And now, the latest Dodger to crack through a barrier and provide an opportunity for others -- Sue Falsone.
Named on Monday to be the first female head athletic trainer in the history of major professional sports, Falsone said on Tuesday that she's "ready to make changes and do innovative things" as she takes over for Stan Conte, who was promoted to senior director of medical services.
"I was definitely surprised by the reaction. I didn't see it coming," she said. "The amount of email messages are literally in the hundreds, from people that I know, from people that I don't know, from colleges throughout the country. It's amazing. I'm really humbled and blessed by it. It's been a pretty cool experience."
But she defines real change as something that's not gender-specific.
"It's ironic that people think that the change is about me being a woman, and that's not really the change," she said. "It's about us as a medical staff looking at new and innovative ways to deal with injuries. That's what the change is going to be. We'll look at things differently. We'll have different principles of injury management and hopefully decrease the injury rate. That's what's exciting. We'll look at the processes in place and evaluate with a critical eye."
Falsone, 37, became the first female physical therapist in the Major Leagues when she was hired by the Dodgers in 2007 and worked in that role through the '10 season. In addition to her new responsibilities, she will continue with Athletes' Performance (AP) as vice president of performance physical therapy and team sports and spearhead a new partnership between the Dodgers and AP, which is located in Phoenix, to build a comprehensive physical development program for all levels of the organization.
"This is special on so many levels," Falsone said of her appointment. "First, just to be entrusted by an organization like the Los Angeles Dodgers is special. Second, it's surprising it took to 2011 for [a woman head trainer] to happen. There are so many women on the high school and college level that are athletic trainers, it was bound to happen, but it's surprising this is the first time."
Falsone said it was "absolutely inevitable, because there are so many talented people at every different level." She said she has never met resistance from a male athlete because she's a woman.
"I've worked with males the last decade, and that's all I know," Falsone said. "It's not out of the ordinary for me. My experience is that if I'm respecting of their space and mindful of where they're at, there is mutual respect. And if you help them through an injury, you form that trust."
Before speaking with reporters, Falsone was working with Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, who is rehabbing from right knee surgery that he delayed for 10 days while Falsone was out of the country because he didn't want to start his rehab without her. Falsone said Ethier's recovery is on schedule.
"I'm happy about it," Ethier said of her appointment. "It's good news for the team, training-wise. It's nice to have a different frame of mind. I have confidence working with her over the last nine years. If you know AP's approach, they are very forward-looking, and it's proven successful."
Falsone said that while she focuses on keeping the 25-man active roster on the field, Conte will focus on "injury management and medical risk assessment" throughout the organization. She said the arrangement is something she and Conte have discussed for several years, and "right now the environment is perfect for this change to happen. It's exciting it's come to fruition."
The timing includes the recent departure of assistant trainer Todd Tomczyk to take the head trainer's job with the Pirates, with strength-and-conditioning coach Brendon Huttman joining him. Assistant trainer Nancy Patterson and massage therapist Ichiro Tani will return, and Greg Harrel and Stephen Downey were promoted to assistant trainer and strength-and-conditioning coach, respectively, from Triple-A Albuquerque.
While describing injury prevention as "a battle with the law of physics," Falsone is hopeful she can help "keep little things from growing into bigger things." The Dodgers had 24 entries on the disabled list this year and five season-ending operations.
Falsone has spent the past 10 years at AP and is an internationally known speaker on sports training and rehabilitation. She's a graduate of Daemon College in Buffalo with a Masters degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She holds an adjunct faculty position at A.T. Still University.