Hey, Bud, I’ve got a question for you.
That’s Bud as in Allan H. Selig, the Commissioner of baseball. When are we going to get the next female baseball scout?
You’ve sponsored initiatives to bring baseball back to the inner cities. You’ve made sure minorities are hired for front office and managerial positions. You’ve made sure that players from South America, Asia, and the Caribbean all have places on the playing fields of MLB.
And all of that is fine.
But when is baseball going to hire its next female scout? It hasn’t had one since 1952. Isn’t that long enough?
Let’s not let Edith Houghton’s death pass without the notice her life deserves.
Houghton died on Feb. 2, just eight days shy of turning 101. By all accounts, she wasn’t baseball’s first female scout, but she was its last.
“We have been talking about this all day,” Frank Marcos, senior director of MLB’s Scouting Bureau, told Paul Vitello of the New York Times after news of Houghton’s death circulated. “Making calls to clubs all over the country, and we know of no other part-time or full-time women scouts in baseball since then.
“Would I like to change that? Darn right!”
And let’s be clear here. We’re not talking about MLB’s advance scouts. The ones you see clustered behind home plate, comparing radar gun readings, sipping cool beverages, and flying around the country ahead of their teams, providing insight into what terrors lurk ahead.
We’re talking about the guys who beat the bushes for unclaimed talent, traveling thousands of miles over endless hours by car from one little town to another, hoping that the next stop will reveal the next Larry Wayne Jones.
It’s never been called a glamorous life, but even so, shouldn’t it be open to everyone?
Edith Houghton actually began her professional baseball career at the age of 10 as a shortstop for the Philadelphia Bobbies. That was a factory team made up of much older women (all of her teammates were at least 16) who all wore their hair in the “bob” style of the day.
Little Edith was so small that she had to punch extra holes in her belt with a pen knife, tighten her cap with a safety pin, and form-fit her uniform with string.
“They asked my mother if I could play,” Houghton told Doug Fernandes of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on the occasion of her 100th birthday. “My Mom said, ‘Go ahead!’ We got paid very little. I don’t even remember what we got paid.”
That’s because she loved baseball. “I guess I was born with a baseball in my hand or something,” she told Fernandes. “I enjoyed it more than anything.
And she could play. An account from a Lancaster, Pa. newspaper declared that “Little Miss Houghton, a 10-year-old phenom, covered the ground at shortstop for the team and made herself a favorite with fans for her splendid field work and at the bat.”
When she was 13, her team toured Japan on a two-month barnstorming tour, earning the incredible sum of $800 per game. Over 20,000 fans watched the first game in Yokohama. “They were so surprised,” Houghton told Fernandes. “They didn’t know what to expect.”
The uniform that Houghton wore on that trip remains on permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
After returning from Japan, Houghton played from 1925-1931 for the New York Bloomer Girls, the top women’s team of the ‘20s.
She then spent a year with the Hollywood Girls of Boston. With the Great Depression and advent of radio, interest in women’s baseball declined. Reluctantly, Houghton turned to professional softball.
She enrolled in the Navy in World War II and played for the Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (WAVES) team.
But she made her biggest splash after the war. In 1946, she marched into the office of Phillies owner Bob Carpenter, her bulging baseball scrapbook in hand, and talked him into a scouting job.
Bessie Largent had worked as a White Sox scout for many years with her husband, Roy. But Houghton always made the distinction that she worked on her own for the Phillies from 1946 to 1952. She signed 15 or 16 players, but none ever reached the major leagues.
In a 1946 interview with The Sporting News, she explained what she looked for: “First of all, look for size. Players must be big, and they must be fast. But they must be able to hit. I learned in my baseball career that you can’t steal first base.
“It isn’t hard to pick them out. You look for natural ability. The rest comes with training.”
Her scouting career ended when she was recalled into service during the Korean War. She served until 1964, retiring as a Chief Petty Officer.
Looking back on her baseball career, she offered Fernandes a perfect summation:
“I was doing something I liked to do.”
Isn’t it high time another woman got the same chance?
Denton Ashway is a contributing columnist for The Times. His columns appear each Thursday.