They’re coming, so help me Suzyn Waldman, they’re coming. And they’re young, gifted and female.
Emma Tiedemann, whose grandfather was Bill Mercer, the first voice of the Texas Rangers, is in Double A, winning rave reviews as the voice of the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs.
Jill Gearin, who dug up stats as an intern for Boston Red Sox broadcast legend Joe Castiglione while earning her journalism degree at Emerson College, is doing play-by-play for the Class-A Visalia Rawhide.
Maura Sheridan, the Vermont native who broadcast University of Vermont women’s basketball while summering in the broadcast booth of the Fayetteville (Ark.) Woodpeckers, is doing play-by-play for the Class-A Lynchburg Hillcats, behind the mic for the full 140-game season.
Emily Messina, who graduated magna cum laude from Catholic University and spent a season working for the Melbourne Aces in Australia, is doing play-by-play for the Double-A Reading Phillies. Messina replaced the pioneering Kirsten Karbach, the Florida native who was a lone female voice in the minor leagues when she was doing play-by-play for the Class-A Clearwater Thrashers in 2014.
And on Tuesday night on the “MLB Game of the Week Live on YouTube,” Baltimore Orioles broadcaster Melanie Newman, who told her parents Susan and Mike that she had landed a major-league gig by spelling it out at home during a spirited round of the word game Bananagrams, will be anchoring an all-women’s broadcast team when the Orioles play the Tampa Bay Rays.
Tuesday’s broadcast is being heralded as groundbreaking, much like two years ago, when Newman teamed with Suzie Cool (real name) for the Class-A Salem Red Sox as the first all-female broadcast team to call a minor-league game. And it is blazing a new trail.
Newman, who will be doing the play-by-play, will be surrounded by accomplished women who already showcase big-league bona fides: Sarah Langs (analyst), Alanna Rizzo (reporter), Heidi Watney and Lauren Gardner (pregame and postgame cohosts). According to MLB Network publicist Lou Barricelli, there will be other women working behind the scenes in the production truck, although the production crew will not be exclusively female.
But there is a hope that this will herald something more — a new generation of female voices that will win acceptance in major-league play-by-play roles, which are still nearly exclusively male.
“It’s great to be a first,” said Newman, who was so shy growing up in Atlanta that her worst fear as a child was when her mom would pull the car curbside to Publix and ask her to run into the store to pick up something by herself.
“The bigger focus is this is just opening a door and that the ‘first’ goes away and the ‘female’ goes away and, from really a certain point, it’s just a casual mention of this is your crew bringing the game,” she said. “And then in the back of people’s minds, they can register, ‘Oh, it’s all women.’ But you just want that qualifier to be removed because, really, gender should be a non-qualifier when it comes to any type of work. It’s just people doing really good work.”
The pioneering Waldman, who did her first big-league baseball broadcast in Houston’s Astrodome for the New York Mets in 1992 and has served as John Sterling’s radio broadcast partner with the New York Yankees since 2005, is delighted at what is taking place Tuesday night.
But she is adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Progress for women in her field has come much slower than she anticipated.
“Obviously, it’s fabulous,” said Waldman, a native of suburban Boston and a former Broadway actress who has been in the broadcast business for close to 35 years. “But I get really tired that every time a woman does something, it’s treated like it’s a novelty act.
“What they're doing, it's good. And if they said, ‘We're going to do this once a week, and it'll be like women Wednesdays or something,’ yeah, then I'd be impressed. It's great for these women and it's a step in the right direction, but if it's one and done, what's the difference?”
But just as Waldman has served as inspiration for many of the women now in the broadcasting pipeline, including Newman, there is an awareness, articulated by Rizzo, that Tuesday could be a touchstone for the next generation.
“That's the whole point of this, really,” said Rizzo, who recently rejoined MLB Network but did nearly 200 games a year for 15 years as part of Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasts. “I think if there's one young girl or one young person out there, male or female or any gender, race, sexual preference, orientation, creed, color whatever … if there's one person out there that this broadcast strikes them as, ‘Hey, I can do that, too,’ I think we fulfilled the goal.
“As much as we want this to be just about baseball, we also want them to know that, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for you.’ I think, you know, that the biggest form of flattery is imitation, and when you receive a picture of a little girl dressed up as you for Halloween — with the microphone and the telephone and the reporter's notebook and the hair the way you do it, that type of thing — then you know that is inspiring and hopefully we do open some doors for people that may not have known that this was an opportunity for them in terms of a career.”
Newman did not set out to be a broadcaster, although she does remember her 5-year-old self walking around with a TalkGirl Recorder (Macaulay Culkin had a TalkBoy in “Home Alone 2”) doing play-by-play while her parents carried out their daily chores.
An adviser at Troy (Ala.) University, Steve Padgett, was the first to suggest she give it a try, which ultimately led to her first gig after school in an unpaid position with the East Texas Pump Jacks, a collegiate league team in Kilgore, Texas. The experience was so miserable — far from home, no money, housed in a dorm room at Kilgore Community College — that she packed up her belongings one day and left, feeling like a failure. But when a sympathetic friend offered her a job with the Mobile BayBears, an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate, she took it.
Eventually, Newman accumulated nearly a decade’s worth of experience, calling games in all three leagues on the Double-A level (Southern League, Texas League and a brief turn in the Eastern League), working college games and the Arizona Fall League and even offering sideline reports for the World Axe Throwing League.
The experience was valuable, the money scarce. At 29, Newman was still spending her offseasons at home, plotting a return to Salem when the offer came from the Orioles just before spring training in 2020. The pandemic wreaked havoc with her plans — she’s still confined to the studio, not traveling with the team or going on the field — but still, she has 90 Orioles games on the radio, 50 on TV.
In June, Newman did the play-by-play for a national game between Texas and Oakland on YouTube, the catalyst for Tuesday night’s broadcast. Rizzo will be on site in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg; the rest of the team will be in MLB Network’s studio in Secaucus, N.J.
The NHL has had an all-female broadcast production, and the NFL and MLS have featured female broadcast teams. Now, MLB is taking its turn.
“It's certainly a unique experience, and you can't help but realize how different it is,” Rizzo said. “But at the same time, I think collectively we're more looking forward to acknowledging the moment, recognizing the moment, but then moving on quickly to the fact that we're just doing a baseball game, and this is not something that is new to us. I mean all of us collectively.
“If you look across our resumes, I mean, we've earned this opportunity, and there are a lot of other women in the industry that could equally have been qualified enough to do this game. Once you know Melanie calls the first ball or strike, it's all baseball, and that's what we're looking forward to. We're thankful for the opportunity. We're glad Major League Baseball realizes the value in this, but at the same time, we're just doing our jobs.”
Karbach, the first woman to do play-by-play in the minor leagues in 2013, noted that in the minors the job involves more than just broadcasting. You’re doing media relations, PR, marketing, sales and whatever else the team might ask, all for little money. She still works in the game, for an organization called Pitch In for Baseball and Softball, which collects gently used baseball and softball equipment and distributes it around the world, but she still fondly recalls the seven years she spent as a broadcaster and that other women are engaged in the same pursuit.
“It’s fantastic to see,” Karbach said. “But it’s also important for longtime fans of the game to be exposed to various female voices covering the sport. I’ve had people tell me that before they ever heard me call a game, they assumed they would not like hearing a woman do play-by-play.
“This game is so important so that people start to realize that, even if the voices sound a little different than the ones they heard growing up, they are the voices of intelligent, knowledgeable, hard-working sports broadcasters, who also happen to be women.”