Batter Up! Women’s Baseball in Florida

To honor the beginning of Spring Training I decided to update with a post about the All American Girls Baseball League and their training in Opa-Locka, Florida.

With the shortage of men during WWII women stepped into roles unknown to them prior to the war. Women were riveters, newspaper reports, and even baseball players. In an effort to maintain the popularity of baseball until after the war, as well as keep American’s positive with their favorite base time, Philip K. Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs started the All American Girls Baseball League in 1943.

Wrigley began the team by converting the best of the softball players to hard ball baseball players. Hundreds of women went to tryouts in May 1943, and four teams were quickly formed: the Rockford Peaches, Racine Belles, Kenosha Comets and South Bend BlueSox.

Shortly after the league doubled in size to include Minneapolis Millerettes, Fort Wayne Daisies, Grand Rapids Chicks, Battle Creek Belles, Kalamazoo Lassies, and Springfield Sallies.

The league drew crowds from all over the nation, the players were actually good.  Pitcher Jean Faut won three pitching championships, and pitched two perfect games.

Sophie Kurys, nicknamed the “Tina Cobb” of the league, averaged 100 stolen bases a season and in one year stole 201 bases in 203 tries. Another player, Joanne Weaver hit .429 one season and won the batting title three years in a row. And Anabelle Lee, whose nephew Bill would one day pitch for the Boston Red Sox, once threw a perfect game for the Minneapolis Millerettes.

Though women were playing a traditionally male sport, they were still very much confined to society’s expectations as females. “Femininity is the keynote of our league,” said its new president. “No pants-wearing, tough-talking female softballer will play on any of our four teams.”  Wrigley hired a prominent cosmetics firms to host a ‘charm school’ for his players, and to give etiquette and charms tips off the field. The players were require to have chaperons accompany them from town to town and on each evening outing.

“Players were required to wear skirts, high heels, and makeup off the field; a fifty-dollar fine was levied for infractions if they were caught disobeying.” (PBS.org).  As a part of the leagues ‘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.

One batter was called back to the dugout because she had forgotten her lipstick. The league lasted for 12 full seasons.

The All American Girls Baseball League was the first recorded professional women’s baseball league, however women have been playing baseball since the 1800′s. Vassar College hosted the first women’s baseball teaming in 1866, and Bloomer Girls teams (which sometimes included men) flourished from 1890-1930.  Additionally there were at least three female players, Toni Stone, Mamie Johnson and Connie Mogan,  in the professional Negro League.

The story of the All- American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPL) was recently popularized in the movie “A League of Their Own”, with Tom Hanks and Geena Davis. Though a highly fictionalized version of the league, it does portray the conception of the League and the era accurately.  “Baseball Girls” , a documentary by Louis Segal details the history of women’s participation in the male dominated sport, and dedicated much time to the League.

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