Turn Back The Clock: December 29th, 1977-The Yankees & Equal Rights


It’s rare that we at Yanks Go Yard discuss in too much detail, legal actions that involve the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball, or any other entity that doesn’t involve a player, or a legal issue involving a player. However, today marks the 37th anniversary of a watershed moment for women sportswriters in America. If you don’t know the name Melissa Ludtke, you should. She is a pioneer for female sportswriters everywhere, as she kicked down the door of the male-dominated sports world, and unfortunately for the Bronx Bombers, they were directly involved.

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Ludtke was working for both ABC Sports and Sports Illustrated at the time, that being during and after the 1977 World Series between the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most remember Reggie Jackson, and his three-swings, three-home run performance that capped off a World Series MVP performance for Jackson, and in the process, put the Yankees back on top of the baseball world. But behind the scenes, rights were being violated, and illegal activity was being carried out on the orders of none other than MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

Two years prior, Commissioner Kuhn sent letters to the GMs of each and every team, that stated that all big league teams commit to a “…unified stand” against allowing any women in to the locker rooms of Major League teams for interviews and coverage of games. A year later, Robert Wirz, the Public Relations Director for the Office of the Commissioner, wrote all teams once again, reminding them of the Commissioner’s standing policy, and requested information as to whether any female sportswriters had requested access to team locker rooms.

In following the directive of Wirz, the Yankees responded by notifying the Commissioner’s Office, that the team would allow women sportswriters who requested access, in to the Yankees clubhouse following games, in which Wirz responded by stating that if one team allowed access, that is would be a “…definite threat to breaking down the overall barrier”. The Yankees quickly reversed course, and banned women from further access to the Yankees’ clubhouse.

During the American League Championship Series, Ludtke had been given access to manager Billy Martin‘s office for coverage without issue. Ludtke had even been granted access to the Dodgers’ clubhouse during and after the World Series. And why wouldn’t she? She was a fully accredited media member, with the same rights and privileges as her male counterparts. However, when she attempted to gain access to the Yankees’ clubhouse, Ludtke was informed by officials that based solely on her sex, that should would not be granted access to the locker room.

After years of litigation, it was determined that Commissioner Kuhn, by his issuance that violated Constitutional rights given to Ludtke, had violated equal protection laws and the right to due process. Furthermore, the courts also determined that Kuhn had violated Ludtke’s ability to perform her job as a credentialed member of the media, and to pursue her profession as a sports reporter. By 1983, the courts determined that Ludtke was entitled to financial relief for the violations against her, and an injunction was issued, preventing the enforcement of Kuhn’s standing order to exclude women, based solely on their sex, from accessing clubhouses.

Today’s Turn Back The Clock, December 29th, 1977, recognizes the day that Melissa Ludtke filed suit against the Yankees, Commissioner Kuhn, and the City of New York for violations of the 14th Amendment.