A League of Their Own: The Real Story Behind Women’s Baseball
“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.”
- Yogi Berra
Baseball, of course, is America’s favorite pastime. It’s also where women’s professional sports leagues began in the United States.
If you’ve seen the 1992 Hollywood hit “A League of Their Own,” you’ve gotten a good, albeit somewhat fictionalized, introduction to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the first women’s professional sports league of its kind. Formed in 1943 by Philip K. Wrigley -- the gum man, the Cubs man, and apparently the women’s baseball man! -- the AAGPBL ran for 11 years until 1954.
Keeping Baseball Alive in the US
Starting during the height of World War II, the league was created in order to combat the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon from happening as more than 500 Major League players and 2,000 minor league players left the game to join the military. The minor league teams were heavily impacted and so, to continue to grow interest in baseball while those players were overseas, Wrigley came up with the idea to start a women’s league.
Initial tryouts for the league were held at Wrigley Field in Chicago and recruited amateur softball players from across the country. These women were scouted, 500 showed up for the try-out, 280 were allowed to participate, but only 60 ended up making the league roster. The first games ever played were on May 30, 1943 with the South Bend Blue Sox playing the Rockford Peaches and the Kenosha Comets facing the Racine Belles. The season ran from late spring to early autumn.
The Feminine Expectation
While talent was certainly key to a player making the roster, other considerations were taken into account, like how “feminine” a player appeared and how attractively they could be marketed. (Insert eye roll). The women were required to attend evening charm school classes to learn etiquette, hygiene, dress code, etc. They were also made to wear skirts and lipstick while playing.
“In an effort to make each player as physically attractive as possible, each received a beauty kit and instructions on how to use it. As a part of the league’s 'Rules of Conduct', the 'girls' were not permitted to have short hair, smoke or drink in public places, and they were required to wear lipstick at all times.”
So the scenes in “A League of Their Own” where the team attempts to evade its chaperone (one of which was assigned to every team) are pretty factual. If they broke a rule or cut their hair too short, the players were fined. Three strikes and they were out of the league.
As far as salary was concerned, athletes were paid anywhere from $45-85/week ($652-1231 in today’s economy) in the first few years of the league. This was pretty minimal compared to the highest MLB player’s salary at the time of around $1,421/week. The women’s pay rose to $125/week ($1207 in 2018) as the league continued. With ten teams playing in the season of 1948, the league hit its highest attendance rate with 910,000 paid fans!
Wrigley held ownership of the league from 1943-1945 then it passed to Arthur Meyerhoff, a Chicago advertising executive, until 1951. After this, the teams were individually owned and lost any centralized publicity, promotion, and player recruitment. The League began to decline due to these insufficiencies, team owners fluctuated on financial circumstances and eventually the league folded in 1954.
Historical Reunions and Hall of Fame Recognition
Almost 26 years after the league folded, a former pitcher named June Peppas created a newsletter to attempt to reunite former teammates, friends, etc., and the first reunion of players was held in 1982. A Players Association was formed at a 1986 reunion and there began an effort to gain recognition from the Baseball Hall of Fame, which they achieved in 1988. There is now a National Women’s Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY (where the men’s hall of fame is as well) and it has 11 inductees!
Evolution of a Sport
While the first official sports league for women in the US was baseball, there is no women’s league in operation currently (there are leagues internationally). There is a national team that competes every other year in the Women’s Baseball World Cup and in the Pan-American Games. “Right now it just doesn’t seem like there are a lot of options available as a woman in the sport,” Emily Tsujikawa, an 18 year-old pitcher for Team USA, says. “Not because we’re not good enough, but because of discrimination.”⁴
“Sometimes it does feel like two steps forward and two steps back, but at least we’re facing the right direction,” veteran Team USA infielder and two-time gold medalist Malaika Underwood says. “My daughter will grow up knowing that I played sports, while I grew up knowing my mom didn’t have the opportunity to play sports. Setting a good example for her in terms of following your dreams and doing the things you love, that’s a motivator for me.”⁴
While there is a major professional sports league for softball in the US, these two sports are very different. We can hope that one day in the near future, a professional baseball league for women will be reborn from the history of the AAGPBL to serve the continued generations of women who love the sport of baseball!
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Keep reading for more facts about the AAGPBL including league names, teams, the victory song and a timeline of important events.
All-American Girls Softball League →
All-American Girls Baseball League →
All-American Girls Professional Ball League (AAGPBL) →
All-American Girls Baseball League →
American Girls Baseball League (AGBL)
FINAL NAME CHANGE:
1986 Players’ Association reunion and 1988 National Baseball Hall of Fame recognizes league as All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL)
The Rockford Peaches won the most league championships with four (1945, 1948, 1949, 1950).
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
We're all Americans!!
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,
Important events and milestones in women's baseball:
1875 — The first women's baseball game for which fans were charged and women players were paid was played between the Blondes and the Brunettes in Springfield, Illinois on 11 September.
1880s — The Dolly Vardens, an all-female, African-American team from Chester, Pennsylvania, was assembled by barber-turned-sports entrepreneur John Lang in the 1880s as a team that played for the entertainment of spectators.
1920s — Philadelphia had factory teams for women, women’s leagues, and the Philadelphia Bobbies for non-working women.
1930s — The "Bold Years" for women's baseball; women baseball players toured internationally, played junior baseball, and signed minor league contracts.
1946 — Sophie Kurys set the stolen base record for the AAGPBL with 201 stolen bases in 203 attempts; this record continues to be unequalled in baseball history, as Rickey Henderson is second in stolen bases with 130 (1982).
1948 — The Junior Belles became more popular, as more girls tried out for the teams; other AAGPBL teams, such as the Lassies and the Comets, began to sponsor girls’ junior baseball teams.
1955 — Bill Allington formed two women's teams called Allington's All-Stars which barnstormed the U.S. playing men's town and semi-pro teams, and lasted until 1957.
1988 — American Women's Baseball Association (AWBA) founded in Chicago; first organized women's league since AAGPBL (1943–1954).
1990s — American Women's Baseball League (AWBL0 was founded by Jim Glennie in an effort to unite women's baseball teams and leagues around the country and to provide support to them.
1995 — WNABA had 100 affiliated women's baseball teams in 16 states in the U.S.
2001 — The first Women's World Series (WWS) was played at the SkyDome in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; countries that participated included the United States of America, Australia, Canada, and Japan — the U.S. won the gold medal.
2003 — Pawtucket Slaterettes all-girls' baseball league celebrated its 30th season of all-girls' baseball.
2003 — Women's baseball became an official sport (39th) of the AAU; this marked the first time in United States history that a U.S. national organization began sanctioning and supporting women’s baseball.
2004 — USA Baseball sanctioned the first official national women's baseball team; the team competed in the 2004 WWS (in Japan) and in the 2004 Women's World Cup of Baseball
2004 — John Kovach, manager of the South Bend Blue Sox Women's Baseball Club, director of the Great Lakes Women's Baseball League, and AAU Women's Baseball Youth Baseball Chair, worked out a proposal with Little League, Inc. to use the Michiana Girls’ Baseball League as a model league to develop girls’ Little League baseball programs around the country
2007 — Chicago Pioneers girls' baseball team became the first-ever U.S. Girls' Baseball National Champions after defeating the Pawtucket Slaterettes during the 2007 Women's Baseball National Championship/Girls' Baseball National Championship in Ft. Myers, Florida.
2015 — Women's baseball was added to the 2015 Pan American Games.
2016 — Twelve teams competed in the 7th Women's Baseball World Cup, the most in history.