ESPN's Jessica Mendoza Makes History at the World Series

In a Q&A, the ESPN MLB analyst discusses the Fall Classic and why Cooperstown came calling.
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Jessica Mendoza is calling the World Series for ESPN Radio, making history as the first woman to serve as an analyst on a national platform during the Fall Classic.

A gold medal winner in softball at the 2004 Olympics, Mendoza first joined ESPN over a decade ago. In 2015, she became the first woman as an analyst on the network’s MLB broadcasts, and has since become a fixture of ESPN’s baseball coverage.

Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Mendoza discussed her noteworthy accomplishment, shared her thoughts on the evolving role of women in baseball, and analyzed the World Series matchup featuring the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays.

Editor's Note: Questions and responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Justin Barrasso: You have consistently championed the work of the women in sports that blazed a trail before you. How grateful are you for the women that helped create opportunities like you have today?

Mendoza: I think about women like Lisa Olson or Suzyn Waldman. There are so many others, too, women that opened the door for these opportunities. There was a time in sports when that door was shut and locked for women. These women figured out a way to get through it. That once seemed impossible, but they found a way.

Barrasso: The sports world is still behind when it comes to gender equality. What would you like to see happen next, particularly in Major League Baseball?

Mendoza: I would love to see women GMs. The front office stands out to me the most. We have our first female coach with Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants, and there is Rachel Balkovec, the minor league hitting coordinator for the New York Yankees, and Rachel Holden with the Cubs. And it would be incredible for a team to hire a woman to actually run the club.

When you look at the responsibility of the President of Baseball Operations position, every decision comes through that role. I saw that firsthand with the Mets last year. To have a woman in that role and see her do well, having a different voice and background, it will be so huge for baseball.

Barrasso: What does it mean for you to be the first woman to call the World Series on a national platform?

Mendoza: I’m not sure I know how to answer that yet. For me, I immediately think about the fathers with daughters. Maybe they’ll be more likely to encourage their daughters to do things in a male-oriented space. Maybe they’ll turn up the volume when I break down Justin Turner’s swing on an 0-2 fastball, and then talk about it with their daughter. That’s what excites me.

I got a phone call from Cooperstown earlier in the week, asking if I would send my Game One scorecard of the World Series to the Hall of Fame. It took me a second to process that. I really haven’t taken the time to think about all of this. This moment isn’t for me, it’s for women in sports.

Barrasso: Looking at the World Series, despite the Rays' success in prior seasons, it was still surprising to see them knock off both the Yankees and Astros. What is your take on Tampa Bay?

Mendoza: They’ve been so good for a while now, and they’re finally getting their respect. Their stars don’t get the star treatment, people are still getting to know their players, and let’s be real, they’re not always the front-page story in Tampa Bay. But they won 96 games last year, 90 games the year before, and they won the AL East this year. They’ve got pitching, they’ve got the best front office of the last decade. They were the first team to shift. How many teams are now using an opener? The Dodgers did it on Wednesday. That all came from Tampa Bay.

We’ve now seen four outfielders in the World Series because of Tampa Bay. I was literally holding my breath on Wednesday during the Will Smith at bat when he lined out to Joey Wendle. People laugh and say, ‘Four outfielders?’ but the Rays fearlessly try things that no one else is doing. Being a female in baseball, I am so amazed by that. I understand when change happens, it’s often met with, ‘What?’ Tampa has been here for a long time, pushing that envelope, and they’re showing the world how good they really are.

Barrasso: On the other side of the field are the Los Angeles Dodgers, in their eighth straight playoff run and still looking for their first title since 1988. Will three more wins this postseason redeem all their struggles?

Mendoza: Despite all their success, greatness is always predicated on postseason success. The narrative of Clayton Kershaw and Dave Roberts will change if the Dodgers win three more games. If they win, we’ll have to struggle to think back on the time when Clayton struggled in the postseason. We’ll just remember him winning it all.

Barrasso: Having had the opportunity to provide some coverage of the NBA playoffs, it was interesting to hear people discuss life in the bubble. It is wonderful to have live games back on television, but that does not occur without sacrifices made by those living inside the bubble. What has the experience been like for you?

Mendoza: A lot of people have been here for five weeks. When I had to make that decision, we were dealing with major wildfires back home. I made the decision that I couldn’t be gone that long. In the past, my family always traveled with me to the postseason. That wasn’t an option here. ESPN was so understanding about a way to make this work. I did the Wild Card (Series), A’s-White Sox and Padres-Cardinals, from home, and then I got on a plane the night before game one of the NLCS.

For me, it will be two weeks here this Sunday. That’s the longest I’ve ever been away from my children. I miss them so much. When I’m on the phone with them, my heart hurts. It’s hard to not be there. That’s been the hardest part for me, being away from my 7-year-old and my 11-year-old.

Barrasso: Watching baseball certainly adds a sense of normalcy to a world full of uncertainty. What has resonated with you so much about this postseason?

Mendoza: For baseball, initially, it looked like this season was not going to happen. The players and the owners could not agree about getting back on the field, and there was so much negativity surrounding the game. Then there were issues once the players got back onto the field, with COVID first affecting the Miami Marlins and then hitting the St. Louis Cardinals. There were times it didn’t look like the season would make it to October.

Now here we are in October, watching the two best teams in baseball create new superstars and heroes. Baseball found a way. And that will mean even more for Tampa or L.A. when one of those teams wins the World Series.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.