by Jim Halloran
Times have changed. The sexist headlines and descriptions of the girls in 1943 would not be appropriate in 2019. Headlines such as “ They Look Like Girls but They Play Like Men,” “ The Lipstick League,” “What’s a Ballgame Without Curves,” “The World’s Prettiest Ballplayers,” were common and attracted attention, but bottom line – these girls could play baseball.
South Bend sportswriter Jim Cosun penned the following after witnessing the first game ever played on May 30, 1943.
None of the girls on either team is of the usual sandlot variety. The strong, accurate arms possessed by most of them and the healthy cuts they take at a pitched ball were revelations to most of the onlookers – including this one. Their thoroughly feminine uniforms and appearances also added color to the scene. They play for keeps, too, as evidenced by the manner in which they slide, crash into each other, and generally carry on as though they were out for blood.”
The young ladies that played the game were left with what many consider the highlight of their lives. Some have passed on but others live on and still enjoy the memories and associations. A few quotes overheard from players at a reunion show the enthusiasm they still have for the game long after retirement.
“Back in our playing days there was much camaraderie on the teams and such a good support system. Everybody was for the next person. You made your finest friends there, friends for a lifetime.”
“When you get back to the reunions, there are these same people, and you felt like you’ve never been away. You just fall in and carry on the conversation.”
“There’s a warmth about the girls. They’re just delighted to be together. And you can’t help but get delighted with them. “
“Doing something like our playing baseball, getting together to make a win…well 40 some years later you still get excited about it! Once you start reliving those moments, you feel the heartbeat comin’ back up again.”
And the fans loved them – in particularly ladies and young girls. “we were their heroines you know.’ The Rockford Peaches had their “Coke” girls”. Who would buy their favorite players a Coke just as the game ended, wait in the runway underneath the stands and proudly hand it over as their favorite entered the locker room. Since the favorites received more than one coke they would share with teammates in the locker.
Of course the men loved “the flying skirts” and the beautiful legs. Irene Applegren explained the significance that sex appeal had on attendance. “ The male fans liked to come out and see a cute little girl with pretty legs and a nice figure who could still throw a ball.” Popular newspaper photos of the times displayed the fearlessness of the way the girls played.
For the records book
The history of the game has been preserved and kept by the AAGPBL Players Association. The following player statistics provides insight into the quality of the play
The Best of The Best 1946
!943 Glady’s “Terrier” Davis .332 Rockford Peaches
1944 Betsy Jochum .296 South Bend Blue Sox
1945 Mary Nesbit Wisham ,319 Racine Belles
1946 Dorothy Kamenshek .316 Rockford Peaches
1947 Dorothy Kamenshek ,306 Rockford Peaches
1948 Audrey Wagner .312 Kenosha Comets
1949 Doris Sams .279 Muskegon Lassies
1950 Betty Weaver Foss .346 Fort Wayne Daisies
1951 Betty Weaver Foss .368 Fort Wayne Daisies
1952 Joanne Weaver ,344 Fort Wayne Daisies
1953 Joanne Weaver ,346 Fort Wayne Diasies
1954 Joanne Weaver . 429 Fort Wayne Daisies
1943 Helen Nicol 31-8 Kenosha Comets
1944 Helen Nicol 17-11 Kenosha Comets
1945 Connie Wisniewski 32-11 Grand Rapid Chicks
1946 Connie Wisniewshi 33-9 Grand Rapid Chicks
1947 Mildred Earp 20-8 Grand Rapid Chicks
1948 Alice Haylett 25-5 Grand Rapid Chicks
1949 Lois Florreach 22-7 Grand Rapid Chicks
1950 Jean Faut 21-9 South Bend Blue Sox
1951 Alma Zeigler 14-8 Grand Rapid Chicks
1952 Jean Faut 20-2 South Bend Blue Sox
1953 Jean Faut 17-11 South Bend Blue Sox
1954 Janet Rumsey 15-6 South Bend Blue Sox
The Rockford Peaches were regarded as the best team in the AAGPBL having won 4 of the 10 championships
1943 Racine Belles
1944 Milwaukee Chicks
1945 Rockford Peaches
1946 Racine Belles
1947 Grand Rapids Chicks
1948 Rockford Peaches
1949 Rockford Peaches
1950 Rockford Peaches
1951 South Bend Blue Sox
1952 South Bend Blue Sox
1953 Grand Rapids Chicks
1954 Kalamazoo Lassies
The highest attendance for the league was in 1944 259,658. The total for the ten years of league play was slightly under 2,000,000.
Ref: When Women Played Baseball, Johnson, Susan E
The origins and History of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, Fidler, Merrie A.
Next week: The Baseball Hall of Fame and the movie “A League of Their Own
Jim Halloran lives in Madison and is the author of Baseball and America