With the fictionalized A League Of Their Own, Penny Marshall introduced the masses to the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League with an entertaining film that acknowledged women had a history in organized baseball that was worthy of celebration. Now, producers Dan Fogelman (Grandfathered) and Rick Singer are looking to tell a story about the future of women in baseball with Pitch, an upcoming Fox drama that will focus on a young woman (Ginny, played by Kylie Bunbury) who’s in the midst of breaking in to the major leagues. It’s a story that needs to be told in an effort to inspire change (not just the idea that a woman can play Major League Baseball, but that organized baseball should be more open to female athletes from the bottom to the top), but telling it in a way that works won’t be without its difficulties.
Based on the trailer, Pitch wants to look authentic. That’s why producers have brought in former baseball players like C.J. Nitkowski and Gregg Olson as technical advisors, and it’s why they’ve teamed up with Major League Baseball. That partnership will ensure that Ginny’s story will be told in an MLB uniform (the San Diego Padres) and in a major league stadium (Petco Park).
But will that same relationship limit the show’s ability to take the story to uncomfortable places? In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Fogelman indicated he isn’t interested in telling “massively controversial” stories. He then referenced The West Wing, noting that Pitch is not “Playmakers set in [the] MLB,” or “about scandal,” and said that he wanted to create, “a loving portrayal” with Pitch.
It’s notable that both The West Wing and Playmakers come up. The former found success as candy-coated counter-programming during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the latter (a show that often embraced the more troubling aspects of pro football life ) got cancelled by ESPN with an executive saying at the time that the network was, “not in the business of antagonizing our partner,” referring to the NFL. A clear response to the show’s predilection for telling stories that featured performance enhancing drugs, domestic abuse, and gun violence.
These circumstances are different, but their existence in the conversation raises questions about the stated direction and partners of this show and if they’re going to combine for the right take on this story. Because steering clear of scandal can mean a lot of things.
Professional sports leagues have struggled to project a believable message of tolerance and respect toward women (and other groups) due to the actions of several players. It’s hard to believe that the current climate in professional sports wouldn’t pose a serious challenge if a woman were to attempt what Ginny is attempting in Pitch. That shouldn’t be hidden. In fact, it should be confronted repeatedly, even if it won’t be comfortable to watch (for audiences or Major League Baseball).
A show like Pitch has to remind its audience what they’re fighting against, lest it trivialize the accomplishment. Pitch owes it to its prospective audience and the women it hopes to inspire to reflect on the hard climb that a female athlete like Mo’Ne Davis, Melissa Mayeux, or the next top female prospect will face if they try to pull off this breakthrough for real. That means dealing with the stresses, both physical and emotional, head on. And maybe Fogelman and Singer have all that in mind and this hand-wringing is all needless. I hope so because it will be important for the show to stay grounded for the protagonist’s successes to seem rich, appealing, and truly inspirational — a blueprint, not a fairytale.
Pitch is set to premiere on Fox next season.