About 30 years ago, when I was doing a nightly show on 1500 in Washington, someone called in and asked if I thought I'd see a female major league player in my lifetime.
I responded that, while there was a strong institutional bias in the game against women participants - witness what's happened with the handful of women umpires in the minors over the years - I thought that yes, if I lived long enough, there might very well be a woman player.
She'd likely be a relief pitcher, I thought, someone who had some kind of trick pitch, probably a great knuckler. I couldn't see a woman as an everyday, 9-inning player, which maybe shows some bias on my part.
Over the years a couple of women have played briefly in independent leagues. Most recently Ila Borders, a lefty, pitched in the Northern League 1997-2000, in relief roles mostly, though she did get some starts. She was more of an oddity than a contributor, though to be fair, she did have several decent outings. A sinker-slider control pitcher, her fastball topped out in the high 70's. Earlier, Toni Stone, Connie Morgan and Mamie "Peanut" Johnson pitched in the latter days of the Negro Leagues, but they were mostly gate attractions.
A friend just sent me a video of a right-handed knuckleballer from Japan named Eri Yoshida. Eri is a sidearmer who, at 18, has already pitched professionally in a Japanese independent league. She's pitched stateside for the Yuma Scorpions in an Arizona Winter League exhibition against Team Canada, pitching 4 scoreless innings last month. Two weeks ago, she trained with Tim Wakefield at the Red Sox's minor league facility in Ft. Myers, FL.
Watching Yoshida's knuckler on video is interesting. She throws it around 50 mph, and the sidearm delivery makes it tough to pick up. It's got virtually no spin, and seems to be a classic swing-and-a-miss pitch.
Will she be the one? The odds are against it, but you never say never. She's young enough to have the time to put in a minor league apprenticeship - but at just five-one, is smaller than most of the bat boys, and you'd have to wonder if she'd be durable enough to withstand the rigors of a long year.
She's interviewed in the video - entirely in Japanese with no subtitles - but my daughter Carrie was able to translate it somewhat. She says the secret to her knuckler is in her pinky finger - the way the nail is trimmed and the pressure she's able to exert on the ball with it before she releases it. She says she was inspired to learn the pitch after watching Tim Wakefield on TV.
I wish her well, but won't bet the mortgage she ever gets out of independent baseball. That institutional bias is still there, big-time, and as we've seen, change in baseball is slower than Christmas.
One sidenote: I'll arrive in Viera on March 13, so rather than just blowing smoke about the Nationals in spring training, I'll wait until I'm there - or at least until after the televised Strasburg debut - to make any personal observations.