Spring Training with Lynn Pasquerella--AKA "the Commish"

It's well known throughout the Mount Holyoke campus that President Lynn Pasquerella (pictured at right with Red Sox announcer Carl Beane, while wearing 2004 and 2007 World Series rings) is an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox and baseball. With spring training now underway, Questioning Authority asked the president about her lifelong love for the game, her dream job, and how she sees her team's prospects for the upcoming season.

Q: Your email address is commish@mtholyoke.edu, and you used "commish" at the University of Hartford before coming to Mount Holyoke. Where does that name come from?

A: During my interview for the position of provost at the University of Hartford, President Walter Harrison and I had an engaging conversation regarding a vision for higher education and how we might work together to enact that vision. It was clear from the first time I met Walt that his leadership style operates in seamless integration with his principles. He not only espouses the tenets of academic excellence, access, integrity, and respect for others, he demonstrates them through his commitment to community. I was thrilled at the prospect of collaborating with a leader whose values I share. However, the liveliest part of the discussion occurred after we turned to a debate over which one of us would make a better commissioner of baseball. As soon as I was hired, I took the email handle “commish” just to remind Walt of my position on the matter. He immediately emailed me and said, “I can’t believe you actually did this. Now I have to eat my heart out every time I send you an email.”

When I came to Mount Holyoke, I decided to keep “commish” as a way of reminding myself of the significance of both collegiality and humor in daily interactions with others. What I learned from Walt is that while the duties of a college president are tremendous, in carrying out these responsibilities, there is nothing more important than the authenticity and humanity one brings to this role.

Q: Did you play baseball or softball while growing up or for a school team?

A: Unfortunately, I grew up prior to Title IX in a small town in which girls were not allowed to play baseball. I remember writing an essay in eighth grade that called for an end to gender discrimination in the sport. I was reading Jim Bouton’s Ball Four at the time and could picture myself in the world of baseball even if those enforcing the policies could not. Despite Title IX’s impact on the participation of women and girls in athletics, there was no specific mandate that girls be allowed to participate in baseball. This is because softball is considered a comparable sport. Though I wasn’t successful in petitioning my way onto any of the boys’ teams in high school, I took advantage of every opportunity to play pickup games in the neighborhood. It turned out to be good practice for when I became chair of the philosophy department at the University of Rhode Island. In response to a challenge from some colleagues, I instituted an annual softball competition with the political science department. We always drew large crowds of students, but I suspect the major attraction was to see which professors would actually survive.

Q: Professor Martha Ackmann wrote a great book about Toni Stone, the first woman to play professional baseball in the Negro League. Do you foresee a time when women will play Major League Baseball with men?

A: I loved Martha’s book. Together with recent works by Marilyn Cohen and Jennifer Ring, she presents a remarkable and stunning challenge to traditional narratives around baseball. The scholarship of all three of these authors reveals that women and girls have been playing baseball for as long as the game has been around. The fact that their stories have been removed from baseball’s history reinforces the scope of the challenges faced by women who have attempted to break down barriers within the game. Women like Toni Stone, “Peanut” Johnson, Connie Morgan and members of teams called the “Bloomer Girls,” formed across the country in the early days of baseball to compete against men’s teams, provide evidence that women can play baseball alongside men. The determining factor is whether cultural norms and social pressures will ever allow participation to take place in a way that benefits women without imposing overriding burdens. In the same way I could imagine myself in Little League before girls were allowed to play, I can envision a time in the future when women will play with men in major league baseball.

Q: If you were the commissioner of Major League Baseball, what changes would you make?

A: I would work with the MLB players union to extend the designated hitter rule to the National League and expand instant replay for use at the umpire’s discretion. I definitely would have let umpire Jim Joyce off the hook and awarded Armando Galarraga a perfect game after Joyce’s blown call last season. I would also examine the current regulations regarding eligibility for Major League Baseball. There is a need to review the development of players in Caribbean and South American countries. Despite recent reforms, there still evidence of abuse of young men there.

Q: It's no secret you're one of the biggest Red Sox fans on campus. How do you like the team's prospects for the upcoming season? How do think they'll fare against their arch-rivals, the Yankees? Do you see another World Series title in Boston's future?

If the team can remain injury free, they will end up in the World Series this season. The Sox have made some fantastic acquisitions during the off season, including three-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres and Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford, who brings both defensive strength and much-needed speed. At the same time, Boston has added pitchers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler to the bullpen. Equally important to the Fenway Faithful is the fact that the Yankees lost their bid for Cliff Lee, who signed with the Phillies. Given the strength of the Red Sox lineup, I’m not worried about the Yankees this year. I suspect that the Phillies will be the team to beat, and I have no doubts that the Sox are up to the task.

Q: Besides the Sox, what other baseball team(s) do you like? Who are your favorite players?

A: Now that’s a softball question! Any member of Red Sox Nation has two favorite teams–the Red Sox and whoever beats the Yankees. Overall, I love the aesthetics of baseball and enjoy watching any team play, even if, as in the case of the Yankees, it is just to see them lose.

My favorite players are Big Papi, Youk!!!!, Tek, Pedroia, Wake.... I can’t wait to see how Gonzalez and Crawford add to the team.

Q: Lastly, is it true all future new faculty must pledge allegiance to the Red Sox before being hired?

A: It helps, but I’d probably have trouble getting a policy through HR. I do call out faculty and staff on campus for wearing Yankees caps, yet they don’t seem the least bit intimidated.