In 2016, Fox debuted a show called Pitch, a drama about the first female Major League Baseball player. It’s really not so far-fetched.
Toni Stone landed a spot on the St. Paul Giants, a semiprofessional team, in 1936. Not only was she an African-American woman who landed a spot on a men’s team before baseball was universally integrated, Stone was also just 15 years old. She parlayed that into an offer to play for the San Francisco Sea Lions of the Negro Leagues in 1949. On her first at-bat, the first time a woman ever played in a professional baseball game in the U.S., she knocked in two runs. She bounced around the dwindling African-American baseball circuit (Major League Baseball integrated in 1947) and played for the Indianapolis Clowns, an exhibition team comparable to the Harlem Globetrotters. Frustrated with coaches not playing her enough, she quit in 1954 and became a nurse in Oakland, California.
After serving as a starting pitcher for Southern California College, Ila Borders signed with the St. Paul Saints minor-league squad in 1997. Over the season, she pitched 14 innings in relief and struck out 11 batters. In 1998, for the Duluth-Superior Dukes, Borders was a starting pitcher—the first woman to ever be a starting pitcher in a pro baseball game. Borders and the Dukes lost, but a game ball is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, New York. It also began a streak in which she didn’t give up any runs for 12 straight innings. Borders played for a few more teams in 1999 and 2000 and ultimately retired. She’s now a firefighter in Long Beach, California.
The California-based Sonoma Stompers play in the Pacific Association, an independent minor league. In 2016, general manager Theo Fightmaster signed two women to the team: 17-year-old pitcher and outfielder Kelsie Whitmore and 25-year-old pitcher and infielder Stacy Piagno. (Fightmaster got the idea from, of all people, Francis Ford Coppola. His winery sponsors the Stompers and he suggested to Fightmaster that he sign top female players, because the best player in his family’s baseball games was always his aunt.) Whitmore and Piagno are two of the best young prospects in baseball, regardless of gender. Both were on the roster for the U.S. team in the 2016 Women’s Baseball World Cup. Whitmore is attending Cal State Fullerton on a softball scholarship, while in 2015 Piagno pitched a no-hitter in the Pan Am Games.