Entrance into baseball's OLD-BOY club isn't easy, unless you know the password. "Coming in!" screams the general manager of the St. Catharines ( Ont.) Blue Jays. The password is a shout instead of a whisper to alert the players to take cover before the general manager comes storming into the clubhouse. The G.M. walks briskly past the locker room and directly into the coaches' office. A determined manager at odds with a stubborn groundskeeper is the G.M.'s crisis of the moment. The forecast calls for rain, and it seems that there are only four bags of Turface for the infield. Turface, smurface. The manager insists the team must take infield practice. The groundskeeper protests, refusing to lift a rake if the team sets foot on the infield. The G.M. says the team can warm up in the outfield. Turface preserved, manager placated, groundskeeper appeased.
Minutes later the G.M. is sitting in the dugout watching batting practice with the manager. They have known each other since the manager was an outfielder for the big league club in Toronto. They talk about tonight's game, mostly about the imminent rain, and banter a bit about the team's unconventional front office. "So how many general managers in baseball have radiant red hair?" the manager, J.J. Cannon, says. "And how many can you put your arm around during the national anthem?"
Not one comes to mind, of course, other than the one who has just elbowed Cannon in the side. Her name is Ellen Harrigan-Charles. From June to September, the months of the short-season Class A New York-Penn League, from morning till midnight, you can find her at Community Park in St. Catharines, a blue-collar city on Ontario's Niagara Peninsula.
In the world of baseball, hiring a female general manager is a fairly radical move. Even more revolutionary is the fact that Harrigan-Charles presides over the only all-female front office in professional sports.
Harrigan-Charles earned membership in the old-boy club because she paid her dues. Hired 11 years ago by parent-club Toronto as a junior secretary, she was promoted through the ranks and assumed her current position in 1990. A short time later, Harrigan-Charles brought in assistant general manager Marilyn Finn, who had been the promotions director of a local AM/FM station and cohost of a hard-rock morning show, and secretary Eleanor Bowman, whose son was the clubhouse manager, to form the all-female team.
Everyone in the minor leagues wants to make it to the Show, and Harrigan-Charles's aspirations match those of her players. "Knowing her from past years, I can say she's definitely a major league prospect," says Cannon. "A general manager? I don't know. I don't see why not as long as her baseball knowledge continues to grow." The question is posed to Toronto assistant general manager Gord Ash. "A number of men who are general managers don't have playing experience and have done very well," says Ash. "What it takes to be a general manager at the major league level is determination and hard work and the ability to learn, and that is not defined by sex."
"I want to get into the big leagues because that's the dream, right?" says Harrigan-Charles, who is 30. "But I don't want to be bumped up because I'm a woman, but because I have the tools."
St. Catharines' break from male tradition makes perfect sense to Cannon. "The Blue Jays are a very family-oriented team. Every family needs a mother," says Cannon. Harrigan-Charles gets real-life practice taking care of her 2�-year-old son, Justin, and her husband, Hilroy Charles, a baggage handler at the Toronto airport. Cannon contends that the G.M. both acts as a sort of team den mother and "makes the guys feel at home, especially with the language she uses. She has a mouth like a whip."
Says Ash, who is also Harrigan-Charles's former boss, "She has a clubhouse sense of humor." When asked to provide a pertinent anecdote, Ash declines. "I can't. They're all X-rated." All in good fun, of course.
Even though Harrigan-Charles is one of the guys, her players come to her for advice about the girls. "I look at them as my little brothers," she says. "A lot of times they just ask me questions about dating." And at times she plays the part of the nettlesome older sister. When she teases pitcher Adam Meinershagen about being named Hottest Player of the Month, the 19-year-old simply rolls his eyes.