MLB, in memo, rebukes clubs for ‘unacceptable’ workplace facilities for women employees

In a pointed letter to teams last week, Major League Baseball said numerous clubs’ stadiums “fall embarrassingly below the high standards” necessary for women who are part of the game’s traveling parties to do their jobs, create an “untenable working environment” and that organizations soon must reconfigure their facilities to fix what the league deemed “unacceptable,” according to a copy of the memo obtained by ESPN on Thursday.

The letter, sent May 20 by MLB senior vice president of on-field operations Michael Hill to general managers, assistant general managers and some ballpark-operations staff, highlighted the issues a wide array of women — including coaches, trainers, analysts, translators, mental-health professionals, massage therapists, player-development employees and others — face because of substandard facilities. MLB regulations laid out in a March 16, 2021, memo require that women staffers for home and road teams receive a clean locker room space that is close to the main clubhouse, is private and includes a restroom and shower.

“Over the first six weeks of the season,” the memo said, “it has become clear that a number of Clubs are not in compliance with these requirements, particularly with respect to hosting women on visiting teams.”

The memo echoed the sentiments of multiple women affected by the substandard facilities who spoke with ESPN on the condition they not be named. Because they often must walk to other areas of the stadium to go to the bathroom, the women said, they spend a disproportionate amount of time planning trips to other areas of the stadium, hindering their ability to be accessible to players and staff. One woman said a female colleague’s response when someone asks her what the most difficult part of her job is: “Finding the bathroom.”

Beyond the logistical issues of restrooms and work spaces, the women said, are ones of belonging. Female traveling employees often are placed in auxiliary media areas, rooms designed to hold visiting families or other spaces far from the main locker room — places that are entirely separate from the close quarters of a clubhouse in which teams congregate. A long-term goal, multiple women said, is to eventually start a conversation about the use of clubhouse space and the possibility of reimagining it to help mitigate such issues.

While some women in the game have stewed silently about the inequity, sources said, others registered concerns with the league about the facilities at multiple stadiums, prompting MLB’s issuance of the memo. Somewhere between a dozen and two dozen women are believed to regularly travel and use stadium facilities, though not all 30 teams have women in their traveling parties, according to sources.

“It is unacceptable that women who are traveling as part of the visiting team are not afforded accommodations that permit them to do their jobs at the same level as their male colleagues and counterparts,” the league’s memo said. “Many Clubs’ female facilities fall embarrassingly below the high standards befitting a member of a visiting traveling party of a Major League organization. They also create an untenable working environment for women, some of whom are now choosing not to travel to certain cities with their Club on the road. Clubs that do not provide appropriate workplace accommodations for personnel regardless of gender violate MLB regulations, directly deprive women of equal access to participate in our great game, and discourage qualified women from participating in baseball roles traditionally held by men.”

Though Alyssa Nakken, the San Francisco Giants’ assistant hitting coach, is the only woman on a major league coaching staff, others in different roles travel with teams and require access to facilities. More than a half-dozen women have full-time coaching positions with minor league teams, including Rachel Balkovec, the manager of the New York Yankees’ Single-A affiliate Tampa. Minor league teams, whose stadiums pale in size and scope compared to those of major league teams, are expected to similarly accommodate women, according to a league official. In a number of minor league stadiums, sources said, one room is set aside for all women involved in games, potentially leading to situations in which employees from both teams and an umpire would be forced to share the space.

Plenty of big league stadiums, women in traveling parties told ESPN, do not provide facilities conducive to their jobs. In one case, a source said, the bathroom next to the dugout did not include a lock, prompting a female employee to have the door opened multiple times while she was using the room.

The gold standard, they said, is at the Texas Rangers’ stadium, Globe Life Field, which opened in 2020 and planned for spaces in the main clubhouse large enough for multiple women and include a private bathroom and shower.

MLB did not outline any potential repercussions for teams that don’t abide by the regulations, but in the memo, it asked teams to provide detailed floor plans, descriptions and photographs of potential changes by June 3.

“We understand that space constraints in some ballparks may limit Clubs’ ability to adhere to these requirements,” the memo said. “However, we expect all Clubs to make the necessary sacrifices in order to provide satisfactory facilities to all female staff.”