Editor's Note: In Spring 2022, the Smithsonian celebrates America's favorite pastime with two major exhibitions: Baseball: America's Homerun at the National Postal Museum, and ¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues at the National Museum of American History. In addition, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is displaying Jackie Robinson's jersey through May 1 to honor the 75th anniversary of Robinson's Major League Debut. Though often thought of as a male sport, women always have been part of baseball, as players, commentators, decision-makers, behind-the-scenes supporters, and dedicated fans. Their stories are integral to baseball's history and future.
National Museum of American History curator Margaret Salazar-Porzio knows that women who shaped baseball history don't always get their due. She ensured women's stories are featured in the museum's exhibition, ¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues / En los barrios y las grandes ligas. ¡Pleibol! examines how generations of Latinos/as have helped make the game what it is today.
Throughout the history of baseball, Latinas have given their time, talent, and funds to support the games and their communities. This support takes many forms. Women have cared for children while their loved ones played, cooked and sold concessions, and designed and sewn team uniforms. These key contributions have not always been recognized by baseball fans.
Salazar-Porzio said "Baseball is almost always thought of as a man's sport, but we worked really hard to make sure women's stories were present throughout [¡Pleibol!]."
Here are three women who changed the history of the game—as players, commentators, and team owners.
1. Margaret "Marge" Villa
For 11 years during and after World War II, professional baseball was a woman's sport. During those years, Margaret "Marge" Villa (later Cryan) set records for RBIs (runs batted in) and total bases in the game.
At the start of World War II, Chicago Cubs owner and chewing gum mogul Philip K. Wrigley began the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Wrigley started the league to continue to profit from the sport while most able men fought in the war.
From 1943–1954, 11 Latinas played in the AAGPBL. In a time of racist de facto segregation, the league did not welcome players of color. Instead, fair-skinned Latinas playing in the league passed as white. Nine of the Latina players were from Cuba; Villa was one of two players from California.
Before joining AAGPBL, Villa played for the East Los Angeles girls' community team. This uniform she wore at age 13 is on display in ¡Pleibol!
Seven years later, Villa joined the AAGPBL for Wisconsin's Kenosha Comets. She played second base and shortstop in more than 500 games.
Watch curator Salazar-Porzio share how Villa broke gender barriers from the early 1940s, at age 16, through the rest of her career.
2. Jessica Mendoza
After an award-winning career in softball, Jessica Mendoza made baseball history as a baseball commentator.
Mendoza played softball from high school through 2014. She won two Olympic medals playing for the U.S. softball team. She won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and a silver medal four years later in Beijing. These victories helped highlight softball as a major competitive sport.
In 2015, Mendoza became the first woman to serve as commentator for Major League Baseball on ESPN. Later that year she became the first woman in league history to call a post-season game. As a journalist, Mendoza builds connections between players and fans.
3. Linda Alvarado
In the early 1990s, Linda Alvarado put Latina contributions to baseball front and center. She became the first woman to ever win a bid to buy a team and Major League Baseball's first Hispanic team owner when she purchased the Colorado Rockies. Today, Alvarado talks with the players during warmups and batting practice at Coors Field whenever she has the chance.
This is not the first gender barrier Alvarado has broken in her career. In 1976, she created Alvarado Construction, Inc. At the time, she was unable to obtain a loan because banks viewed a "woman contractor" as a high-risk liability. There were few leadership programs for women or minority-owned businesses. Her parents mortgaged their small home to lend her $2,500. With that loan, Alvarado created an incredibly successful and profitable construction firm.
With her purchase of the Rockies, Alvarado continued to prove that she could make history in historically male-dominated industries.
To see additional objects from these trailblazing women and to learn more about the contributions of Latina/os in baseball, explore ¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues / En los barrios y las grandes ligas at the National Museum of American History in person or online.
¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues online at the National Museum of American History