In the baseball world, 2020 was almost a lost cause. There was a significant period of time in April where baseball fans and players truly believed that no baseball would be played in 2020, which would have been yet another loss in a year full of heartbreaking and challenging losses. The season, of course, ended up happening, albeit a frustrating one for Nationals fans hoping to receive the honors of being World Series champions. However, the play on the field was not the most important part of the MLB’s 2020. The most significant aspect of the season was the rise of trailblazers and MLB making historic decisions, aimed to forge a new future for the league defined by an increase in gender and racial equality.
Women in Baseball
Thanks to hires in the dugout and the front office, 2020 was a glass-shattering year for women in baseball. In January, the San Francisco Giants made history by promoting Alyssa Nakken, previously the team’s chief information officer, to the major league coaching staff. The move made Nakken the first full-time female coach in MLB history. In a game against Oakland on July 20, Nakken coached first base for the Giants, making her the first woman to ever coach on the field in baseball history.
The Boston Red Sox also made history on Jan. 4, hiring Bianca Smith as a minor league coach, making her the first Black woman to join an MLB team’s coaching staff.
Most prominently, the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng as their general manager, making her the first woman and person of Asian descent to serve in baseball’s highest executive position. This makes Ng directly responsible for the Marlins’ roster and personnel decisions for the foreseeable future, a bright one for a team on the rise.
Sports in general saw a large increase in gender equality for the first time in 2020: Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs became the first woman to serve as an acting head coach in the NBA, and Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play in a Power 5 college football game, as the kicker for the Vanderbilt University Commodores. This is a long time coming for women in sports – this year has finally dispelled with the fiction that men have an inherent advantage over women when it comes to baseball strategy or management, and has opened the doors for more women to enter the sports world in the front office and on the analytical fronts.
Reconciling Racial Disparity
2020 was also an important year for increasing racial equality in baseball, when Major League Baseball officially recognized the Negro Leagues as being a “major league”. Before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, Black baseball players were relegated to the Negro Leagues, which hosted some of the most talented baseball players in history. Due to the segregated way baseball history was taught, an entire generation of Black athletes like Pop Lloyd, Oscar Charleston, and Buck Leonard was lost in the deep annals of baseball history. This move adds Negro League statistics to the record books, in turn officially recognizing Negro League players as having excelled and competed at the level that they did. Players like Josh Gibson now rank among the top home run hitters in Major League history.
The year also ended with an announcement that the Cleveland Indians would be changing their team name and eliminating another Native American-inspired team name from sports. The soon-to-be-former Indians, who had earlier dropped their controversial “Chief Wahoo” logo characterizing a Native American in cartoon form, joined the Washington Football Team in changing a Native American team name in 2020. Over the summer and following the senseless police killings of unarmed Black people, I wrote about why the Washington NFL team should drop their former racist moniker, as a necessary step towards equality in the Native community. Both of these decisions are vital to promoting baseball as an inclusive sport, and seek to repair the damage done by de facto and de jure segregation on our nation’s pastime.
As time goes on, last year will not be remembered for the 60-game season, the universal DH, or the expanded playoffs. It will be remembered for an increase in gender and racial equality, and the many firsts that came with the new season. This is a positive step for baseball, and all baseball fans should hope that the next few years see even more increases in diversity and equity in the baseball world.