Monday, November 15, 2021

Ellen Lindner's Lost Diamonds Part One

Anyone who's read this blog over the years knows how much I've enjoyed Ellen Lindner's evolution as a cartoonist. One of the things I find most interesting about her work is her devotion to baseball, and in particular, her research into the role of women (or female-presenting people, as she notes) in the history of the game. Lost Diamonds is subtitled "A History Of Gender Rebellion In American Baseball," and she examines this through a particular critical lens. Rather than accept the premise that there are no female baseball players, she instead asks the question: "Why aren't there any female baseball players? What structures have prevented this from happening?"

Baseball is one of the few sports, even today, where women don't play it at any organized level other than Little League, and even that took a number of lawsuits. The only other sport where that's the case is American football, and even that has been slowly changing on a high school level, albeit in fits and starts. Sure, there's softball, but it's not the same sport. Lindner makes the case that the same individuals and forces who conspired against being inclusive of women with regard to baseball were the same ones who banned black players from major league baseball for close to sixty years. They wanted to keep it white and male, and they even created narratives around this idea and propagated it through the press and the very companies that created baseball-related products. 

Indeed, Lindner notes that the origins of baseball date back to the 1700s and were both imported from Europe and combined with extant indigenous ball-and-stick games. It's just that the ball-and-stick games played in Europe were often played by women and sometimes by all genders together. Baseball became a national obsession in the US and drew interest from everyone. Just as there were well-known male barnstorming teams that went from town-to-town, so too there were women's teams, including one out of Philadelphia that was all black women. Racist press coverage diminished their nationwide appeal. At the same time, baseball teams started popping up on all-women's colleges in the northeast US. The forces that propagated the idea that baseball was "invented" by Abner Doubleday instead of being a comglomeration of many different but similar games became reified as a way of making baseball the exclusive province of white men. 

Lindner also notes that the fashion of wearing corsets, giving women extremely restricted movement, didn't help during the late 19th century. Narratives about the "fragility" of women propagated through the press also didn't help. Through it all, Lindner inserts herself as an amiable narrator, gently guiding the reader through a great deal of historical injustice with a smile. However, she's unsparing with regard to the facts, and she wields that historical record (and the attempts to alter this narrative) like a slugger. Lindner's strength as an artist has always been her skill in drawing clothing and fashion, especially from different historical eras. That's on full display here, and the blue wash adds to that sense of this being a historical document. 

This is a fascinating piece of comics journalism, and it's striking that there aren't more of these kinds of comics when it comes to sports. Sports has its share of built-in narratives with regard to the games themselves, but the behind-the-scenes events and the weird characters in the game make it an incredibly easy transfer for comics. I hope Lindner is able to eventually get a book out of this. 

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