May 2, 2017
On Pitch, after Ginny Baker’s first successful start for the Padres, Joe Buck, moonlighting in the world of fiction, says, “Welcome to the big leagues, Ginny. We’ve been waiting for you.” And we have been. Only, we’ll have to wait a little longer for more. Fox has cancelled Pitch after one season. I will miss it dearly. Not just because it was a show that dramatized a world that I find to be a rich text, but because it took that rich text and decided to tell the story of a woman.
It was a show that took its protagonist and its audience seriously, without being self-serious. It allowed a woman to have workplace rivals and friends, to navigate the politics of her environment while also shaping them, to make mistakes and jokes, and to throw a baseball. She had and interacted with power. Kylie Bunbury inhabited Ginny with force and humanity. Mostly, she made Ginny Baker wonderfully real. She had anxieties and imperfections; we watched her work through moments of great self-doubt. But she also had ambition, and a voice, and the show was strongly committed to both. She was aware of her place and her responsibilities as the first woman to pitch in the majors, even if she wore that mantle uncomfortably at times. She was human, capable of triumph and of being crushed.
It wasn’t a perfect show; it had no idea how it felt about sabermetrics, or how to deploy them. Sometimes the baseball minutia was jumbled. It gave backstories to con man brothers and flailing tech executives we could have done without. And it dallied with a romance between Ginny and her much older catcher, Mike Lawson. But even in its low moments, the majority of its course corrections were instigated by Ginny’s desire to push forward on a path as much of her own making as any fifth starter’s could be. She was a ballplayer, and that mattered a great deal.
I had a professor who, when boiling down the complex ideas of Foucault and discursive regimes into something more manageable for 18-year-olds, liked to tell undergrads about the thinkability of a thought. You couldn’t conceive of going to the Moon before the Wright brothers took flight. You needed the Enlightenment to even think about the wonders of modernity. Sometimes we have to lay the groundwork for a thought; we must create the conditions under which the next thought emerges. Little girls and young women play baseball all over the world, but we are always searching for pictures of ourselves in the places we want most to be. That is why Pitch mattered to me and many other women and girls; it helped make another big thought thinkable.
In The Concept of Representation, Hanna Pitkin described descriptive representation, or a “standing for,” by saying, “It depends on the representative’s characteristics, on what he is or is like, on being something rather than doing something. The representative does not act for others; he “stands for” them, by virtue of a correspondence or connection between them, a resemblance or reflection (61).”
Among other things, it is an understanding of political representation that ascribes value to women being able to look to Congress and see other women representing them; to African Americans being able to see African Americans; Jews to see Jews, and so on. We should all be able to look up and see ourselves, because those folks “standing for” us help bring our concerns to the floor in a more certain and authentic way than others will. But there is another benefit; it helps us know it is possible for someone like us to stand for others. We come to believe that we are included because we see those like us included.
Pitch didn’t just matter as good TV; there’s a lot of good TV. There might be too much. It didn’t just matter as an often accurate portrayal of Major League Baseball, though it being convincing, and Ginny wearing a real Padres cap, certainly helped signal that Fox and MLB weren’t interested in something farcical. It mattered because there was a woman up there. It mattered because that kind of representation, even when it is fictional, helps to make real possibilities. It makes thoughts thinkable. It told little girls “yes.” It provides us with a resemblance; a reflection. Such a convincing imagining of what a woman’s experience in baseball might be like opens us up.
The decision to put Bunbury, a young black woman, at the center of this world was meaningful for all the women it purposely included who are so often neglected in baseball’s telling. The show seemed to know and embrace what and who it was representing. It wanted to tell a lot of different stories, and tell its main story from a few different angles. It made me feel like someday, my niece might be a part of baseball. Not as a fan or an executive or a member of the baseball ops department; but as someone whose name would go across my back and hers. The reflection made it thinkable.
And so I will miss Pitch because I will miss that feeling of seeing something of myself in the game I love. Come back to the big leagues soon, Ginny. We’ll be waiting for you.