During World War II, we were introduced to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (yes, the one that you saw in the 1992 classic film ‘A League of Their Own’). Baseball became a game that women were at the forefront of. In a previous piece, I discussed how the game involved women by the introduction of Ladies Days. The involvement worked perfectly as they went from being fans to players. Just think about how a young woman growing up in the 1920’s and 1930’s could have an unthinkable dream come true because of the league being created in 1943.
Minneapolis had a team in the league for one season- in 1944. They didn’t have an official nickname, but they would be known as the Millerettes and Orphans. The club finished the season at 45-72 but the league gave up on Minneapolis and they played the last half of the season on the road (of course this is how the Orphans nickname came about). Even though the Minnesota stint was brief, their starting pitcher Annabelle Lee threw the league’s first perfect game. She left behind her $95 a month bank-clerk position so she could make $85 a week throwing her coveted knuckleball.
One common piece of misinformation is that these women weren’t paid well. This would be wrong, as they were making about $125 ($1200 in 2020 dollars) a week during the peak years. The league flourished and had almost one million fans during the 1948 season. The teams were all in the Midwest and the Rockford Peaches was its most dominant team (no coincidence the center of attention in ‘A League of Their Own’). They won four of the twelve league championships- including a three-peat from 1948-1950. However, in the movie they were incorrectly put in the 1943 championship. The Racine Belles did win the first championship just like the movie portrays.
Over 600 women played in this league, setting the groundwork for future generations of girls growing up to love the game of baseball. The league lasted from 1943-1954 but its history became lost throughout the decades. Even though most of it was fictionalized, the movie helped revive its significance in the early 1990s. The most interesting fact about the AAGPBL is that it defied the odds of ceasing to exist when the men came back from war.
You could say that girls ruled baseball in the 1940s! The game shifted to where it was now possible to see a mother and daughter throwing around a baseball instead of it just being father and son.
The girls did have to abide by a ‘Rules of Conduct’ though. The rules included:
You must have long hair
Could not drink/smoke in public
Always had to wear lipstick
The other requirement was each team must have a chaperone. Essentially, this meant they didn’t have the same freedom as male baseball players due to marketing techniques used by the league to have more fans. They wanted to have a certain appeal so they could attract people to come watch professional women’s baseball. “Family Entertainment” is exactly what the league wanted the fans to see. Rules were strict, and anyone who didn’t obey would be thrown out of the league. The league showed they weren’t bluffing as the South Bend Blue Sox had to fire their all-star left fielder Jo Jo D’Angelo when she cut her hair short.
Phillip Wrigley, the son of Wrigley Field’s namesake, founded the AAGPBL. Just like his father, he saw things no one else thought of. As the men went off to war, Wrigley created the league so the public’s interest in baseball would be maintained. However, no one at the time could have understood the impact this would become to this day.
The league ceased to exist after the 1954 season due to poor promotions/individual team advertising. 66 years later though, we still discuss how players like Faye Dancer, Dorothy Ferguson, and Joanne Winter took the country by surprise and became stars of something we had never seen before.