Yesterday, a 16 year old young French woman, Melissa Mayeaux, declared herself a free agent, eligible to be signed during the upcoming international signing period. Scouting reports, what few of them exist, suggest that she is a capable young shortstop and that she at least has the bat speed to get a hit off a fellow 16 year old throwing 91 miles per hour. Nevertheless, given that she has had relatively little exposure to scouts, is only 16, and, yes, is female, chances are poor that she is going to be signed this year.
This makes sense, of course. Teams are naturally suspicious that a woman can play in the majors. Perhaps not so suspicious that they wouldn't give Mayeaux an opportunity, but suspicious enough that they probably wouldn't offer enough money to buy a 16 year old French girl out of the final years of her lycée [basically, French high school]. Whether she is signed or not this year is not the point, however.
The point is that, someday, someone will. If it's not Mayeaux, it will be someone else. Mayeaux prompts the inevitable question, can a woman play in the Major Leagues? And are the Major Leagues ready to have a woman player? The proper answers to these questions, respectively, are "Nobody knows," and "It doesn't matter."
In part, nobody knows because, for decades, girls were steered away from baseball en masse. Not only were girls culturally discouraged from playing the game, Major League Baseball banned signing them from 1952-1993. Since then, we've seen a handful of young women, such as Ila Borders, Jennie Finch, Mo'ne Davis, and now Mayeaux put forward to prompt the question, but in a way elite female atheltes were no more likely to find success in professional baseball than the two Indian players signed by the Pirates out of a reality competition. They simply haven't played in an environment where young athletes built up a critical mass of skilled players that would allow the most talented to rise to the top.
I mean, I have to believe that, somewhere out there, there are women who are better equipped physically to outperform players in the majors. Faster than Kennys Vargas, more powerful than Ben Revere, able to throw harder than Jered Weaver. And I have to believe that, with the same level of coaching and training their male counterparts get, they could eventually fill valuable roles on a big league team.
Keep in mind, while women and African-Americans have both been discriminated against and banned by Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson rose out of a large pool of black talent. While he was exceptional, he was not The Exception. African-Americans all over America were playing baseball in vast numbers, and were celebrated for doing so. Robinson became the first African-American to challenge baseball's racial segregation because he was recognized for his excellence on and off the field.
We simply won't know whether a woman can play in Major League Baseball until one does or we have reliable evidence that they can't. Ila Borders struggles in the Independent Leagues simply are inadequate proof. We will only know by consciously building the kind of critical mass that will allow the most skilled woman players to rise into first the professional ranks, and then the majors. We won't know until teams start signing women and providing the opportunity for them to succeed or fail at the lower minor league levels. We won't know until women get a fair chance.
And when that happens, it won't matter if clubhouses are ready for them. They will have been in the minors for years before that. Players in the Major Leagues will have played with women and will have recognized their ability to contribute on the field and off. They will have earned the opportunity and proven themselves hundreds of times over. And frankly, if anyone in or outside of the clubhouses has any problem with women being in the game, or thinks that they're a distraction, or worries that they will undermine the clubhouse dynamic, those concerns will have already largely been answered.
Ultimately, though, it will come down to their ability to do the job. I mean, just say your favorite club has an awful shortstop situation. They've been starting, say, Sanny Dantana and Escuardo Edobar at shortstop, and that duo has only hit .248/.273/.356 on the year. Say that that team has a Melissa Mayeaux hitting and fielding well at Triple-A, ostensibly ready to take over. Are you telling me that you wouldn't swap out Dantana and Edobar for Mayeaux just because she's a woman? Because it wouldn't look right to you or it would make the clubhouse awkward for a few days (newsflash: I've been in clubhouses; they're incredibly awkward whether women are there or not). That you aren't willing to try something new, even though the old way is God awful?
That wouldn't just be sexist, it would be insane. Better is better, and if women can succeed in Major League Baseball, we all will win.