chemically treated baseballs

The Arizona Fall League is often a testing ground for new ideas that MLB hopes to eventually implement in the majors; the 2016 AFL season saw the use of a chemically treated ball, having a tackier feel. By February 2017, it was again reported that MLB is developing a chemically treated baseball, suitable for use in major league games. As Paul Hagen reports, “The purpose is to eliminate the need to rub down the balls before each game with a special mud that takes the gloss off the surface and makes it easier to grip.”

That “special mud” is supposed to impart a tackier feel, and every ball is treated with it. But of course, people are always looking for a potential competitive advantage, however slight. So using foreign substances on baseballs to improve one’s grip on the ball is nothing new. People use various combinations of rosinpine tar, and sunscreen to achieve a tackier ball so that they can get a better grip. And technically, it’s against the rules.

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Mentor people who aren’t like you

“Mentoring across social and demographic lines is good for the mentor, as well”

This is full of great quotes and links to research, and relevant to the lack of diversity in baseball front offices. “We must demonstrate our commitment to [diversity] by deliberately mentoring people who aren’t like us. Otherwise, we do what’s comfortable, and we risk saying with our actions that we care about cultivating the talents of a homogeneous few. That’s the example we end up setting, the culture we end up building.”

Why aren’t there more women in the front office?

In news that will surprise no one, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at UCF released the results of its annual survey, and MLB receives an overall C+ in racial and gender hiring practices. As Craig Calcaterra reports, since this is an annual report card, we can see that things are getting worse: “The league scored an 82 in racial hiring, down from 90.5 last year, and went from a 74.3 in gender hiring to 70 this year.” At the team level, gender hiring practices are abysmal; “the study gave MLB a D+ at the senior administrator level and a C- at the professional team administrator level.” The league office wasn’t much better: “The league office received a C- for gender hiring practices, with women making up 29.3 of its workforce.” Calcaterra touches on the subject of a lack of training leading to a lack of diversity, and cites examples of black players moved away from skilled positions to the outfield. While this may be one reason there is inadequate representation of minority players in on-the-field positions, it doesn’t adequately address the issue in the front office, particularly as it applies to women.

There is a severe gender hiring issue in baseball front offices; this isn’t shocking to anyone who follows the sport. Kate Morrison and Russell Carleton wrote a series taking a look at MLB front office hiring practices, and every year there’s a “who will be the first female GM?” story. It has been noted many times that baseball hiring practices lean heavily on networks, and thus are driven by males recruiting males. This isn’t exclusive to baseball, and there are some parallels with the movement to increase the number of women in STEM careers. And networking as a mode of job hunting is certainly not exclusive to baseball; in my own professional career, I’ve rarely applied for a job listing, but I’ve relied upon former colleagues and labmates to alert me to openings and to help me get a foot in the door. But just in terms of sheer numbers, it’s much more likely that a chemist will have worked with a qualified female candidate and recommend her for a position, than it is for a baseball executive to have worked with a qualified female candidate and sponsor her.

So there’s some consensus that there needs to be more sponsorship of women, but even this is complicated. Why aren’t more women making their presence known to potential sponsors and mentors? I suspect that qualified female candidates aren’t aware of the various jobs in a typical baseball team’s front office (in fact, I would argue that the majority of baseball fans aren’t aware of the various jobs, but that’s a story for another time). But I also think that if you keep fishing in the same pond, you can’t be surprised when you keep catching the same fish. Unless you are actively looking for a job in baseball, qualified candidates aren’t necessarily seeing the job postings on FanGraphs. I have a feeling there are a number of female candidates who would be highly qualified for a position with an analytics group in a baseball team’s front office; however, they may be looking at more traditional job sites targeted to female engineers and female scientists. Advertising to a different audience would be a simple way to spread the word.

However, advertising openings in more diverse arenas may not be enough. By the time most women are reaching a stage where they would apply for an internship or a full-time job with a baseball team, they’ve already selected a major, and they’ve pointed their education in the direction of their desired career. They may not have the requisite skills or meet every single one of the qualifications for the positions that are available in your typical baseball team’s front office. And I think this is one piece of the puzzle. Women tend to be risk averse, particularly when it comes to jobs; women don’t apply for jobs unless we meet every one of the qualifications. Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. We need to encourage women to apply, even if they don’t meet every single one of the qualifications. The founder and CEO of Girls Who Code has an excellent piece on why we should teach girls to be brave, not perfect when it comes to anything in life, but particularly when it comes to applying for jobs. And we need to start early, because the “fear of failure” mindset starts long before women are entering the workforce. It is well-known that from an early age, girls do not identify women as being inherently smart.

This is why I would love to see MLB reach out to girls when they’re still young, while they’re still playing Little League or softball.Teach the physics of baseball at Geek Girl Con. A partnership with Girls Who Code, Women Who Code, or Girl Develop It could teach women of all ages the coding skills they need. It will give them a greater appreciation for other skills that can translate into a front office job, if not a greater appreciation for the game. Maybe MLB can tackle gender disparity in the front office and declining viewership at the same time.