She says, She says

Melanie Newman, Suzie Cool make baseball broadcast history

Gordon Edes
8 min readSep 3, 2019

By Rachel C. Kirby
This story originally appeared in
Red Sox Magazine 4th Edition, 2019.

She leaned into the microphone in the cramped and weather-worn broadcast booth, just as she had done on so many days and nights in so many other minor-league ballparks. On this night, she was standing alongside her partner, to get a better view. The game was about to begin.

History was on deck.

“Welcome back here again at Pfitzner Stadium,” she said, her voice and her pulse both quick with excitement. “Melanie Newman and, joined by my partner for the first time this season, Suzie Cool, bringing you all the action from this three-game set between the Potomac Nationals and the Salem Red Sox.”

In that moment — Tuesday night, April 23rd in Woodbridge, Va., about 20 minutes south of Washington, D.C. — Salem play-by-play announcer Melanie Newman and color analyst Suzie Cool claimed a niche in baseball’s long, rich tradition of broadcasting. For the first time, both voices describing the action of a professional baseball game belonged to women.

Suzie Cool (left) and Melanie Newman in the broadcast booth for the Salem Red Sox. (Photo by Tim Cammett/Getty Images).

“It was kind of a surreal moment,” Newman said, “to sit there and realize that people were in fact giving attention to the occasion and wanted to commemorate a part of it.”

Other women have broadcast baseball. In 1964, as a publicity stunt, Charlie Finley hired a 31-year-old Chicago-based “weather girl,” Betsy Caywood, to do color for his wretched Kansas City Athletics. Mary Shane, an earnest young woman and daughter of a semipro ballplayer, did a brief turn for the Chicago White Sox in 1977; she later became a sportswriter for the Worcester Telegram. Gayle Gardner became the first woman to do play-by-play of a big-league game in 1993 in Denver (a one-time event), Newton’s Suzyn Waldman has been a fixture in the Yankees’ radio booth as an analyst since 2005, and All-American softball player Jessica Mendoza lifted the profile for women broadcasters even higher in her role as analyst on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

“We were told that Jessica Mendoza and Suzyn Waldman actually wished us luck,” Suzie Cool said. “They basically said, ‘This is a long time coming.’ I grew up watching Jessica Mendoza play softball, so that was wild to me that somebody I looked up to so much when I was little was congratulating me.”

The minor leagues got their first female broadcaster in 2013, when Kristen Karbach was hired by the Clearwater Threshers in the Class A Florida State League. Karbach was named Florida State League broadcaster of the year in 2018 and this season was hired by the Phillies’ Double-A team in Reading, Pa. And Jill Gearin, a 22-year-old Emerson College grad who last summer interned with Joe Castiglione in the WEEI radio broadcast booth, is now the voice of the Visalia Rawhide in the Class A California League.

And now, the combined talents of Newman and Cool in the 10-team Class A Carolina League have enabled women to cross another threshold in a sport that historically resists change but appears to be growing increasingly comfortable with women in roles long held exclusively by men.

“You’ve got to be around long enough,’’ said Doug Lane, WEEI’s long-time executive producer on Sox broadcasts. “You’ve got to really work at your craft. And once you gain [a team’s] respect, they will go to bat for you every day. But it’s tough to break down that door.”

While still just 28, Newman already has nearly a decade’s worth of experience, including calling games in all three leagues on the Double-A level — Southern League, Texas League and a brief turn in the Eastern League — as well as the Arizona Fall League. She also has worked extensively on the college level.

Newman enjoying her new role as the voice of the Salem Red Sox.

Newman grew up in Atlanta, but inherited her love of the Red Sox from her Boston-born mother. Susan Henderson Newman told her daughter stories of how future big-league star-turned-broadcaster Carlos Peña used to work on the family farm in Haverhill, and how one of her uncles was a cop who served on a detail assigned to Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Melanie was a big Coco Crisp fan and recalled staying up and celebrating when the Sox broke their World Series drought in 2004.

Newman spent last season working on the broadcast team for the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers’ Double-A affiliate in the Southern League, before applying for the job in Salem.

“I’ve loved every second of getting to pay attention to the guys who are building Boston’s future,” she said. “I’m watching those bricks be laid.”

Cool, 26, preceded Newman to Salem by a year, hired as on-field host and media and graphics assistant. A native of Pittsburgh and former softball player at St. Vincent’s (Pa.) College, Cool spent several years serving as a ballgirl for the Pirates while building her resume in sports, working in soccer and hockey in addition to serving as a co-host for the in-game entertainment at PNC Park for the Pirates. Not easy, she said, juggling four jobs at a time while earning a graduate degree in digital communication and media/multimedia from Point Park University.

