The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues -- now commonly referred to as Minor League Baseball -- was founded in 1901. And, in the ensuing 111 years, no female had ever served as a league president.
On Thursday, the Double-A Southern League announced that, effective Aug. 1, Lori Webb will assume presidency of the circuit. She replaces the late Don Mincher, a Major League slugger turned influential executive who was at the helm of the league from 2000-11. (Following Mincher's retirement in October of that year, Mississippi Braves general manager Steve DeSalvo stepped in as interim president while the league launched a search for a replacement.)
Webb is well aware of her new-found status as a baseball industry trailblazer but remarks that, in her view, it's a "sidebar more so than a headline."
"I realize that it's a milestone, but it was never a personal goal of mine. It's just the natural progression of my own career in the Southern League," she said Friday morning. "I've found over the years that women in baseball are very smart, creative and hard-working at all levels of the business, and they obviously deserve the same opportunities as their male counterparts. But I want this to be about my experience, passion and determination to do a good job, and I hope that trumps whether I'm male or female."
Webb is a native of Seneca Falls, N.Y., which she proudly notes is known as the birthplace of women's rights. In 1848, Seneca Falls hosted a convention that resulted in the "Declaration of Sentiments," a key document in the then-nascent movement for women's suffrage.
While she enjoyed attending Minor League contests in nearby Geneva and Auburn and cheering on her two sons at youth baseball games, Webb says that she "had no idea about the business side" of the equation. This changed in 1994, when she took a position as an executive assistant to then-Southern League president Arnold Fielkow. That position led to a vice president of operations position, and, when Mincher assumed the presidency in 2000, Webb earned the title of corporate secretary and treasurer.
"Don Mincher provided me with the opportunity to spread my wings, and he gave me more and more responsibility each year. I have very big shoes to fill," said Webb. "He was very wise as far as business decisions went, and it was wonderful to pick his brain about different things and to try to get a different perspective. The best advice he ever gave me was 'Sleep on it. It'll look different in the morning.' I've taken that to heart, not only in my job but in my personal life as well."
Webb's ascension to Southern League president has been met with accolades throughout the industry.
"Lori Webb has earned the trust and confidence of Southern League members over the years, particularly by her professionalism and performance since Don Mincher's retirement last October," Tennessee Smokies president and Southern League advisory committee chairman Doug Kirchhofer said in a statement.
Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner offered similarly laudatory remarks.
"Lori Webb's selection as Southern League president is significant in many ways," said O'Conner. "First, it is worthy recognition of Lori's talents and years of dedicated service to the Southern League. Secondly, it is groundbreaking that the Southern League named a female to lead the league into the 21st century."
Webb will now turn her focus to the issues facing the Southern League as it positions itself for continued growth.
"We're opening a new ballpark next spring in Birmingham, and looking forward to getting that done," said Webb. "And there's always the ongoing matter of sustaining the league and continuing to grow attendance. That has been tough with the economy the way it is, but our biggest goal is to make it the best it can be. [Minor League Baseball] is a little bit of Americana, and we wish everyone could go to the games. Because once you see it, you realize what a wonderful thing it is."
This unwavering belief in the enduring vitality and beauty of the game of baseball will sustain Webb as she tackles whatever issues that may lie ahead.
"I feel so lucky to wake up every morning and know that my job is in baseball," she said. "It's an awfully exciting world to live in, and just part of who I am."