A League of their own Review – Feelgood Baseball Drama
The All American Girls Professional Baseball League
When World War II began, several roles previously occupied by men were left empty; including mens sports. Women stepped up to the plate and filled the shoes of the men. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League changed the players’ lives as well as affected women’s sports for future generations by the way it was founded and run.
As the war went on, men’s baseball leagues took a toll for the worst. Many people at home were trying to support the soldiers at war, so they rarely had time to go see a ball game. Work hours were extended so no one had time to do anything else. Fans couldn’t get to the ballpark because people were limited on gas to save it for the military. People didn’t like seeing men playing when the same men could be out fighting in the war, so half or even more major league players went to war. William Wrigley Jr. was the owner of the Cubs at the time and he thought that baseball would have to end. Baseball commissioner Landis wanted to suspend baseball for the period of the war because he was scared he wouldn’t make any profit. In January 1942, President Roosevelt wanted Landis to keep baseball going to keep people’s hopes up in that time of war.
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Wrigley knew he had to make money somehow so he came up with a great idea to let girls play. If Rosie the Riveter could do anything, she probably could play baseball. Wrigley knew that girls wanted to play because even before the war he had ladies day at his field. In the winter of 1942, Wrigley put his plan in place. Wrigley knew that this league could make money for the period of the war. Wrigley wanted his players to portray a more feminine characteristic or talent like cookie decorating. When Wrigley made The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League he wanted the teams to play in smaller cities since everyone had to save on gas but some teams wouldn’t let women use their stadiums. Even though Wrigley ran into some challenges along the way, the league’s success surprised everyone.
William Wrigley Jr. set out to find the players he believed would save baseball from ending. Hamilton, a scout who worked for Wrigley, was put in charge to go and find the talent that Wrigley was looking for. Hamilton knew that parents were going to be scared for their daughters who were only teens to their early twenties and most of them had never really gone out of their hometown. So he would take the family out to dinner to explain to them that they knew that these girls were young so they would have chaperones by them always. After the parents gave their approval the girls were off to the tryouts. In May of 1943, 280 women made it to the tryouts but only 64 came out of it. This was a stressful time for the girls because any day of the tryout their future career could end. After this, they went to a training camp. In newspapers when they found out who made it, they said, “Recruits were selected almost as much for their physical appearance and character as they were for their playing ability”( Yomtov 35).
Wrigley still wanted a feminine appearance while playing baseball so he gave a list of what the player’s images should be which was healthy, glamorous, fit, enthusiastic, vigor, and have a good personality all around. In 1943, to achieve his goal, Wrigley made the girls take a class taught by Helena Rubenstein to learn about manners, makeup, what was the proper way to dress, how to properly speak, and how to sit upright. If even after this class the girls couldn’t follow this image they were given penalties; ten dollars for talking back to the umpires and fifty dollars if they were looking sloppy out in public. This meant they had to follow strict rules: twear a skirt, hair down to their collar, no drinking or smoking, social activities had to be approved by management, follow curfew rules-which meant being in bed 2 hours after they played a game. The most important rule was to always behave like ladies. Wrigley took it even further “ In the team’s home cities, the players would live with local families to further enhance the clean-cut image Wrigley wished to portray” (Yomtov 35 ). The final designs of the ladies uniforms were finished by Mrs.Wrigley and they were more feminine. The uniforms were long dresses with the pastel colors of green, blue, yellow, and peach. “ Newspaper writers, finally able to report their own observations, joked that these charming ambassadors would win games by batting their eyes at the umpires” ( Helmer 22).
After all the rules were set for these players, they were chosen to go and play for one of the four teams which consisted of the Rockford peaches, The South Bend Indiana Blue Sox, The Wisconsin Belles, and the Wisconsin Comets. Even though they were assigned to a certain team, they could always be reassigned to a different team to equal out the talent. The players would get paid a lot because they were constantly playing games, so their salaries were about $45- $85 plus their expenses. The profits made during this time went to worthy causes from 1943 until 1945. The teams did lots of promotional efforts. They let servicemen go to the games for free, some games would be played at army training camps and veterans hospitals, and players would visit injured soldiers (Houts 24).
This career was a serious opportunity. They not only did it to have fun, and get out of their parents’ house for a little bit, but also to become part of history. Some players were very committed to the sport like Dottie Colling, even though she was pregnant she continued pitching. Bonnie Baker, who was at first just a player, became the first woman to manage a girls’ professional baseball league. The strong passion for the sport is amazing, but what is most amazing is the dedication in spite of there were so many changes throughout the season. No one knew how the girls did it. For example, this league was first formed to be a softball league with some rules based on baseball thrown in somewhere. It had underhand pitching (like softball), 9 innings (like baseball), the ball was 12 inches (smaller than a softball but larger than a baseball), 9 players on a field (like baseball), and bases were spread 70 feet apart ( smaller than baseball larger than softball) ( Hanmer 31). There were also three different names that were put in place for the league, these names consisted of The All-American girls Softball League, The All-American Girls Baseball, and the final name The all-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
The first season began in 1943 and after one year nearly one million fans came to watch these women. In 1944 Wrigley added two cities, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis, Minnesota. The teams who made it to the playoffs that year were Kenosha and Milwaukee. Milwaukee won it. That would be their last game because after that, due to bad attendance, Milwaukee Chicks had to stop playing. In 1945, there were six teams due to the new addition on Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Daisies. In 1946, there were eight teams but the boys began coming back home from the war. In 1948, there were ten teams. In 1949, veterans started leaving because of the lack of attendance and support. After the boys came home the attendance dropped and in 1952 only six teams played. Things were going downhill for this league.
Due to lack of support after the boys came home from war, Wrigley was forced to sell his league to Meyerhoff’s Manage for $10,000. Many teams were losing money and some went bankrupt. According to Margot Galt, since we had “… a prosperous economy, many Americans didn’t need hometown sports for cheap entertainment anymore” (80). That’s why the girls league started to fall apart. In 1950, teams didn’t want to have Mayerhoff’s Manage Corporation managing them because they thought that they were causing all of the financial problems. The teams voted and decided that he wasn’t going to be managing them anymore.
On June 23, 1952, some people in charge weren’t going to let women play in the major leagues anymore. This is when the girls knew that the men had closed the doors on women’s baseball. This was a good run for these women because they went twelve seasons that lasted from 1943 to 1954. But after it had ended these women never really mentioned that they were part of that kind of history. According to Lois Browne, the women had kept newspapers to remind themselves of their accomplishments and their progress during the seasons (2). Some of these women didn’t want to stop playing sports, so they would do golf, softball, bowling, or they would become physical education teachers. Around 1950-1960, opportunities for women were minimal, so it was hard on the players to go from being famous and successful, to having no job at all.
In 1972, it was a big step in the right direction for women because of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. It demanded that no one could be discriminated against when playing sports because of gender (Brown 8). After this came out, in 1982 the former players founded the All-American Girls Players. In 1988 finally, in Cooperstown, New York, in the Hall of fame, they made an exhibit for the women who played for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. That same year Director Penny Marshall directed a movie called A League of Their Own. These incredible women had inspired many generations to come because in 1944 a new baseball team was formed and from then on girls were treated equally in sports.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League changed the players’ lives as well as affected women’s sports for future generations by the way it was founded and run. We now know how a step in the right direction can make a huge effect on women’s sports. Wrigley had an idea, implemented it, and it turned out to be more than anyone expected. Although it lasted only twelve years, it made an impact on the role women had in society.