When Women Ruled Baseball
During World War II, American’s most popular sport went to the girls. There were not enough men around to play baseball to please the fans during the war. They all went to war. From near the end of the war, about 1943 to 1954, women played baseball in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League or AAGPBL. By 1954 a total of 10 girl baseball teams were formed with close to 1 million fans watching them play the game once played exclusively by men. Some of these teams survived the entire eleven year period while others only lasted one or two seasons.
The Reason Women Stepped Up To The Plate
When United States entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 just about every young, able body man joined or was drafted into the armed forces. Many joined because they thought it was the patriotic thing to do. World War II was a frightening time for the country. At the beginning of the war young men joined and left by the thousands each week to fight overseas. Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor there were around 139,000 men fighting in the war and by 1945 there were more than 10 million men in the U.S. army, including over half of all major league baseball players.
Women eventually had to fill the jobs in offices and factories. They built planes, tanks, and supplies that enable the U.S. and its allies to win the war. At the same time some popular sports such as football and baseball took a hit because of the decrease in the number of men available to play the sports. Women started stepping up to the plate to keep baseball alive.
The Start Of The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
In the 1940s, it was difficult for women to play on professional sport teams. The opportunities weren’t there for them and their male counterpart in the sport arena did not take them seriously. They got their break when President Franklin Roosevelt mentioned the idea of women playing baseball to some of Philip Wrigley’s colleagues. He said to them “Baseball is important for Americans, especially now. Times are tough, and we need something to cheer about”. Philip Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs and the Wrigley chewing gum company, turned that idea into reality by starting a women baseball league. His idea was to start a women league and have them in the baseball park as backup to play the game in case the attendance at baseball games started to fall.
Wrigley started the first American Women Softball League in the spring of 1943 during the height of the war with women players dressed in skirts. More than 250 women met at Wrigley Field that May to try out for 60 spots on four teams in the league. The women did not wear uniforms with pants they worn a one piece flared skirt uniform with long baseball stockings and a baseball cap. Mr. Wrigley wanted them to look like ladies but play like gentlemen. The name of the league was later changed to All-American Girls Professional Ball League (AAGPBL) and was changed again in 1950 to All-American
The Rules were Different From Softball
Most of the women who joined the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League were originally recruited from girl softball teams. There were differences between softball and baseball rules and the rules essentially evolved from softball rules to baseball rules from 1943 to 1954. The ball size went from a big 12 inches to a smaller 9 inch size during that period. The length of Base Paths went from 65 feet to 85 feet in that same period. Pitching distant increased from 40 feet to 60 feet and pitching style was changed from an underhand pitch to an overhand pitch. All these changes were made to give the game a more professional appeal especially for serious baseball fans.
Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGBBL). When the women league was first formed many owners of the major league ballparks did not want the women to play there despite the fact that the parks were only used half the time since attendance was down. So Wrigley decided to have the women league play in four non-major league parks near major league parks close to women’s league headquarter in Chicago. Two cities in Wisconsin were chosen, Racine and Kenosha, Rockford in Illinois, and South Bend in Indiana.
Each team had 15 women players, a manager who was usually a formal major league player, a business manager, and a chaperone since some of these players were as young as 15 years old. The women on the teams were not allowed to have any other job when they joined the league. They were paid as much as $85.00 a week. That was a pretty good salary back in the1940s especially for women.
Act Like Ladies Play Like Gentlemen
These women had to act like ladies. Wrigley made sure these girls stayed that way once they joined the league. He enrolled all of them in charm school to learn mannerism, proper etiquette for various situations, personal hygiene and dress code. They were taught how to use also a beauty kit to make them more physically attracted. Obviously, this was one way to attract men to watch women play baseball. Wrigley was a smart man. The first year of league turned out to be a successful one due to a respectable attendance of more than 176,000 fans watched 108 games played by the women league. Attendance for the women league reached more than 450,000 in 1945 after the war ended and reached a peak attendance of 910,000 fans in 1948 with 10 teams in the league. The women baseball league popularity continued into 1954 until it became difficult to find talented women baseball players to fill the teams. In the end the league gave 600 women the opportunity to play professional baseball at the same level as the men between 1943 and 1954 to thrill the fans during the war and after the war.
The Teams In The Women League
Originally, there were four teams in the league and in the later years ten teams were formed before the women league folded in 1954. The names for the teams were colorful and feminine in nature. The four teams were Kenosha Comets, Racine Belles, Rockford Peaches and South Bend Blue Sox. Racines won the first championship for the All-American Girls Baseball League in 1943. The names of the other teams, with just name changes in some cases, were Milwaukee Chicks, Minneapolis Millerettes, Fort Wayne Daisies, Grand Rapids Chicks, Peoria Redwings, Muskegon Lassies, Chicago Colleens, Springfield Sallies and Kalamazoo Lassies.
A Little About Some Of The Players
There were a few outstanding women players in the league. There are many but I will mention only four of them here. Dorothy “Dottie” Schroeder who played as a short-stop on several of the teams and was the youngest player at 15. She was the most popular of all the players and was the only player to play for the entire 12 seasons. She holds the all time record for the most games played (1,249) and the most at bat (4,129 times).
Doris “Sammye” Sams was a tall player who stood at 5 feet 9 inches tall. Played as an outfielder and a right-handed pitcher. She was voted “Player of the Year”twice in 1947 and in 1949 and was also named to the All-Star Game to play in two positions as a pitcher and outfielder. Sammye is the only player in the women league to accomplished that feat.
Hele Earlene “Beans” Risinger was 6 foot 1 inch right-handed pitcher from Oklahoma. She had the ability to deliver an over hand fastball called a “nickel” curve. With her pitching ability her team, Grand Rapids Chicks, won the league championship in 1953 and today that trophy is on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. She was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame in 1973 in Johnson County, Oklahoma.
Jean Faut who played for the South Bend Blue Sox was considered one of the best player in the women professional baseball league. She earned many accolades during her career as pitcher for one of the four original teams. She led the league with the best ERA in 1950, 1952, and 1953. She pitched 12 shutout games for her team in 1949 and was selected to the All-Star team four times in 1949, 1950, 1951, and 1953. Jean was voted the league’s Player of the Year in 1951 and 1953 and finally she earned a lifetime ERA of 1.23 with a won-loss record of 140-64.
Women played a crucial role during wartime for the United States. They kept the moral high and kept the economy in the country from hitting rock bottom by filling in jobs and keeping America's favorite pastime alive in the eyes of the fans until the boys came back home.
© 2011 Melvin Porter