I like to think that my dad’s a pretty cool dude, and occasionally he makes me smile by dropping little pearls of thought into my email inbox. Thus it was yesterday when one of our constant back-and-forth exchanges about baseball took an interesting turn. Quoth father.of.a.lesser.god:
One thing that occurred to me today is how many of the position designations and play outcomes in baseball contain the word “man”. I know that should be obvous, but it shows how deeply these things are buried.
It’s sort of like “fireman,” (In baseball a fireman is slang for “relief pitcher”.) So, come the revolution, how will we rename the first baseman? A first-base person? I dunno!
Any thoughts? Maybe a blog post on the subject would elicit a response for someone who has thought of this and has a good idea.
And so a Harpyness post was born.
Can I just say it’s kind of awesome that he welcomes/expects some kind of “revolution” in gender norms for both people and linguistics? But to stay on topic, his question did get me thinking about the importance of the gendered traits of these specific words that are strictly applied to men. Unless the Commissioner of Baseball issued a memo while I was sleeping last night, America’s pastime — and one of my greatest passions — is a No Girls Allowed area. Women can play softball, but not professional or collegiate baseball. Given that this is the case, is it unreasonable to keep the term “first baseman” with the emphasis on the -man ending? I’m not sure.
Playing pro baseball was one of my childhood dreams, one that has obviously not materialized (and never would have, even if women were allowed to participate in the sport), and I wanted to play first base to honor my childhood idol Don Mattingly. So what would I have been? Even in my daydreams — which I still have — of donning Yankee pinstripes, I really wasn’t sure what I would have been called. A first basewoman? A first baseperson? Maybe a first baser?
If the designation was to be changed (for the sake of argument, we’ll term the position a “first baser”), the one thing it would do would be to signal that there is an acknowledgment of the fact that athletic ability is gender neutral. I have to believe that, out of the 750 players in the major leagues, there is a very good chance that there are some who would not win a head-to-head battle of baseball skills against a woman. I am a baseball purist who thinks everything went downhill after the introduction of the Designated Hitter, but I don’t think that the game would be ruined in the least if we threw some women into the starting lineups. Unfortunately, given the fact that the machismo flows as easily as the Gatorade in the dugouts, I don’t see this happening anytime soon.
So this is why the linguistic aspect of it intrigues me. If there are so many other gender neutral terms within the game — pitcher, catcher, center fielder, shortstop, batter, manager, etc. — why cling to those that are left? Why can’t the term “three men on base” be changed to “three players on base”? The problem is that these things are so firmly entrenched that just switching over a designation is never that easy. Despite official terminologies being changed, the vernacular still refers to firefighters as firemen, police officers as policemen, and so on; humankind is often reduced to mankind. The idea of changing the nomenclature of a position that is exclusively applied to men may strike some as absurd, but keeping it as it stands is an implicit admission that only those possessing a certain set of genitalia are capable of playing the game.
Agree? Disagree? Have a better term than “first baser”? Leave your thoughts in the comments.