From Edith Houghton to Amanda Hopkins, MLB's 70-year gap in female scouts
Amanda Hopkins, a former softball player from Central Washington University, became an area scout for the Seattle Mariners last year. She is believed to be only the second full-time female scout in Major League Baseball.
And this season will mark the 70th year since her predecessor became the first.
Edith Houghton started playing baseball professionally when she was 10 years old. In 1922, she joined the Philadelphia Bobbies -- a team named for the popular hairstyle of the era -- as their starting shortstop. While she was an anomaly for her youth and her tremendous ability, she wasn't for her gender.
Women had been playing baseball in America as early as 1866, when Vassar formed a team, and by the 1920s, so-called Bloomer Girl teams were popular across the country. There was no official league, but hundreds of young women played around the U.S., earning modest pay for games against colleges, other Bloomer Girls and local men's teams.
Houghton, a Philadelphia native, was the youngest on her team, needing to rig her uniform with safety pins to make it small enough. When she was 13, she even traveled with the Bobbies to Japan.
Growing up, she played around the U.S., spending time at every position. But as the Great Depression ate away at the country's entertainment budget, women's teams dissipated. Eager to keep playing, Houghton tried out for men's semi-pro teams and found moderate success. She spent two seasons playing shortstop and first base for teams in the Philadelphia area before those, too, were crushed by the Depression.
Lack of playing opportunities forced Houghton to turn to softball until World War II, when she got another shot at the game. She joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service and worked on a naval base near Philadelphia. On the department's baseball team, Houghton posted astronomical numbers, including an .800 batting average.
"She was always known for being someone who was not easy to ignore. She doesn't go away. She's persistent," said Leslie Heaphy, associate professor of history at Kent State. "She'd always, even from the very beginning, gotten good publicity. On all the teams she played on, they always emphasized her name and her star power."
By 1946, the war was over, but Houghton was unable to find playing opportunities for women. So she made a bold ploy to stay involved in the game. Brandishing a scrapbook detailing her playing accomplishments, Houghton offered her scouting services to Phillies owner Bob Carpenter.
Remarkably, he took her up on it.
In the decades since Houghton retired from baseball (she died in 2013 at the age of 100), a handful of women have made unpaid or part-time contributions to various teams' scouting efforts. And even before Houghton became a scout, a woman named Bessie Largent scouted alongside her husband, Roy. But Hopkins has become the first full-time, paid female scout in more than half a century.
But, according to a spokesperson for the Mariners, Hopkins doesn't want to discuss her status. Kelly Munro said that Hopkins wasn't doing any interviews until she had more scouting experience to draw from.
Hopkins grew up in a baseball family. Her father, Ron, now a special assistant to the Pirates GM, has worked in scouting for various teams for years (even garnering a depiction in "Moneyball"). And her brother Ross was chosen by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2007 June amateur draft.
"She went to a lot of games with me," says her father, Ron. "Even at a young age, I would take her to the Cape Cod League [games] with me, in between softball tournaments. She went to the [Pacific Coast League] in Tacoma because we live in Seattle. She would go down with me and watch those games, and even at a young age, she liked watching and learning new ways to improve her game as a softball player by watching the Triple-A players."
Amanda played softball from the time she was 11 all the way through college at Central Washington University. She played 21 games in her freshman season at CWU. In the offseason, she worked out with the baseball players, holding her own in hardball batting practice. Throughout college, she spent less time focused on her own game and more time honing her baseball smarts.
"She didn't play a ton," said her former softball coach Mallory Holtman-Fletcher. "But she was one of those people that absolutely everybody looked up to because she worked harder than anybody. And her work ethic motivated a lot of people. And then she was just a solid arm, good teammate and always knew what was going on."
Hopkins interned in the Mariners scouting office for three summers of her college career. This past fall, the team sponsored her attendance to the Major League Scouting Bureau developmental program in Phoenix. She's now a Mariners area scout for Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
"I've actually been to a couple games with her where we started talking about players," Tom McNamara, Mariners director of amateur scouting, told MLB.com last year. "And I was sitting there thinking, 'Man, she has a really good feel and breaks down a player like a veteran scout.'"
Kevin Goldstein, director of pro scouting for the Houston Astros and a former ESPN writer, says former players typically have a leg up in the profession. But he says it's not an impossible drawback to overcome. His tip: "Go to about eight million games."
"She's got good scouting instincts just from being at the park," Ron Hopkins says. "But it's like anything else in life: If you make up your mind what you want to do, that's great. But you've got to put the time into it and the effort into it, no matter what you're going into. And she did that."
So why does a 70-year gap sit between these two female scouts? Jennifer Ring, the author of "Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don't Play Baseball," wrote that A.G. Spalding intentionally rewrote baseball's early history to ignore the women who played, and in doing so created a culture of exclusion that persists today.
Despite Houghton's playing success in the 20th century, there were many towns and teams that explicitly banned girls. These local bans were continued by the Little League, founded in 1939, in order to develop "the qualities of sportsmanship, citizenship, and manliness," according to Ring's book. In 1951, the league prohibited girls from playing baseball at all.
The explicit exclusion lasted until 1974, when a court ruling in New Jersey required Little League to open its ranks to girls. But rather than embrace women's baseball, Little League quickly turned to softball to siphon girls away from the boys' sport, launching a softball program that very same year. Reached for comment about how this may have impacted the baseball aspirations of young women, Little League spokesman Brian McClintock said via email that their "main focus is providing a healthy, active environment for boys and girls to learn the valuable lessons of sportsmanship, fair play and dedication, that will benefit them in all aspects of their lives."
The games are similar, and both are valuable to their players. But they're not the same. A young girl interested in throwing a ball and swinging a bat is encouraged to play softball from a young age. Even if she has the talent and determination to play baseball with the boys initially, she'll likely switch to softball by high school or college -- either because she'll be bullied off the boys' teams or because she'll leave in search of scholarship opportunities and more physically comparable competitors.
This has helped disadvantage those who want an intimate knowledge of the game. Women who aspire to baseball operations jobs are typically less qualified than men because they played softball instead of baseball.
With the increasing importance of analytics in the game, a select group of women -- most notably Kim Ng, who played softball growing up -- hold baseball operations roles. But scouting, in particular, has historically been populated almost exclusively by former players, including Houghton herself.
Hopkins' commitment to baseball has now paid off. And even though she doesn't want to acknowledge what a big deal that is, her father says she's enjoying the success on a personal level. "We're very proud of her. She's doing what she wants to do and loves it."