OK, I Have No Idea What This Is. Help Me Out. Please.

Alyssa Nakken played first base on the Sacramento State women’s softball team from 2009 to 2012, being named all-conference three times  and Academic All American all four years. She  earned a master’s degree in sport management from the University of San Francisco in 2015, and interned with the San Francisco Giants’ baseball operations department for a year during that period.

Now she has become the first female major league coach.  New San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler added her to his staff. Whether it was his idea or not is unknown.

What is her job? The Associated Press is a bit vague:

“Nakken will be in uniform and helping the Giants with everything from cage work to infield practice,” its feature says. The AP adds:

Kapler and Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi have all the confidence in Nakken’s ability to help build clubhouse continuity through stronger bonds between young players and veterans…A polished speaker who has become adept at hiding any nerves, Nakken is taking initiative early. She put on a two-day coaches retreat this week that included a “culinary experience” — much more than “a food tour,” she said — through San Francisco’s historic and diverse Mission District..

Nakken doesn’t claim to be an expert on hitting or pitching. She plans to assist coaches on both sides, and will also work a lot on outfield defense and baserunning. Nakken will be in uniform but not in the dugout during games, rather working with players in the cage to keep them ready..

Do you see my problem?

My knee-jerk reaction was that the Giants should be designated Ethics Heroes. I have long felt that baseball was the one professional sport where women could play with men at the professional level, but that social pressures and biases had so far prevented this from happening. Girls are typically transitioned out of Little League, even if they are outstanding, into softball, and their development in the sport of baseball is cut short. A woman’s size and upper body strength might preclude being a slugger on the major league level, but the other skills of the game are within the range of some female athletes, especially pitching. (There’s no rule against a pitcher using a softball underhand delivery.)

I admit, some of my enthusiasm on this topic arises from my appreciation of “A League of Their Own,” as well as the fact that the best player on my son’s Little League team for two years was a girl. By the third year, I only saw her in the stands, barely recognizable in short skirts and make-up. She had decided to be a cheerleader.

So when I started to read the AP story, I was nodding at statements like,  “For Nakken, making history means being ready each day to make an impact in her own distinct way while ignoring the critics and anyone who figures she is unfit for an on-field baseball job based on her gender….She does accept her role as an example for girls and women that they can work in baseball.”

Then I started thinking about other quotes, like,

Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Lindsay Gottlieb, the former California women’s basketball coach in nearby Berkeley, hopes Nakken paves the way for more women to work in prominent baseball jobs — and not just behind the scenes.“That’s great news for the Giants and for baseball,” Gottlieb said. “Any organization benefits from diverse opinions and experiences, and baseball is no different.

 I also started thinking about the fact that this is a San Francisco team, where pandering to the woke and its sacred tenets like diversity for diversity’s sake, and prioritizing  pro-female and race-based hiring over merit, talent, and experience.  Then I re-read the vague and amorphous duties decrribed in the article, and quotes like,

“[T]throughout the interview process and getting to know Gabe and Farhan a little bit more, it was never about this,” Nakken said. “It was never about being a female. It was never about being the first. “It was about, ‘Hey, we have a brand new staff, there’s a lot going on, we need somebody to come in here and make an impact in this clubhouse, for this staff, for the team and help us win, somebody who knows baseball, is a good communicator, can build relationships, can build trust and that’s what it was about.’”

Oh! Huh?

What the hell is the job? Is this just a massive pandering and virtue-signaling exercise? Was a man who did know something about playing baseball passed over so the Giants could claim they broke the gender barrier, or was this job invented for a female? Will the players be told to just be nice, avoid sexual harassment, and otherwise be tolerant because this is just a big public relations stunt to suck up to the San Francisco community?

And is it just a coincidence that the first female baseball coach is young, tall, slim and attractive, unlike the typical male baseball coaches, like, say, the late Don Zimmer?

In short, what’s going on here?

Let’s poll it:

22 thoughts on “OK, I Have No Idea What This Is. Help Me Out. Please.

  1. Slight suggestion: this happens to be the same city that has a female football coach, Katie Sowers. A big deal (kind of) was made about this in the run up to the last Super Bowl.

    Considering that (and the sort of free publicity they got from that), this may have factored into the Giants decision.

    -Jut

  2. She looks like she might have the experience and training to contribute something useful to the team efforts. The first effective female coach should have a CV similar to this. We can’t tell from here if she really will be an effective motivator and strategist, only time will tell. I am more disturbed that they don’t really seem to have a good summary of what she will do, so it wasn’t an ‘of course’ decision. Really she should be doing exactly what a man with a similar education would be doing at this point in her career, working her way up the coaching authority tree, whatever that involves. Coaching practice and analyzing medical and performance patterns seems likely until the other people, coaches and players, are convinced of her grit and professionalism.

    If she is not that groundbreaker, this first will only be a footnote in history, of little importance, like the first female cosmonaut.

  3. Perhaps we should withold judgement until we see how the team fares this year.

    I really don’t know if this is a PR stunt or not but we should take them at their word that it was a decision designed to increase the winning percentage.

    If however hers is a protected position not subject to typical staff changes when the team fails to perform then that will be the tell.

      • If winning is moral luck with female coaches the same must be true of male coaches unless we conclude only male coaches can improve the team’s ability to win. Obviously if we believe the latter then the theory should hold for other occupations where women are not usually found.

