The distinctly White, male, and rural image cultivated by baseball in the nineteenth century was used to justify the exclusion of those to whom the game did not "belong," especially women and African Americans. Despite several attempts to integrate baseball racially, change would have to wait for Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis's 1944 death and the return of Black World War II veterans unwilling to tolerate segregation. Women, on the other hand, have never played regular season, major league ball in the United States. Professional women's leagues flourished during World War II and a handful of females have played in exhibition games and the minor leagues, but their opportunities continue to be limited to softball at college and amateur levels.
Janene Gordon became one of the first female U.S. Postal Inspectors in 1971. She later wore this T-shirt (pictured above) to play in the San Francisco Division's softball tournament.
Front and back of mail “Handlers” softball team T-shirt, circa 1982-1985
Loan from Janene Gordon
Recreational softball played a unique role in a US Postal Inspection Service investigation. During the early 1980s, Postal Inspector Janene Gordon worked an extended undercover assignment with the mission of identifying drug dealers and users. Her cover was that of a USPS mail handler. To further legitimize her standing with co-workers during her assignment in San Diego, California, she joined an employee softball team called the “Handlers.” This is the jersey she wore while on the team and the back of the shirt included her undercover name, “Teri.” Being part of the softball team helped cement her “cover” and gather evidence. The investigative work of Gordon and others in a multi-city operation resulted in the prosecution of dozens of individuals for selling drugs to postal employees.
The New York Metro Area chapter of the American Postal Workers Union sponsored a women's softball league and awarded this trophy.
For nearly a century, everyday objects carried imagery emphasizing baseball's supposedly American, rural, and White origins. In reality, the game has worldwide roots and has always drawn much of its vitality from cities and from immigrants.
Chief curator Daniel Piazza shares intimate knowledge, little-known facts and secrets about the stories told in “Baseball: America’s Home Run,” highlighting some of the spectacular objects on display, including discussions with key lenders to the exhibition on artifacts never-before displayed for pubic view.