Seeing Giants coach Alyssa Nakken take the field and make history — again — in San Francisco last week suddenly made it seem a little less theoretical to imagine another glass ceiling breaking.
How long can we be from seeing a woman manage in the majors?
“At some point, undoubtedly,” said Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins, who may one day be in position to make that choice. “I don’t think it’s a matter of ‘if.’ It’s probably a matter of ‘when.’
“I think that women have shown that they have the ability to be just as effective, if not more than men in the coaching ranks,” he added. “And that’s certainly part of the prerequisites to become a great manager: being able to impact players on the field. Women are doing that. Women are doing that in our organization and other organizations.
“Is it going to happen in the short term? Maybe. I’m not sure,” Hawkins said. “I can’t imagine that there’s any ceiling there.”
Until women such as Nakken, Cubs minor-league instructor Rachel Folden or the Yankees’ Rachel Balkovec and Red Sox’ Bianca Smith joined organizations as professional coaches in recent years, there clearly existed a low, hard glass ceiling for more than a century in professional baseball.
In front offices, it took until after the 2020 season for Kim Ng — a long-time executive for multiple teams and MLB’s central office, who was recognized as one of the best baseball minds in the game — for the Marlins to make her the first woman to run a major-league baseball department.
That was almost two decades after the “Moneyball” shift began toward hiring non-insider men with no on-field professional experience to run front offices.
The path to coaching jobs had been at least as daunting. Nakken became the first woman hired as a full-time big-league coach in 2020, and when called to replace the Giants’ ejected first-base coach in that game last week, she became the first to do so on the field for a regular-season big-league game.
That moment came four days after Balkovec won her season opener with the Single-A Tampa Tarpons as the first woman manager in affiliated professional baseball.
“It was already there,” Hawkins said of a pool of qualified on-field candidates that the industry largely ignored for so many years. “There were already great female coaches in softball and other areas, and baseball as well. For lack of a better term, we just broke the barrier.”
Coincidentally, Hawkins spoke to NBC Sports Chicago on the subject Friday, as MLB celebrated Jackie Robinson day and its imperfect, inconsistent and certainly incomplete history of racial integration.
Folden is in her third year with the Cubs, the hitting coach for their Arizona Complex League team that raked last season (and lead lab tech).
“At this point she’s one of our elite coaches with a really, really bright future,” Hawkins said. “And you forget about the fact that she’s a female. You just know that she helps our players get better.
“The more people are able to show their value that way, just the wider a pool we’re looking at as we’re going into these processes.”
So what’s next in the fast-changing landscape of gender equity in baseball — a landscape that essentially didn’t exist at all for more than a century?
And what about the kinds of barriers that already exist for many men with big-league managing aspirations, such as lack of big-league playing experience?
“I see that as an additive but not a requisite,” Hawkins said. “It’s about being able to relate to the players, about being able to show the player that you can help them become a better major league baseball player.
“Yeah, being able to say, ‘Hey, I was in your shoes,’ is certainly helpful in that conversation. But there’s a multitude of really, really successful major league managers who can’t say that.”
Six of the 30 current managers never played in the majors, including Joe Maddon, Buck Showalter and Brian Snitker, who have a combined seven Manager of the Year awards, three World Series appearances and two championships.
“To say that’s something that’s going to get in the way of a female candidate, I think that’d be short-sighted,” Hawkins said. “Really, it’s just looking at this bigger pool. We’re seeing it with more college coaches, just in terms of the male side, too.
“There’s so many guys that don’t have professional experience; they’re not coaching in the major leagues because people are reframing it to who can help our players be better,” he added.
“And when you ask that question, a lot of other things we thought were important start falling away.”
The NBA and NFL have seen gender barriers broken in coaching ranks in recent years, too.
“It’s like anything,” Hawkins said of that reaching the big-league managerial level. “It’ll take somebody kind of getting over that rubicon, getting over that barrier.
“There’s no legitimate reason why it shouldn’t happen.”