        I have no idea if she will help or not but what of that baseball guru you have written about that figured out why on base percentage was a better indicator than batting average? How many pennants did his team’s win? Were those teams who adopted this thinking and improved the number in the wins column beneficiaries of moral luck. Was this baseball guru a great hitter or pitcher whose experience on the field helped him become the go to guy for baseball insight?

        My point is that the game is more than just who has the best eye to hand coordination, can best control where the ball winds up in the catchers mitt or how far into to seats a player can drive the ball. Earl Weaver and Hank Bauer were great coaches and managers but were mediocre on the field.. Maybe, the Giants are testing an idea that might give them an advantage not because she brings a female perspective but because she has ideas. Maybe, it is just an updated version of putting a little person (midget) on the team to make the strike zone very small. Only time will tell.

        • Yes, but this isn’t the place to make that case. It a money is hired as a coach and the team wins, that does not mean the monkey was an effective coach. The question is whether this young woman has any justification for being called a “coach” on an MLB team if she has no skills relevant to the sport she’s coaching. She not only has never pitched hardball or hit a major league curve, she’s never fielded a hard shot on the grpund, or tacked a 400 foot blast to center. Nor has she timed a pitchers warm up and out run an MLB catcher’s tag. She’s never played through a grueling 162 game season. Nor is she experienced in male team chemistry, which is different from female team relations. I would guess that there are many thousands of minor league and college hardball players with more evident relevant skill for a real MLB coaching job than this coach, unless her duties have nothing to do with baseball. There are lots of reasons a team might want a particular ex-player around for a lightly defined coaching function. Some are good at stealing signs. Some at helping players’ confidence. But they need credibility.

          As a stage director, I found that actors did not easily accept the authority and expertise of my assistants. Would I have ever appointed an assistant who had no experience in theater, but was, say, a puppeteer? No, I would not.

  4. Not knowing a tremendous amount about major league pitching, I looked up the average underhand pitch speed for women on wiki and it is 70 mph. Major league fastball pitch speed is 90 mph on the average! Maybe there’s some women who could pitch this fast overhand but I would guess very few. And there’s no crying in baseball!

    • The best female pitchers can top 90. Talk about an apples and oranges comparison—the average non-professional baseball pitchers would be the proper comparison…even then—a hard ball is faster than a softball, AND it isn’t the average pitchers who make the majors, its the best of the best.

      There IS no crying in baseball, however.

      • The fastest recorded softball pitch is 77 mph (123.9 km/h), achieved by Monica Abbott (USA) on 16 June 2012 in a National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) game for the Chicago Bandits against the Carolina Diamonds in Kannapolis, North Carolina, USA.

        I think you’re confusing the actual speed a softball pitch being thrown with it’s major league distance equivalent. The top speed of a softball gets from the mound to the batters box in about the equivalent time as a major league pitch in the 90’s. That’s because the pitchers mound is closer to the plate in softball. That doesn’t change what the actual physical speed is, which is just not fast enough to be a major league pitcher.

        • I had an acquaintance (can’t call him a friend since I can’t even remember his name) who came up in fast pitch softball in IL – he pitched for a minor league pro team and had a try out for a major league team (again, the long period of time has erased those team names from my mind). Prior to his major tryout, I caught for him on a few occasions when he was practicing – no idea how fast he was pitching, but I can tell you that I just put the glove up and reacted when the ball hit the glove because I could barely see the ball coming – hate to think what might have happened if he had missed my glove. I do know that he was not selected, but the underhand pitch that he had was credible enough to get him a tryout and to get him on a minor team for part of a season.

        • The standard is getting batters out. There have been successful pitchers who threw slow pitches, curves, change-ups, sliders. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield’s fast ball was in the high 60’s, and he won 200 games.

  5. The Giants announced the hiring of Nakken and of Mark Wallberg in the same press release. Both have the title of Major League Assistant Coach. Per the press release, “… in addition to assisting the rest of the coaching staff on the field, Mark and Alyssa will focus on fostering a clubhouse culture that promotes high performance through, among other attributes, a deep sense of collaboration and team.”
    Seems legit to me. With some hires, you know exactly where they can contribute the most. With others, maybe you have them assist several other coaches to find out where their talents will help the most.
    Major league coaching rosters include a number of coaches whose duties are described just as vaguely as Nakken’s. For example:
    Jose Hernandez, Orioles, no specific duties.
    Carlos Mendoza, Yankees, quality control.
    Willie McGee, Cardinals, assistant coach.
    I say it’s legitimate position. Whether she can pitch 90 mph fastballs or smack 350-foot home runs is not relevant; whether she can earn the trust and gain the cooperation of the players is.

      • After review, I can see where her lack of pro baseball experience could very well be relevant in earning trust. But, her time as an intern in the organization counts for something, and it most likely has lessened the impact of strike two as well.

  6. Alternative: this being San Francisco, having a female staffer is by itself something good for the team. The goal of her job might not be winning games, but selling tickets. Certainly a light duties coaching position to get more people in the stadium is not a bad thing. Especially compared to the alternative which would be messing with the team’s performance and/or chemistry by hiring some Kaepernick wannabe.

  7. Given what was described, this looks like a legit position.

    Did she get a boost because she’s a woman? Maybe. More likely, it was her time as an intern that helped tip the balance. After all, the Brewers hired Craig Counsell to replace Ron Roenicke when he was a front office assistant for a while.

    So, until proven otherwise, I’ll assume it’s legit.

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