How the A’s touring secretary helped blow up MLB’s barrier to girls reporters
In every step forward, in every struggle for equality, there are allies to help pave the way. Some are well known, others have comeo roles throughout history.
I recently learned that someone I’ve known for decades, an integral part of the Bay Area sports scene, plays a quiet part in such a fight. And then in my ability to do my own job.
Mickey Morabito, one of the longest-serving sports workers in the area, is the traveling secretary of the A. But before arriving in Oakland, he was a key figure in what is perhaps the most iconic struggle women sports reporters waged to find equal employment.
“I was definitely involved in a point that brought things to the fore,” said Morabito.
Let’s turn the clock back to the mid-1970s, when a young Morabito became the public relations director for the world’s most famous sports team due to the sudden resignation of his boss.
The New York Yankees of the late ’70s were filled with larger-than-life characters, soap opera drama, and amazing talent. In the heyday of newspapers, they were covered by dozens of outlets: all of them competitive male journalists.
Save for one.
Melissa Ludtke was a young reporter at Sports Illustrated who was assigned to the baseball beat in 1977. Mostly a fact checker, she also had writing assignments and received a baseball press pass. She wanted to learn as much about baseball as possible, so she would regularly escape her desk in the Time & Life Building in Manhattan to cover Yankees games in the Bronx.
Despite her eligibility, she did not get the same access as her male colleagues. She wasn’t allowed to where the players practically all conducted their interviews: in the clubhouse. Instead, she usually waited in vain in the dugout before games, hoping a player would show up who had vaguely agreed to chat. She didn’t have post-game access when the players are closest.
“I wanted to learn how to do the job,” said Ludtke. “I wanted to propose and write stories. But I had to make requests for players. It got boring, sitting in the dugout and just not knowing if a player would show up. “
Ludtke knew that it didn’t have to be like that. In her own city, Jane Gross reported on the NBA’s New York Knicks and Robin Herman reported on the NHL’s New York Rangers. A change was underway in other sports leagues, but baseball was most firmly embedded in the tradition.
“It wasn’t that I was looking to achieve this,” said Ludtke. “It becomes apparent pretty quickly that you need access to get the job done.”
She explained her frustrations to Morabito, in contrast to the older, dismissive men who normally held his position on baseball teams. Morabito understood that in the 1970s the old ways changed for good.
“I mean, it was kind of amazing,” said Morabito. “It wasn’t the 50s or 60s. It was in the late 1970s. “
So he helped be the change.
There was a main entrance in the clubhouse with a guard that all reporters had to pass through to enter. But there was also a side door to a hallway near Manager Billy Martin’s office. After the games, Morabito started meeting Ludtke at the side door and giving her access to Martin’s office. Martin had no problem with Ludtke being there. He put on his cowboy boots, lit a cigar, and persevered.
“I would sit and listen and other reporters would go back and forth from the clubhouse and ask Billy about something a player said, so I learned a lot about what was going on in the clubhouse,” Ludtke said. “I was a graduate. I felt like I was making progress. People got used to seeing me.
“I was incredibly grateful to Mickey for making it possible.”
For the final two regular season games, Morabito left their full qualifications and had clubhouse access. Gradualist Ludtke used them, but deliberately conducted interviews before the game if the players did not switch to avoid creating waves. Nobody said anything. Nobody wrote a story about a woman who infiltrated the clubhouse. None of the male reporters disagreed.
“They mostly ignored me,” she said.
After beating Kansas City in the American League Championship Series, the Yankees advanced to the World Series, where they would face their historic rival, the Dodgers. Ludtke thought she should cheer up the Dodgers to cover the series.
“There was nothing on my passport that said, ‘If you’re a woman, you have to check with the club,” she said, “but maybe because I was a woman, I did the’ Mother can I ‘thing. “
The day before the series, a day of media access, she spoke to manager Tommy Lasorda, who passed it on to team player representative Tommy John. The man, whose name would become synonymous with elbow surgery, listened carefully, then said he needed to speak to his teammates. The next day before Game 1, he informed her that the team had voted: It was not unanimous, but the majority agreed that she could do her job. He asked her to hunt down Dodgers’ PR guy Steve Brener and pass the gist of their conversation on.
