By Father Gabe Costa
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In this episode of By The Numbers, and, as we stated in our last blog, for the next several installments, students taking a sabermetrics course will be sharing their insights and opinions. This week Ms. Elizabeth Small is our guest blogger. Enjoy!
Elizabeth Small:“Are you crying? There’s no crying! There’s no crying in baseball!” If a given population of Americans were asked whether they knew an official league once existed affording women the chance to play baseball, I would venture to say that most Americans would answer “no.” For those few who said “yes”, the span of their knowledge, I would guess to say, would only go as far as the quote (famously uttered by Tom Hanks in the movie A League of Their Own) used at the beginning of this paragraph.
Okay, to switch gears for a moment. I have a theory that in these present times, with the help of technology advancing graphics to a point where the viewer feels as though they are actually in the movie (i.e. Saving Private Ryan or Avatar), most people learn about historical events by watching movies. If this is true, the most people know about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, thanks to the movie A League of Their Own, is that a few farm girls were picked up to play baseball in lieu of the men fighting overseas during World War II. No offense to the producers and director of A League of Their Own, of course. Personally, I believe it’s a great story that highlights the numerous struggles and victories those women, and the men supporting them, went through while also touching on the struggles that Americans were going through in general during World War II: men being away from home, the role women played in society, the expectations placed upon women, and the hardships and sacrifices many Americans made in the name of freedom. However, these topics are shadowed by the main story line of the relationship between two sisters playing baseball away from home. Understandably, these highlights of American society may easily be forgotten the moment the credits start rolling.
Everybody who is interested in baseball knows the names and legacies of batting legends of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Rightfully so, considering these two icons hold numerous batting records that have stood the test of time. However, unfortunately the name of outfielder and pitcher Joanne Weaver remains a mystery to most peoples’ memories, though she held a batting average of .429 during her last year of five seasons playing with the Fort Wayne Daisies. Dorothy Schroeder, the shortstop who holds the league’s record for total number of RBIs in a career (431 in eleven seasons) also remains unknown to the majority of baseball fans. Therefore, as a fan of everything relating to baseball, I feel the need to honor these women who loved and played baseball with more passion than anyone could have asked.
The All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBBL) was founded by Philip Wrigley, owner of the Wrigley Chewing Gum Company, in 1942 because of reasons mentioned above. This league continued for eleven seasons until its closing in 1954. The concept behind this new league of women baseball players was to keep the attraction towards the baseball fields if attendance began to slip. Recruiting for the new league began in the 1943 and spanned all across America. Hundreds of women who were used to playing in organized softball leagues tried out for what eventually end up being only sixty spots for the first season (later seasons would expand the league numbers). The first league consisted of four teams: Racine Belles, South Bend, Kenosha Comets, and Rockford Peaches (the team portrayed in A League of Their Own). In later seasons, teams like the Milwaukee Chicks, the Minneapolis Millerettes, Fort Wayne Daisies, Grand Rapids Chicks, Muskegon Lassies, Peoria Redwings, Chicago Colleens, Springfield Sallies, Kalamazoo Lassies, and the Battle Creek Belles would join the original four teams.
The rules of the game were shockingly similar to baseball. The only real difference was the size of the ball being between ten to twelve inches (essentially, the size of the ball was changed from the original softball size to the size of a current day baseball) and the distances from the pitching mound: forty to sixty feet, and between the bases: sixty five to eighty five feet. Pitching styles were also interesting when compared to the Men’s Major League. At first, the AAGBBL insisted that the women pitched similar to softball: underhand. However, this would change as the seasons went on by switching from underhand to side-arm to eventually overhand like the men’s leagues. Other than these differences, the women had the same rules as the men’s league.
In addition to signing a contract to a specific team, the women of the AAGBBL were expected to attend Charm School and abide by a list of “league rules for conduct.” If the women were found breaking any of these rules, they would be punished by suspension of play and a suspension in pay. In charm school, they were taught that “the All American girl should take time to observe the necessary beauty ritual, to protect both her health and appearance.” The same school provided them with a list of beauty tips and routines they deemed necessary for every women to follow in order to maintain her feminine qualities while being a baseball player. Additionally, the girls were given a guide to clothing and apparel. Some of these tips included the following: “Skirts, blouses and sweaters are worn a great deal and will simplify your baggage problem on road trips,” “Slacks are not permitted for street wear but depending upon your other recreation and sports activities,” and to never forget to “carry your beauty kit with you when you go on road trips and equip yourself with all necessary articles for your toilette.” Etiquette was also a top priority at charm school. Similar to any sports players, these women were subject to rules of conduct which included always appearing feminine when not playing baseball, having long hair, listening and getting permission to attend social events by chaperones, and not fraternizing with any other women from any other team in order to maintain a friendly rivalry.
The bottom line is that these women endured the pain of playing a sport, the hardships of being away from friends and family while playing on the road, and the joy of winning.
I’ll end this blog with a quote by Jimmy Dugan, the manager of the Rockford Peaches during the 1943 season in the movie A League of Their Own, stating his opinion about the great game of baseball: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”
Please note that all information about the All-American Girl’s Baseball League has been gathered from the website: http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm. The quotes from the movie A League of Their Own were taken from the website http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104694/quotes. Pictures and the lyrics of the “Official Song of the All-American Girl’s Baseball League” follow below. The song was co-written by Lavone “Pepper” Paire Davis and Nalda “Bird” Phillips (Copyright © Lavone “Pepper” Paire Davis – 1988).
Batter up! Hear that call!
The time has come for one and all
To play ball.
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,