Canzano: A letter... a bat... and a girl
A fourth grader questions the Oakland A's.
Gina Turturici, age 9, always loved going to baseball games at the Oakland Coliseum. The A’s were her father’s favorite team. She’d go to games sometimes in the 1970s and sit in the bleachers.
Tickets were $2.
Her father, Joe, was born to Sicilian immigrants. Dad liked to say he worked “behind the scenes” in the movie business. He was a projectionist, operating the movie projectors for a bunch of Bay Area theaters. Later, he landed work at the San Francisco Airport at Inflight Motion Pictures.
I have three daughters. I’ve written frequently about them. But it’s Joe’s daughter I want to tell you about today. Because Gina did something as a fourth grader in 1971 that I find bold and inspiring. Her dad must have been proud.
She wrote a letter to A’s owner Charles Finley.
Gina had gone to the Coliseum earlier that summer to see the A’s play. It happened to be “bat day.” The first 5,000 kids to come through the stadium gates would receive a commemorative green Oakland A’s baseball bat.
Except when Gina came through the turnstiles, she was informed by a staff member that the bats were to be given only to boys. No bats for girls. She’s all grown up now with two daughters of her own. But when I called Gina last week to talk about the bat she very clearly remembered how fired up she was about the mess.
“Obviously,” she said, “it made me upset enough to write a letter.”
As we spoke last week, Gina talked about growing up during the dawn of Title IX and raising two daughters of her own.
“I remember being told there were certain things a woman could be,” she said. “A teacher, a stewardess; everyone wanted to be a stewardess.”
Gina still has several drafts of her letter. The original went to Finley. She dug one up and sent it to me. The pen strokes capture her frustration. The edits demonstrate how serious she was about getting every detail right. In the letter, she professed her love of baseball and her allegiance to the A’s. She asked Finley an important question: “I want to know why you give bats and things to boys and not to girls?”
I shared a story with Gina, too. I told her about the Hillsboro Hops recent hire. The Arizona Diamondbacks Single-A affiliate named Ronnie Gajownik as manager for the upcoming baseball season. She’s just the second woman in history to be hired as the manager of a professional baseball team and the first to do it at the “high-A” classification.
Rachel Balkovec was the first woman put in charge of a pro club. She managed the Yankees Single-A affiliate in Tampa last season. On opening day, the home crowd chanted Balkovec’s name. I expect Gajownik may get the same treatment this season.
No bats for girls in 1971?
The entire dugout under the command of a woman in 2023?
Wrap your head around that today.
Gina Turturici is all grown up now. She went to college, earned a degree and works in education. She also volunteers as a court-appointed advocate for foster children. Joe passed a few years ago. But he did so knowing that he’d raised a daughter who looks out for others. Just the other day Gina was working in a high school classroom and tried to explain to the students how much has changed since she was a little girl.
“It was a sociology class,” she said. “The kids had no clue how different things are today.”
I try to explain to my three daughters how much has changed in the last 50 years. I tell them about my aunt Marlene, who went to college at Berkeley and became a teacher, then a successful school principal. And another aunt, who became an award-winning photographer at The New York Times. And I tell them about their mother, an immigrant from Taiwan who later won multiple Emmys as an investigative reporter and news anchor.
The victories are all around us, aren’t they?
I tell my kids about one of their grandmothers, who escaped communist China in a boat and became an entrepreneur in America. Their other grandmother — my mom — decided in her 40s that she wanted a career of her own. So she went to college and became a nurse.
Now, I’ll tell my children about Gina and that baseball bat, too.
In 1972, banks refused to count a wife’s salary toward qualifying for a home loan. A decade later, in 1982, Karen Horn became the first woman president in the Federal Reserve System.
The A’s changed their policy on giveaways before the 1972 season. They weren’t the only MLB team or business that had an awakening. I’d like to think Gina’s letter played a role in the decision, but nobody I spoke with could verify that. I’m sure Charlie Finley got a lot of letters in the 1970s.
A couple of years after writing that letter, Gina even got her hands on one of those green baseball bats. You know — the ones they only used to give to boys.
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So relate to this story as graduated here in Oregon in 1967.…had to wait until college to be an athlete as no high school sports. Couldn’t buy a car, a house, or open a credit card without a male signature. I went on to be a good college athlete, a teacher, a high school coach, a school administrator, and am so glad things have changed for girls and women.
We've come a long way, Baby, and have a long way to go.