The year was 1943. The United States was fully involved in World War II. All over the country men were taking up Uncle Sam’s call to war – leaving businesses, factories, barns and ball parks short-handed. Soon the country looked to women to fill the vacancies. They did and in record numbers. Some of the roles women played have been largely forgotten over time. In some cases, their roles are resurrected decades later.
Professional baseball hit a crucial moment. With a large number of pro and semipro baseball players drafted into the armed forces, team owners were worried. Will America forget about baseball once the war is over? How does one still keep America’s favorite pastime alive? Philip Wrigley, the chewing-gum king who also owned the Chicago Cubs, had the answer – the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
All around the country an estimated 40,000 women played semipro softball in small towns and communities. Wrigley wanted to recruit the best of the best for “hardball” (overhand pitching and baseball guidelines/rules) with the hope that it would keep people interested in baseball. Around 600 women suddenly got the opportunity of a lifetime – to play professional baseball in front of millions of fans.
Spring training was held on May 17, 1943 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Four main teams were created: the Rockford Peaches, Kenosha Comets, South Bend Blue Sox and the Racine Belles. Soon other teams were added to the league including the Minneapolis Millerettes, Kalamazoo Lassies, Chicago Colleens, Springfield Sallies, Grand Rapids Chicks, Fort Wayne Daisies and the Battle Creek Belles.
Just because these women were stepping into vacated male positions did not mean they were able to dress, talk or act like the opposite sex. In order to play, Wrigley ordered the women to attend charm school. “Femininity is the keynote of our league,” Wrigley insisted. “No pants-wearing, tough-talking female softballer will play on any of our four teams.” Chaperones were assigned to the teams making sure the women were dressing, acting and looking feminine. Those who violated the rules were subjected to a fifty dollar fine.
Among the League’s Rules of Conduct included:
- ALWAYS appear in feminine attire when not actively engaged in practice or playing ball. This regulation continues through the playoffs for all, even though your team is not participating. AT NO TIME MAY A PLAYER APPEAR IN THE STANDS IN HER UNIFORM, OR WEAR SLACKS OR SHORTS IN PUBLIC.
- Boyish bobs are not permissible and in general your hair should be well groomed at all times with longer hair preferable to short hair cuts. Lipstick should always be on.
The uniforms worn were specially designed by Mrs Wrigley, Wrigley’s Art Designer, Otis Shepard and player Ann Harnett. They wore a one-piece short-skirted flared tunic, satin shorts, knee-high socks and baseball hat. Each team had their own symbolic patch on the front and different colored uniform.
Salaries were considered quite high for the time. Especially when some players were as young as 15. Ranging from $45 to $85 a week, some of these women earned more than workers who had skilled occupations. Signed players were paid higher because they were considered more highly skilled baseball players.
The official All-American Girls Professional Baseball League discussed it’s debut season and how the league ran.
League play officially began on May 30, 1943 with South Bend playing in Rockford and Kenosha playing in Racine. A total of 108 games were played in the regular season, which ran from mid-May to the first of September. The team to win the most games during the regular season was declared the pennant winner. The top teams then competed in a series of play-off games to determine the League Champion. At the end of the 1943 season, the Kenosha Comets played a 5-game series against the Racine Belles for the Championship. Racine won and became the first World Champions of the All-American Girls Baseball League.
The All-American Girls Professional baseball League ran for 11 years and 12 seasons from 1943 through 1954. During the league’s run it entertained the country and kept “America’s favorite pastime” alive. A single game could bring between two and three thousand fans. The 1948 season was its peak, but as the 1950s rolled in attendance declined. Part of the reason was that men’s major league games began televising. Another factor in the folding of the league was that ownership kept changing while some teams operated independently. There was no centralized publicity, promotion or player recruitment which caused the league to suffer. Adding in the low attendance and financial difficulties, teams did not have the means to support training talented softball players into baseball players.
When the 1954 season ended, only five teams remained: Fort Wayne, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, South Bend and Rockford. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League disbanded. After receiving national attention and playing in front of thousands of screaming fans, the girls quickly faded and were lost in the ebb and flow of a changing society.
In 1992, their story was resurrected in A League of Their Own. Directed by Penny Marshall, the film stars Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna and Lori Petty. In 2012, the Library of Congress selected A League of Their Own to be preserved in the National Film Registry. Those chosen were deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Librarian of Congress James M. Billington stated, “These films are not selected as the best American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture. They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.” Not only do those words aptly apply to the movie itself, but it also personifies the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League as a whole.
The “Victory Song” was the official Song of the All-American Girls Baseball League and was co-written by Lavonne “Pepper” Paire Davis and Nalda “Bird” Phillips.
Batter up! Hear that call!
The time has come for one and all
To play ball.
We are the members of the All-American League.
We come from cities near and far.
We’ve got Canadians, Irishmen and Swedes,
We’re all for one, we’re one for all
Each girl stands, her head so proudly high,
Her motto ‘Do or Die.’
She’s not the one to use or need an alibi.
Our chaperones are not too soft,
They’re not too tough,
Our managers are on the ball.
We’ve got a president who really knows his stuff,
We’re all for one, we’re one for all,
Newsreel about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, among visible players are Dottie Schroeder, Kate VonDroll, Patt Scott, Jean Marlow, Tibby Eisen and Joanne Weaver.
Bill Geist caught up with some of the remaining members of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League at their reunion.
Official Website for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
“The Story of the Game: The Story of America,” PBS.org.
Tal Barak, “Men Play Baseball, Women Play Softball,” NPR, June 2, 2005.
Susan King, “National Film Registry selects 25 films for preservation,” Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2012.