“Again, I wasn’t obliged to, but I think, because I’m a good girl, I looked for him and told him what happened,” said Ludtke.
Ludtke remembers how Brener looked shocked and hurried away. She sat down in the additional press box in the stands. In the fifth inning, she heard her name over the loudspeaker and was told to report to the main press box.
“It sounds naive, but I didn’t know why I was outsourced,” she said.
In the press compartment, Major League Baseball spokesman Bob Wirz, who reported directly to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, was crammed with Brener and Morabito. As Ludtke recalls, Morabito couldn’t even look her in the face when he told her the news: She was denied access to the clubhouse.
“They let Mickey tell me what the meanest thing they could have done,” said Ludtke. “Here was the only person who gave me breaks in a city that was crazy for this team and tried their best to make it work.”
For the person who had seen Ludtke at work, it seemed nonsensical.
“We had everything set up,” said Morabito. “And Bob Wirz just walked in and outvoted us.
“I told him, ‘Bob, you open a can of worms.'”
Morabito was right. The worm can was pried open within a few days.
Ludtke did as she was told and only attended the post-game press conference in Games 1 and 2. When the team flew to Los Angeles for Games 3, 4 and 5, Ludtke returned to her office without mentioning the uncomfortable situation to her editor because what happened to her – denying the rights granted by her press card – was the norm for women.
But the New York sports world was small, and its editor got wind of the situation. Time, Inc. attorneys soon got involved and spoke to Commissioner Kuhn’s office.
When the Yankees returned home for Game 6, there was a “deal”. MLB hired Ludtke with a PR person and assured her that she would bring any player she wanted to speak to in the hallway in front of the clubhouse.
“They thought it was ‘the same’,” she said. “I agreed, but only in protest. I told them it wasn’t going to work. “
The Yankees won that game and the series, and Reggie Jackson hit three home runs. Ludtke was in front of the clubhouse in a concrete tunnel full of people screaming and screaming. She was pressed against a wall. No questions she asked could be heard. She said, of course, that she wanted to speak to Jackson. She was brought in with Fran Healy, a backup catcher who hadn’t played, and another player. After an hour and 45 minutes, Jackson came out on the way to Manhattan and said, “Sorry Melissa, I’ve already said all I have to say.”
She wrote a letter and shared her experience. Time, Inc. hired an outside attorney and filed a lawsuit in December with Ludtke as the plaintiff. The lawsuit was heard in April and ruled in favor of Ludtke in September. Although Baseball appealed, the verdict was upheld. Until the 1978 World Series, again with the Yankees versus the Dodgers, women reporters legally had full access.
“If the commissioner’s office hadn’t been so backward, it would probably have delayed everything,” said Morabito. “But they set foot, so Sports Illustrated filed the lawsuit.”
In reality, the struggle for equality and equal treatment of reporters has lasted for years and still flares up occasionally in the 21st century.
But Ludtke’s role in the fight didn’t last long. In late 1979 she switched to reporting, first at CBS News and then Time Magazine, before moving to Massachusetts, writing books, raising her daughter and working for the Nieman Foundation at Harvard. She lives in Cambridge, is a climate change activist and writes a book about her struggle for equal access: less a memory than taking the moment to step into a bigger story.
Morabito left the Yankees in 1980 after Martin, the new manager of the Oakland A’s, called and said, “Hey, there are no employees out here, come and help me.” Morabito asked Yankee’s owner George Steinbrenner for a raise, received the predictable “no,” resigned, and headed west, where he has been for 40 years.
Now he sees reporters in the clubhouse all the time. The A’s have been featured by female reporters for years, including Susan Slusser of The Chronicle, who has been in tact since the late 1990s.
Does he see a small part of his own legacy when he walks through a room where reporters work?
“Yes, I’m thinking about the historical aspect,” said Morabito. “It would have happened at some point.
“I then told them, ‘This is going to blow you up.'”
It did. And my younger self took note. And found a career.
Ann Killion is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @annkillion