I don’t know what I expected the first woman calling a baseball game for my favorite team 145 years after their founding to sound like, but Beth Mowins made it sound easy - like of course it was the most natural thing in the world that a woman would call the Cubs games on Mother’s Day weekend in 2021. It was as inevitable as a Willson Contreras scoring on a lazy popup to shallow center [VIDEO].
And just like that Beth Mowins was calling play-by-play for the Chicago Cubs.
The list of women calling play-by-play in MLB is tiny relative to the history of the game. Mowins joins Gayle Gardner, Jenny Cavnar and Suzyn Waldman as women who have taken on the play-by-play in baseball television. That’s it. That’s the list.
In a particularly poignant pre-game interview Marquee Sports Network’s Taylor McGregor asked Mowins where she got the courage to persist in play-by-play given all the naysayers (we’ll get to them in a minute) and Mowins’ answer was perfection. She recalled asking her mother if she could do that job as an adult and her mother’s simple answer “Yes, you can.”
“If there were any naysayers, I just said, ‘Well, you know what, my mom told me that I could, so I’m gonna go ahead and pursue that.’”@bethmowins will make history when she becomes the first woman to to call a Cubs' regular season game. pic.twitter.com/OhfmHgo1to— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 8, 2021
The vast majority of the fan reactions I saw were positive. Congratulations and recognition of the historical nature of the moment poured in across social media:
I personally thought Mowins did an outstanding job. As she predicted when she joined Andi Cruz Vanecek and me for our Cuppa Cubbie Blue podcast in March, her and Jim Deshaies had a lot to talk about. They are both about the same age and hail from upstate New York. If you got the impression they had an easy rapport, that might have had something to do with it.
Mowins also nailed the fan aspect of the job, which is hard to do coming from a national platform that generally requires more objectivity. My personal favorite moment was on Sunday as the Cubs finally got something going in the ninth. With two outs Javier Báez stepped into the on deck circle as the possible game-winning run. Beth immediately said “Oh boy, oh boy, Javy’s in the on-deck circle” with all the energy of a seasoned Cubs fan. JD had to reel her in a bit with a gentle reminder that the Cubs needed Ildemaro Vargas to get on base for Javy to have a chance. I couldn’t quite get the clip of the lead up, but listen to her call of Vargas’ double. It doesn’t get much better than this [VIDEO].
It wasn’t all perfect, but even the mistakes errored towards fandom, which is a great way to endear yourself to fans of the home team. Kris Bryant hit a ball hard to left center in the bottom of the fifth during Saturday’s game that might have been a home run on a warmer day. You could hear the excitement in Beth’s voice at the crack of the bat and the disappointment as Wilmer Difo tracked the ball down on the warning track. Half of my Twitter feed was filled with comments that were similarly disappointed the ball wasn’t out.
But it wasn’t all celebratory — women making history rarely is. Across social media there were also a lot of comments like these from a Facebook group I’m in:
In 2018 when Cavnar made her debut calling play-by-play in a guest spot for the Rockies Britni de la Cretaz wrote an outstanding deep dive for The Ringer on the lack of women calling play-by-play. I’d recommend you read the whole thing, but I kept thinking about Waldman’s comments to Cretaz as Mowins and the Cubs joined that tiny list of teams and women on Saturday to a mostly positive reception with a decidedly hostile undertone:
Broadcasting has long been a male-dominated industry, and as such, women trying to break through face unique challenges—and criticisms. Many women in this field are terrified of making a mistake and giving ammunition to critics who say women can’t do the role well; they feel they need to be 10 times better to be considered one-tenth as good. When a man makes a mistake on a broadcast, it’s just something that happens, he misspoke. When a woman makes a mistake, it’s often used as proof that she’s in over her head or not good enough for the job. That type of attitude is held by many of the people at home watching the game, and it can also extend to others in the press box. “Every time I made a mistake in anything, from 1987 on, it was in the paper,” Waldman says. “Every single time.”
Mowins herself spoke to Cretaz for that piece and her levelheaded answer and perspective gives a lot of insight into why she is such a perfect person to blaze this trail in Chicago:
“The role doesn’t necessarily come natural to a lot of women, especially younger women. We’re not always the most comfortable in those leadership roles,” Mowins says, and her claim is largely backed up by sociological research on voice and gender. Research has shown that both men and women prefer leaders with masculine—i.e. lower-pitched—voices. It’s been found that women today also speak at a deeper pitch than their mothers and grandmothers did. As power dynamics between men and women shift and more and more women enter the workplace, their voices are beginning to mimic men’s. For some women, that might be intentional. Scott tells me that at the beginning of her career, she thought a lot about how she could “stay in the lower register” of her voice: “I’m just trying to match the tone and register of my analyst as much as I can [when I work with a male analyst].”
Some of you commented on this in the game threads, noting that Mowins sounds a lot like the basketball analyst Doris Burke. That similarity isn’t an accident, it’s replicating a tone and space where women have found more acceptance in this role.
Whether the dissenters approve or not, Mowins’ debut was a success. We underestimate how important it is to believe a career is possible and how difficult it is to imagine yourself in a role that no one like you has held.
Young girls who are fans of the Chicago Cubs will never have to wonder if a career as a baseball play-by-play analyst is possible for them. Mowins demonstrated the answer as clearly as her mom stated it all those year’s ago: “Yes, you can.”