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In the hiatus between the World Series and spring training Maryanne Ellison Simmons has had the time and the peace to muse on the experience of watching her husband, Ted, the Milwaukee Brewers' catcher, play in and lose the first World Series of his 13-year major league career.
Like most of the events of her married life, a misunderstood amalgam of privilege and deprivation, the Series was bittersweet, and Simmons shared it with the readers of her magazine, The Waiting Room, a quarterly publication she founded last May so that women in professional baseball could share their particular joys and pains.
The November issue, like the two that preceded it, contained a potpourri of poignant, wry and witty stories and snippets, some philosophical and some practical, most of them written by Simmons and Marsha Carver Littell, another baseball wife. Interspersed amid the copy, some of which was garnered from the answers to a questionnaire sent to 100 women whose lives in baseball spanned the period from 1933 to the present, were vibrant black-and-white photographs and cartoons. The typography was elegant, the paper glossy and the finished product rather like a sophisticated annual report, a testimony to Simmons' talent as an artist. She earned a bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of Michigan before deferring to her husband's career.
The magazine began taking shape in Simmons' mind in 1979 when her husband was with St. Louis and she wrote a booklet of advice for the young wives of Cardinal players. More recently she began noting the similarities between baseball wives and corporate wives. Both were expected to be seen and not heard, to be well-groomed and well-dressed, to serve their husbands' careers rather than develop their own, to uproot their families smilingly with each career move and to consider themselves blessed because they had big houses and fancy cars.
The difference, Simmons believed, was that corporate wives tended to be older and better able to cope with reflected fame, and that the corporations their husbands worked for had shown increasing sensitivity to family stresses while sports executives, as a rule, had not. She hoped that The Waiting Room—named for the areas set aside in ball parks in which wives and children wait while the players dress, hold interviews and sign autographs—would be a forum in which her peers could sound off, seek solace and find solutions to their problems.
"Eleven years. Twenty-nine moves. Fourteen cities. Nine different states," is how one active player's wife described her life. Another wrote, "...one of the major moving companies just offered me a job as a packer, and I don't think [the company] was being facetious." "...when my husband said he'd be gone a lot, I had no idea how much 'a lot' really means," said a third.
A woman who married into baseball in 1933 and who had a baby while her husband was off playing, wrote matter-of-factly that "...he couldn't come home. The baby didn't live." A woman who joined the baseball community in 1971 offered an eerie echo. "We have two children," she wrote. "One was born while we were in college. The second was born in 1976, and my husband was able to be with me. A third child died at birth, and my husband was in Seattle."
The most piercing commentary, which is termed bitter by some, comes from Littell, whose husband, Mark, is a Cardinal pitcher. She describes a baseball wife as someone who has "several 'nice' designer outfits for meeting the arriving husband at airports, and...is always just the teensiest bit in the way." It is presumed, Littell writes, that a baseball wife is consumed by such activities as making scrap-books and answering the telephone. "It is considered possible that once, long ago, she had a face and a personality of her own, but if she has [them] still she is expected to keep it decently to herself."
That point of view isn't appreciated by each one of the magazine's 140 subscribers, 75% of whom are baseball wives, with most of the remainder being relatives and friends. Simmons printed a letter from one wife who felt she hadn't become a nonentity. Another letter, which went unpublished, took exception to the tone. "She said we were too bitter and 'bitter' was underlined a bunch of times," says Simmons. "When this is your whole life and somebody pokes fun at it, you get defensive."
The magazine's tartest words, however, are reserved for the chauvinists who abound in professional sports, more often in the front office, television booth and press box than on the field or in the clubhouse. Last May's issue established the First Semi-Annual Jimmy Piersall Award, named for the White Sox broadcaster who appeared on a television show in September 1981 and called baseball wives "horny broads" who chase husbands, money and security. The first award was given to an unnamed West Coast general manager who, in the mid-'70s, is said to have lamented that all his players weren't single and content to satisfy their needs with prostitutes. The November issue reprinted a memo from Fred Shero, the former NHL coach, defining acceptable conduct for wives. It began, "How can you as Mrs. Hockey Player become a member of the hockey club without ever scoring a goal?" Eight rules followed. The first: "Talk about other players only as you want heard about your own husband." The issue also included a section from the 1954 Dodger yearbook warning that many a ballplayer has been traded because of an unsuitable wife.