Last summer, Cool became the first woman to broadcast in the Carolina League after offering to pay her own way to do some color on a handful of road games. “I read all of these articles on [Melanie] and Kristen Karbach,” she said, “and I realized ‘Why can’t I do something like this?’”

Cool showing off her Pittsburgh pride.

In the off-season, Suzie took it a step further, proposing to team management that they go all in on a female broadcast team. Allen Lawrence, Salem’s interim general manager, said he was skeptical.

“I love the idea, but this is never going to happen,” he said. “There’s a lot more females in the sports industry than there used to be, but I still feel like broadcasters — at least when we go to baseball winter meetings and the job fair meetings — it is very much still male dominated. I just didn’t think there was a good chance of it happening, but obviously all the stars aligned.”

On the field, Lawrence said, he found support for the idea.

“When I told our manager [Corey Wimberly], and word started to spread at spring training, I think there was some excitement for it,” Lawrence said.

“The players could get online and see how talented Melanie was, and that’s what it’s all about. They wanted a broadcaster who could tell their stories.”

Newman interviewing Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski. (Photo courtesy of Melanie Newman).

Newman has interviewed big-leaguers before — most notably Dustin Pedroia during her Arizona Fall League stint — but enjoys introducing audiences to minor-league ballplayers whose stories are not widely known.

“People don’t know what they’ve been through, or their background, or why they love baseball,” she said. “For them to entrust me with such a huge piece of who they are — to tell their stories away from their numbers — it’s why I show up every day.”

That she has won that trust is evident in her relationship with outfielder Jarren Duran, who was the team’s seventh-round pick in the 2018 draft and was voted the system’s best athlete after his first season in pro ball.

“You’d think that a California kid who’s so big on the prospect radar would have no problem with the media,” she said.

But in truth, she said, she detected some shyness.

“He came to trust me and opened up about being bullied when he was younger,’’ she said. “For him to do what he does on the field, he still can’t believe it sometimes. But that’s why he outworks every other person. He feels there’s something to prove.”

Cool’s on-field host duties sometimes keep her from joining Newman in the booth. “If there are dinosaurs going in the ballpark or Mr. and Mrs. Claus, making sure they’re there and they’re ready to go [is my job],’’ she said.

Cool accommodating a young fan with an autograph. (Photo by Tim Cammett/Getty Images).

Newman, hired just a few weeks before the season began, had little time to become acquainted with the team. The opener in Wilmington, Del., became even more nerve-wracking due to an equipment failure at the ballpark. Nothing worked properly. Newman sat patiently and quietly between innings.

“And I just thought, there’s no way we can do 139 more of these,’’ she said. “We got really lucky. We rained out the next day, so I had a good 24 hours to call up as many sound techs as I could. And I ended up calling one of the former broadcasters to say, ‘Why isn’t this working?’ And we did a little jerry-rigging, and once you connected the extra piece of equipment, everything went smoothly from there. But it’s an Opening Day that I’ll never forget.’’

Nineteen days later, Newman and Cool made their debut together to considerable fanfare, with both local and national media on hand. For one night, at least, the storytellers were the story, but for the most part, they took all the attention in stride.

“We did what we usually do,’’ Newman said, alluding to the broadcasters’ game-day routine of hanging out at the cage during batting practice, touching base with the manager, poring over the game notes.

But the significance of the moment was not lost on them.

“It was the smallest thing of a hiring decision to bring Suzie and me together that is making permanent change,’’ Newman said. “It’s encouraging other women, and even guys too, that if there’s something that they’re particularly passionate about, there’s no reason for them not to chase it.”

As hard as it was for her to leave home, Cool said, she is glad she made the move.

“If I had never taken that jump and come down to Salem in 2018, I would never be doing what I’m doing now,’’ she said. “I have only the Boston Red Sox organization to thank for that.”

Newman and Cool warmed up and game-ready.

Castiglione believes that more women will make their way into big-league broadcasting jobs, despite some of the obstacles they will face.

“If they know the game, if they want to do it,’’ he said. “If they want to put up with it. And they have to put up with more because of natural bias that old white guys have. And players. And, you know, baseball people. It’s not exactly progressive in many ways. So I think it’s tougher to overcome.

“But I think they can do it.’’

That is certainly the case, Salem’s Lawrence contends, for Melanie Newman and Suzie Cool.

“I don’t know where they’re going to be in 5 to 10 years from now,’’ he said, “but they’re going to be doing great things and we’re just lucky to have them.

“The story of them being the first female broadcast team is interesting but, male or female, they’re talented.”

Rachel C. Kirby is a Ph.D. candidate in American & New England Studies at Boston University. This summer she interned with Red Sox historian Gordon Edes.



Gordon Edes

Gordon Edes, a sportswriter for 35 years, is the Boston Red Sox historian.