A few days ago, the Economist had a post on their Game Theory blog entitled Playing with Pink Balls. The thumbnail photo (and it really is that small) showed someone with some kind of bat. The teaser read, in full, "Why has it taken so long to play the first...."
Having my own share of cultural mypoia, I figured this would be a story about the lack of women in Major League baseball. Wrongo! (It was actually about the challenges of trying to play cricket at night, and why they still haven't been met. The problem seems to be finding a color for the balls which provides equivalent visual characteristics.) But it would have been an interesting discussion, too.
Look at the three largest sports in the US. It is pretty clear why there are no women playing professional (American) football. The sport requires huge size and bulging muscles -- the sort you only get with the help of a big dose of testosterone. The only players who are anything like normal size are the kickers. And, indeed, occasionally a girl at the high school level, who has played soccer (football to the rest of the world), does play as a kicker. But that's all.
Similarly, basketball requires extreme height -- and women average substantially shorter than men. Plus, there are women's basketball teams (and leagues) in high school and college (and even professionally). So a tall woman will have spent years playing in that environment. Still, a very tall woman, even for women's basketball, who tried to play with the NBA would find herself suddenly much shorter than those around her.
But then there is baseball. The physical requirements for baseball are two: exceptionally fast reflexes and exceptionally keen eyesight -- typically in the neighborhood of 20/12 or 20/10. Neither of those are particularly sex-linked. Girls are common in Little League, and do quite well. So why no further?
In high school, boys play baseball, but girls are expected to play softball. There is no obvious reason why girls couldn't play high school baseball . . . but it doesn't happen. (And at the college level, I believe that the NCAA actually has a rule against it.) So there is nowhere to learn the game at an advanced level.
Actually, women do play professional baseball in Japan and in Europe. However, in the US there is no real path which would let them get the experience necessary to play professionally. (Which is probably the proximate cause for why it has taken so long for a woman to play Major League baseball.) But why not?