Act III: Baseball Enters The Game

It’s time to Break It Down!

It was bound to happen. I’ve written about what was at the time a totally new thing when the NBA hired its first female coach. Then, football entered the game, so to speak. It was almost certainly only a matter of time before a third member of America’s Big 4 sports franchises took a seat at the table. Sure enough, the inevitable transpired when Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Oakland A’s and Justine Siegal made MLB history yesterday, as the Oakland Athletics announced she would serve as a guest instructor for their Instructional League club, making her the first woman to coach in big league history.

On July 29, 2015 I wrote:

“Jennifer Welter was hired as a training camp and preseason coaching intern for the inside linebackers position for the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals. The signing made her the first female coach in the NFL.”

On July 22, 2015 I wrote:

“Coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurts made Ms. Hammon the NBA’s first full-time Regular Season female Assistant Coach on August 5, 2014. It was clear at that time she had cultivated a history with the Spurs, and that she had established a relationship with both Coach Popovich and a number of Spurs’ players. Other women had served in support roles, one as an Assistant during the Summer League, and another as a Volunteer Assistant during the Regular Season. Hammon, however, assumed full coaching responsibilities, and traveled with the team.

On Monday evening, Ms. Hammon led the Spurs to the Championship of the Vegas Summer League, as the Spurs beat the Phoenix Suns 93-90. By doing so, she became the feature attraction in yet another chapter in the annals of history, after having added one just two weeks ago, when she became the first woman to serve as Head Coach of an NBA Summer League Team. The Spurs lost their first Summer League game to the NY Knicks, but rallied from that point, winning the rest of their games, including in the end, persevering in a hotly contested Title Game.

On August 6, 2014 I wrote:

“But that’s a tale that will not be told until next spring.  Apparently, the Spurs wanted to make a statement now, and that they did.  Yesterday, they announced the hiring of Rebecca (Becky) Hammon as an Assistant Coach.  In doing so, they made her the first female to become a full-time Regular Season Assistant Coach in the League.  This year, Natalie Nakase, an assistant video coordinator for the Clippers, was hired to help run the Summer League.  Also, during the 2001-02 Season, when John Lucas coached the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lisa Boyer served as a Volunteer Assistant with the Cavs.  However, Ms. Boyer did not travel with the team.  In contrast, Hammon will operate in the capacity of a full-time Assistant, and will travel with the team.

Hammon, a veteran WNBA player had already announced her retirement, slated for the end of the WNBA Season.  As a member of the San Antonio Stars, she and the Spurs were already familiar with each other.  In fact, she had previously worked with the Spurs; a key factor in Coach Popovich’s comfort level with her.  CNN reported that Popovich, in speaking of Hammon said:

“I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff.”  Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.””

Today it’s Major Leaguer Baseball’s turn to grab a proverbial 15 minutes of fame for its foray into the world of female coaching hires. At first blush, it appears they are doing a fine job, and that they have selected an excellent candidate. Dr. Siegal, who has a Ph.D. in Sport and Exercise Psychology, has completed the Major League Scouting Bureau School. As a rookie coach, she will assume a slate of duties that comprises an array of responsibilities, including, hitting infield practice, throwing batting practice, offering her knowledge in meetings, and, as she says, “helping out wherever they want me to help out.”

Dr. Siegal went on to say:

“And I do like talking about life skills—I like to help people achieve their life goals.”

Siegal, became the first woman to coach men professionally in 2009 when she was the first-base coach for the independent league Brockton Rox. She will work with A’s minor-leaguers from Oct. 4 through Oct. 17.

Her hiring continues an upward trend for women in men’s professional sports. The San Antonio Spurs’ hired Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, and she led the Spurs’ summer league team to a championship this past July. This summer the Sacramento Kings followed suit by hiring Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman to serve as an assistant under head coach George Karl.

At the moment it appears that Siegal’s situation is best compared to that of Dr. Jen Welter, who served as a coaching intern with the Arizona Cardinals during training camp. Like Welter, Siegal was not hired for a permanent position but as temporary help during a time when a team needs all hands on deck.

A’s Assistant General Manager David Forst put it this way:

“Justine knows that nothing has been promised, but we’re not ruling that out,” referring to a full-time position.

For her part, Dr. Siegal responded:

“I think it would be incredible to coach full-time.” But for now, I’ll do my best every day to help out any way I can, from carrying water to throwing BP to using my Ph.D.”

When questioned about the potential reaction of the A’s minor-league players, Mr. Forst believes they will be as accepting of Siegal as they would be of any other coach. He added:

“I’ve found from experience that men are surprised to have a woman coach, but when they realize you know what you’re talking about and that you care, you fit right in with the rest of the staff.”

Siegal has served as co-chair of SABR’s Women in Baseball Committee and she directs a program that champions gender equity in sport for Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. She is the founder of Baseball For All, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing instruction and opportunity in baseball, especially for girls; Baseball For All will hold a national event for girls aged 7-15 in San Francisco in July.

The A’s are one of a handful of teams to have employed a woman in a scouting capacity in the front office; Kate Greenthal was a scouting assistant with the team from 2012 through ’14. Former A’s assistant GM Farhan Zaidi, now the Dodgers’ GM, is one of the few Muslims in baseball administration, and Oakland’s director of player personnel, Billy Owens, is African American.

That leaves the NHL as the only major professional sports league that has not had a female coach. The Athletics previously employed Kate Greenthal in their scouting department from 2012 to 2014, and this hire shows they’re still among the most progressive organizations in baseball. Even if Siegal’s just a guest instructor, this is progress worth celebrating and, hopefully, a sign of things to come.

So there you have it, “Act III: Baseball Enters the Game!”  All-in-all, not a bad way to create a little pre-World Series buzz.  Way to go A’s, and MLB!

I’m done; holla back!

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