Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A League Of Their Own

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League some fifty years ago made the players play in skirts. They were also taught make-up skills and how to act feminine. Despite all that, the League folded in 1954. Television had brought men's baseball to homes and cut back on the numbers of possible spectators at the games themselves:

Popularized in the movie, A League of Their Own, the AAGBL teams played for twelve seasons. Over six hundred women played for Midwestern teams like the Rockford Peaches, the Muskegon Lassies, and the Racine Belles. According to the book, Women at Play by Barbara Gregorich, "For those who actually saw them play, the women of the AAGBL changed forever the unquestioned concept that women cannot play baseball. For their managers, they played the national pastime as only professionals can . . . . They were equal to the game . . . more serious than the skirts they were required to wear, more intelligent than the various board directors who would not let them become managers."

The All-American Girls Baseball League played its last season in 1954. Television was bringing men's major league games into people's living rooms, and there just wasn't enough audience for the women's league to continue.

In June of 1952, shortstop Eleanor Engle signed a minor league contract with the AA Harrisburg Senators. George Trautman, head of the minor leagues, voided the contract two days later, declaring that "such travesties will not be tolerated." On June 23, 1952, organized baseball formally banned women from the minor leagues.

There it crops up again, that formal banning of women from a field in which they are assumed not to excel anyway. I have always found that intriguing.

Anyway, the reason for this ramble down the history lane is that when I read about the WNBA teaching their players how to use make-up and how to dress I recalled the same services being given to those old time baseball gals:

As a skilled instructor guided them, the WNBA's new class of rookies spent part of their orientation weekend learning how to perfect their arcs.

The trainer demonstrated how to smooth out a stroke, provided an answer to stopping runs and showed them how getting good open looks can seem effortless.

It was not Lisa Leslie or another veteran teaching basketball fundamentals but a cosmetics artist brought in by the league last month to teach the rookies how to arc their eyebrows, apply strokes of blush across their cheekbones and put on no-smudge eyeliner to receive the right attention off the court.

As part of the rookies' orientation into life as professional athletes, the WNBA for the first time offered them hour-long courses on makeup and fashion tips. The courses, at an O'Hare airport hotel, made up about a third of the two-day orientation, which also featured seminars on financial advice, media training and fitness and nutrition.

"I think it's very important," said Candace Parker, the Naperville product who was the league's No. 1 draft pick out of Tennessee. "I'm the type who likes to put on basketball shorts and a white T, but I love to dress up and wear makeup. But as time goes on, I think [looks] will be less and less important."

The reasons behind these marketing moves are probably the same, too: To make the players look more sexually appealing to men and to reassure everybody that they are not lesbians. That those moves also make the women come across as less serious athletes doesn't seem to matter.