Women in Baseball
“Play Ball, You All”: Baseball’s Turn Down Tin Pan Alley by Katherine Walden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Outside the World War II-era All American Girls Professional Baseball League, women’s involvement in baseball during this period was limited. Although suffrage movements were growing in East Coast cities and women were gaining access to increased opportunities in higher education and the professional workforce, sport remained very much a masculine preserve, though women were allowed and encouraged to attend baseball games. Tin Pan Alley as business organization also remained heavily male-dominated, though using women as performing talent on recording projects and in variety shows and later films was ubiquitous. Although the Tin Pan Alley writers, lyricists, and composers who were involved writing songs about baseball were predominantly men, there are no shortage of songs that talk about women and their relationship to baseball.
Male writers wrote songs about and from the perspective of female baseball fans. “Manda at the Base Ball Game” from 1911 described how a fictional Manda, though having no particular team allegiances, “claps her hands and shouts aloud…to entertain the crowd / When a grand, good play is made,” A 1909 title “Come On Play Ball With Me, Dearie” was featured in a Ziegfield Follies show and talks about a chorus girl Mamie Magee who “by day was a ‘fan’ in her way…She’d root through a game and then send in her name/And invite them all down to her show/She’d sing to the nine that could buy the most wine.” Although the language about Mamie and her fandom is not overtly sexualized in the opening verse, Mamie’s character in the following chorus uses sexualized coded language to describe her desire to “land a man””
“Come on play ball with me dearie
I’ll ‘catch’ whatever you ‘throw’
I know lots of places where we can ‘run bases’
If you’ll only wait for me after the show
We won’t ‘Run home’ till you’re weary
You’ll like ‘my curves,’ never fear;
My heart is on fire,
When Cupids Umpire,
Come on, come on, play ball with me dear”
Within the song’s chorus, “playing ball” refers to sexual activity, with various phrases about baseball (throw, catch, run bases, run home, curves) having sexual double meanings. This type of coded language linking baseball and sex is common in contemporary culture, but its historical legacy in TPA-era popular culture is a trend seen elsewhere in these titles. In the 1910 song “I’m on the Right Side of the Right Girl at the Right Time and Place,” a woman is not clearly referenced in the song, but the main male character sings of how “love reminds [him] of a ball game/You never know just how you’ll score.” Similar sexualized coded language is found elsewhere in the verses, as the main character describes how he’s only “been as far as Third Base” but if “it’s a home run this trip, I’ll take care not to sleep. In this game you need nerve, you must know ev’ry Curve…I will use all my wits for the Hit of All Hits/And I’ll bring home a big wedding cake.” Although the sexualized baseball metaphors abound, the main character still infuses those elements with more conservative language about weddings, marriage, and true love. Other titles in the collection, including “Baseball Game of Love” and “You Better Play Ball With Me,” include similar coded language, with varying degrees of subtlety and crudeness. Interestingly, “If You Can’t Make a Hit in the Ball Game You Can’t Make a Hit With Me” reverses the gender roles and, though written by a male lyricist, features a main female character who sings about only allowing successful baseball players to “make a hit” with her.
However not all baseball songs about love and romance included coded sexual references, including songs like “Love Goes On Like A Ball Game” and “Honey All the Time.” Other songs discuss female fans in less sexually explicit contexts, and the most famous TPA baseball song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” falls into this area. Though written by a male lyricist from a neutral perspective, the song’s main character Katie Casey “was baseball mad” and “saw all the games/Knew the players by their first names.” Rather than attend a variety show with “her young beau,” Casey, in the famous chorus, asks to be taken to attend a baseball game. Other titles, without sexualized undertones, address the changing opportunities and independence women were gaining during this period. “Extracurrickeler Girl,” a 1947 song performed at Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Club, talks about how “Some girls were born to be the cook type/Others were made for charity/Still others were born to be the book type not me!” In contrast, the main female character describes herself as “an extracurrickeler girl for gentlemen tired of school…beginning to feel like a fisherman’s reel or a popular parlor for pool…I’m the danceable dame with the flexible frame that nobody wants for a wife…I’m a comfort for husbands who cheat on the little lady I wish I could be.” Were the song written by a female lyricist, their meaning could be read with some degree of irony or frustration with the contrast between traditional Victorian social mores and emerging opportunities for women. However, when written by a male author, the lyrics communicate a rather chauvinistic attitude toward how philandering men could stand to benefit from the tension between women’s increased opportunities outside traditional domestic roles and the social expectations and conventions around motherhood and the conventional nuclear family.