By Jim Halloran
Phillip Wrigley did not create Wrigley Gum without a solid plan. The same held true when building the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Having conceived the idea of the four team original league in 1943, he set out to find best women softball players in the country. Led by lead scout Jim Hamilton, his group of scouts scoured City Team softball leagues, All Star squads, and tournament champs from east to west. Twenty one states plus Canada and Cuba had representatives on the original four teams. When the league expanded to eight teams in its second season over 30 states were represented. Although appearance was taken into account, there were no players added without the skills to play at a professional level. The median height of the players was 5 ft. 6 inches, weight 126-130 pounds, median age was 21. Following is a quick profile of some of the early stars of the game:
Pitcher and outfielder Connie Wiseniewski of the Grand Rapid Chicks was awarded Player of the Year in 1945. At 5 ft 10 inches height she was one of the tallest players. She earned the nick name “Iron-Woman Wiseniewski” by pitching more games (46), more innings (391) and facing more batters (1,367) than any other pitcher. Her ERA that year was a meniscal 0.81. In 1946 she appeared in 49 games with 33 wins to nine losses with an ERA of 0.91. Later in her career she moved to the outfield and became a feared hitter.
Sophie Mary Kurys from Flint, Michigan played second base for the Racine Belles. Sophie was a speedster who stole more than 100 bases seven years in a row, often double the nearest competitor. Only 5 ft 5 inches tall and 125 pounds she turned professional at the age of 18. Betweeen 1946 and 1950 she was an annual selection for the All Star team.
Doris Sames was truly a double duty player excelling as both a pitcher and outfielder. The 5 ft. 10 inch slugger from Knoxville, Tennessee broke the league homerun record with 12 in 1952. In 1947 as a pitcher she won 11 of 15 games, batted .280 as a hitter and played stellar defense in the outfield. Doris earned two Player of the Year awards. She was 20 years old when she joined the Muskegon Lassies in 1946.
Audrey Wagner was only 15 years old when she joined the Kenosha Comets in 1943. Audrey, an outstanding defensive outfielder, batted over .300 in consecutive seasons which was unheard of in the league and was awarded Player of the Year in 1948. She used her player earnings to defray the cost of earning her medical degree. After the expiration of the AAGPBL “Doc” Wagner continued playing for various teams in Southern California well into her fifties.
Alma Ziegler was named Player of the Year in 1950 by the sports writers as a second baseman and pitcher for Grand Rapids Chicks. That season she led the league as a pitcher recording 19 wins. Although not a notably great hitter she played a very tight second base. She was known for her hustle, intelligence and inspiration. Alma was the captain of the team from 1944 to its final game in 1954.
Jean Faut gained her experience by playing for a men’s semi pro team while in high school in her hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania. This was where she learned to throw overhand. Consequently she became an immediate star pitcher for the South Bend Blue Sox when the league evolved to overhand pitching in 1947. During her seven year career she recorded 132 wins while posting an ERA of 1.24. Jean tossed two perfect games. She was selected Player of the Year twice. Her husband Karl , a former major league pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, was the manager of the Blue Sox.
Betty Weaver Foss was another player who earned her skills while playing with the boys in her hometown of Metropolis, Illinois. Betty stood 6 ft tall, weighed 175 pounds and boy could she hit. Playing primarily at first and third base for the Fort Wayne Daisies she was a consistent .300 hitter with power. 1952 was a typical year for Betty – batting average .334, 79 runs, 135 hits, 26 doubles, 17 triples and 74 RBIs. She received the Player of the Year award for her performance that year.
Dorothy Kamenshek played ten years, 1943 – 153, for the Rockford Peaches. A very good hitter and a fantastic first baseman. Former New York Yankee first baseman Wally Pipp described her as “the fanciest fielding first baseman I’ve ever seen, man or woman”. Always in the top ten in batting Dorothy was a great bunter. She worked endlessly at the skill of bunting by dropping the bunt down in practice on a hankerchief between first or third base. In 1950 she was offered a contract to join the Fort Lauderdale team in the all men’s professional Florida International Baseball League. The AAGBBL officials turned down the offer stating Rockford could not afford to lose her, This did not disappoint Dorothy as she felt it was probably a publicity stunt which would pay her less than the Rockford Peaches.
In 1988 the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York announced the opening of “Women in Baseball exhibit featuring highly acclaimed players, managers and administrators of the All American Girls Profession Baseball League.
Next week: How They Played the Game
Jim Halloran lives in Madison and is the author of Baseball and America, www.baseballandamerica.com