaged women was more a matter-of-time issue than an isolated incident. The baseball environment rewards male empowerment and breeds sexism. It's a Petri dish for testosterone.

And while the majority now fathom that there's not only a place for women in baseball but one in which they thrive – Ng was a finalist for the vacant Dodgers GM job and will be under heavy consideration for any future opening – stragglers exist in their loathsome, close-minded world.

Ng first saw Hernandez's comments in a story online. She shook her head out of frustration and acknowledgement that another woman had joined the club.

In 2003, Bill Singer, a scout for the New York Mets, approached Ng at the GM meetings in Arizona.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"I'm working," she said.

"What are you doing here?" he asked again.

Singer went on to mock Ng's Asian heritage before New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who had hired a 29-year-old Ng as an assistant GM, intevened.

The incident generated enough publicity to get Singer fired. Ng looked like the victim. She didn't need that. For so long she had survived knowing that women aren't allowed in Good Ol' Boys Networks.

When she stepped into meeting rooms, eyes trained on her. She ignored them.

When she attended games to better verse herself in baseball operations, people wondered why. She paid no mind.

When she approached clubhouse doors, attendants questioned the motives for a woman wanting entry. She bit her lip.

"Some of it is not on purpose," Ng said. "Security guards have stopped me saying I can't go on the field. Yes, I can. It's just a fact: I am out of the ordinary. And if you're out of the ordinary, you have to expect stuff like that. Do you like it? Of course not. It depends on your expectations and how you deal with it. If I got mad every time that happened, I'd be gone. I'd drive myself nuts.

"You just try and help rectify it. You have to have a pretty high boiling point. I can't get my bubble burst every day."

Baseball should be embarrassed that one of its bright young minds must weather such ignorance by internalizing it.

Yet Ng sees hope. Ten or 15 years ago, she points out, no manager would have defended a woman, as the Padres' Bruce Bochy did for Calabrese. No manager would have even allowed her in the clubhouse.

It will take time. It took years to break the color barrier, and once Jackie Robinson did, acceptance came at a drip rather than a pour. These days, if Hernandez uttered a racist comment, he would have been fired immediately and rightfully.

Sexism, apparently, isn't as serious an offense. SportsNet New York, Hernandez's employer, reprimanded him privately and sent him back out on air, the same place he had tried to save face the night of the Calabrese comment with this apology:

"You know I am only teasing. I love you gals out there – always have."

The feelings aren't mutual.

Timeline of women in baseball

1867: The first game is played between two amateur teams at Vassar College.

1898: Lizzie Arlington pitches one inning for a minor-league team in Reading, Pa., becoming the first woman to play in an official game.

1931: Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis bars women from professional baseball.

1943: The All-American Girls Softball League, the basis for the movie "A League of Their Own," begins play.

1953: Toni Stone plays middle infield for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues. The man she replaced? Hank Aaron.

1974: Girls are allowed to play in Little League games.

1977: Mary Shane becomes the first female broadcaster, calling White Sox games.

1994: The Colorado Silver Bullets, a baseball team comprised of women, tours the country.

1998: Ila Borders, who previously pitched for the independent St. Paul Saints, throws six shutout innings for the Duluth-Superior Dukes in her first win as a professional.

2005: Eleven-year-old Katie Brownell strikes out all 18 batters of a six-inning perfect game in Oakfield, N.Y.

2005: Ng interviews for the Dodgers' general manager job, which eventually goes to Ned Colletti.

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