In 1993, the San Francisco Giants were featured in a Sports Illustrated article for a program that allowed older men to be on the field during the game to track down foul balls. The men were originally known as “Golden Retrievers” then “Spry Seniors” and are now known as "Ball Dudes."
For a while, it was dudes. Only dudes.
At the time Corinne Mullane was 67, and wondered why a woman couldn't join the fun. So, she contacted the team president.
"I wrote a letter to Peter McGowan and told him that I just retired from teaching juvenile hall and could possibly handle a game if they would like to have the ladies start," Mullane said recently from her San Mateo home.
She made her first "start" a week later and quickly learned about the part of the uniform that goes over the white socks to keep them from falling down.
"The only problem I had was I couldn't get into the uniform correctly. They had something like knickers or stirrups that they were supposed to wear. Nobody knew what to do with the women," Mullane said.
Once she figured that out, she took her position along the wall in foul territory and soon made the acquaintance of first baseman Will Clark.
"Well he was going to catch the ball because he was on first base. I was on (the) first base (side) waiting for somebody to miss so I could catch a ball and he ran into me," she recalled.
Many baseball fans would say Mullane was at fault, but this is not a lady to be messed with. This is a former teacher at juvenile hall we're talking about.
"Didn't hurt me, but we talked later and he apologized. And I said, well that was fine. He was excused," she said.
That's right. Will Clark apologized for running into her. She says she might have apologized too.
Her daughter, Molly Mullane-Cavagnaro, lives in Elk Grove and says her mom became something of a celebrity. The family even produced baseball cards with Mullane's picture.
"For the first five years, she was the only woman on the field. She was doing almost every night at Candlestick Park, freezing her butt off, but doing it, having a blast, loving the notoriety," Mullane-Cavagnaro said. "She was signing autographs in elevators and grocery stores and department stores and everyone knew who she was."
A baseball trading card for the first ever Ball Dudette, Corinne Mullane, produced by her family.Courtesy of Molly Mullane-Cavagnaro
Mullane says she's slowing down a little and won't be able to go to the Giants' home opener this year for the first time in two decades.
It means she won’t get to see her favorite player-turned-announcer, Mike Krukow. Mullane says before the term “dudette” was selected by the team, Krukow spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how to refer to her.
“Well I was doing ball girl for a while, and then Mike Krukow decided it was 'ball babe.' So I ended up as 'ball babe' because Mike liked to torment me in certain ways,” Mullane said.
She still says “ball girl” but occasionally changes it to “ball lady.”
In 2001 Mullane-Cavagnaro signed on to help her mom. They both worked games for the next nine years until Mullane's second retirement in 2010. Coincidentally, it was also the year Mullane-Cavagnaro took a tour of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
It was there Mullane-Cavagnaro had the idea to suggest the Hall include the baseball card the family issued for her mom in its women in baseball section. So, she sent an email to Jim Gates, the Library Director of the Hall.
After a flurry of correspondence, Mullane-Cavagnaro got an email as she was headed to a Giants playoff game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
"He sends me the last email and says congratulations... on getting your mother into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the first ball dudette for the San Francisco Giants," Mullane-Cavagnaro recalled, still with amazement in her voice.
Then, Gates added another honor she had not expected.
She too would also be in the Hall as part of the first mother-daughter ball-retrieving duo in baseball.
At Christmas that year, Mullane-Cavagnaro wrapped up all 17 emails and presented them to her mother.
"She opened up the present and I had to read her the emails. She couldn't believe it. She's a tough cookie, but one little tear was coming down and she just said, 'What have you done?'"
Soon, a trip to Cooperstown was in the offing.
"It was like the queen was walking in because most of the people that are celebrated have already passed away that are at the age she's at. They rolled out the red carpet,” Mullane-Cavagnaro said.
And then they got a tour reserved only for people represented in the Hall.
“We had to wear white gloves and go behind the scenes. We got to see things that aren't even out on the floor that people never see. We held the bat that Will Clark hit his home run against Nolan Ryan. I was holding Babe Ruth's uniform," Mullane-Cavagnaro said.
And for mom, what was that experience like going there?
“It was really kind of nice. I saw whatever little things that I had: The letter that I had written, copies of the letter and some of the pictures down in the library," Mullane said, “It was just absolutely the most exciting thing.”
When asked what she's learned from all this, Mullane-Cavagnaro had a clear takeaway
"The moral of the story is ask for what you want. You may just get it," she said.
Mullane-Cavagnaro will be back on the field this year for her 19th season.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated who produced Mullane's baseball cards. It was her family.
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