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When Women Ruled Baseball

Updated on August 10, 2017
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Melvin is an avid reader and a retired chemist after working for a major pharmaceutical company for 32 years.

During World War II, America's most popular sport went to the girls. From 1943 to 1954, women played baseball in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). By 1954, a total of 10 teams were formed with close to 1 million fans watching them play. Some of these teams survived the entire 11-year period while others only lasted one or two seasons.

The Rockford Peaches Baseball Team.
The Rockford Peaches Baseball Team.

The Reason Women Stepped Up to the Plate

When the United States entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, just about every young, able-bodied man either joined or was drafted into the armed forces. Many joined because they thought it was the patriotic thing to do. Young men left by the thousands each week to fight overseas. To give an idea on the numbers, there were roughly 139,000 men in the US Army prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. By 1945, that number had grown to over 10 million.

With so many men gone, women eventually had to fill the jobs in offices and factories. They built planes, tanks, and supplies for the military. At the same time, sports such as football and baseball took a hit because of the lack of men available to play. Half of all major league baseball players had joined the war effort. Women started stepping up to the plate to keep baseball alive.

Dorothy "Dottie" Kamenshek, first baseman.
Dorothy "Dottie" Kamenshek, first baseman.

The Start of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

It was difficult for women to play on professional sports teams in the 1940s. The opportunities weren’t there and men working in sports did not take them seriously. They got their break when President Franklin Roosevelt mentioned the idea of women playing baseball to some of Philip Wrigley’s colleagues. He told them, "Baseball is important for Americans, especially now. Times are tough, and we need something to cheer about.” Philip Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs and the Wrigley Company, turned that idea into reality by starting a women's baseball league. His idea was to keep baseball in the eye of the public by having women play in major league ballparks.

Wrigley started the league as the All-American Girls Softball League in the spring of 1943. More than 250 women met at Wrigley Field that May to try out for 60 spots on the four teams in the league. The women did not wear pants like in traditional uniforms. Instead, they wore a one-piece flared skirt uniform with long baseball stockings and a baseball cap. Mr. Wrigley wanted them to look like ladies but play like gentlemen. The name of the league was later changed to All-American Girls Baseball League and was changed again in 1950 to All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

South Bend Blue Sox women's baseball team.
South Bend Blue Sox women's baseball team.

The Rules Were Different From Softball

Most of the women who joined the AAGPBL were originally recruited from softball teams. There were differences in the rules between the two sports and the rules eventually changed from softball to baseball from 1943 to 1954. The ball size went from 12 inches down to nine inches during the period. The length between bases went from 65 feet to 85 feet in that same period. The pitching distance increased from 40 feet to 60 feet and the pitching style changed from underhand to overhand as well. All these changes were made to give the game a more professional appearance, especially for serious fans.

When the league was first formed, many ballpark owners did not want the women to play in their parks despite the fact that they were only used half of the time due to low attendance. Wrigley decided to have the women play in four non-major league parks close to the league headquarters in Chicago. Racine and Kenosha in Wisconsin were chosen, as well as Rockford, Illinois and South Bend, Indiana.

Each team had 15 players, a manager who was usually a former major league player, a business manager, and a chaperone since some of these players were as young as 15. The women on the teams were not allowed to have any other job when they joined the league. They were paid as much as $85 a week. That was a pretty good salary back in the 1940s, especially for women.

This is how women in the league were dressed,
This is how women in the league were dressed,

Acting Like Ladies, Playing Like Gentlemen

These women had to act like ladies. Wrigley made sure these girls did exactly that once they joined the league. He enrolled all of them in charm school to learn manners, proper etiquette, personal hygiene, and how to follow the dress code. They were also taught how to use a beauty kit to make themselves more attractive. This was one method used to attract men into watching women play baseball. Wrigley was a smart man. The first year of the league turned out to be a successful one due to a respectable attendance of more than 176,000 fans across 108 games. Attendance reached more than 450,000 in 1945 after the war ended and reached a peak of 910,000 fans in 1948 with 10 teams in the league. The popularity continued into 1954 when it became difficult to find talented players to fill the teams. In the end, the league gave 600 women the opportunity to play professional baseball at the same level as the men did between 1943 and 1954. They got to thrill the fans during the war and afterwards.

The Teams

Originally, there were four teams in the league. That number grew to 10 when the AAGPBL folded in 1954. The names of the teams were colorful and feminine in nature. The initial four teams were the Kenosha Comets, Racine Belles, Rockford Peaches, and South Bend Blue Sox. Racine won the first championship in 1943. The names of the additional teams, with some name changes in some cases, were the Milwaukee Chicks, Minneapolis Millerettes, Fort Wayne Daisies, Grand Rapids Chicks, Peoria Redwings, Muskegon Lassies, Chicago Colleens, Springfield Sallies, and Kalamazoo Lassies.

A Little About Some of the Players

There were many outstanding players in the league. I will mention only four of them here.

  • Dorothy “Dottie” Schroeder played shortstop on several teams and was the youngest player at 15. She was the most popular of all the players and was the only player to compete for all 12 seasons. She holds the all-time record for the most games played (1,249) and the most at-bats (4,129 times).
  • Doris “Sammye” Sams was a tall player who stood at 5'9". She played as an outfielder and was a right-handed pitcher. She was voted as Player of the Year in 1947 and again in 1949. She was also selected for the All-Star game to play in two positions as a pitcher and outfielder. Sammye is the only player in the league to accomplish this feat.
  • Hele Earlene “Beans” Risinger was a 6'1", right-handed pitcher from Oklahoma. She had the ability to deliver an overhand fastball called a nickel curve. With her pitching ability, the Grand Rapids Chicks won the championship in 1953. The trophy is on display today at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. She was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame in 1973 in Johnson County, Oklahoma.
  • Jean Faut, who played for the South Bend Blue Sox, was considered to be one of the best players in the AAGPBL. She earned many accolades during her career as a pitcher. She led the league with the best ERA in 1950, 1952, and 1953. She pitched 12 shutout games in 1949 and was selected to the All-Star team four times in 1949, 1950, 1951, and 1953. Jean was voted as Player of the Year in 1951 and 1953. She earned a lifetime ERA of 1.23 with a win-loss record of 140-64.

Conclusion

Women played a crucial role during WWII for the United States. They kept morale high and kept the economy from hitting rock bottom by filling in jobs. They also kept America's pastime alive in the eyes of the fans until the boys came back home.

© 2011 Melvin Porter

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    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Tanya, thanks for tour comment.

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      taniya 5 years ago

      love it

    • seattleamilehigh1 profile image

      seattleamilehigh1 5 years ago from Seattle, Washington

      I just think it would be another great platform for the sport. Everyone is out to make a buck, should be milking it for what it is worth.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Seattleamilehigh1, thanks for your comment and stopping by to read my hub. You are right it would be nice to see a professional women baseball league playing again. It would be something different to see.

    • seattleamilehigh1 profile image

      seattleamilehigh1 5 years ago from Seattle, Washington

      One of my favorite stories in baseball lore. i wish I was around to see them ladies play. I don't think it would be a bad idea even today. Thanks for the read and voted up :D

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      Shannon 5 years ago

      This was a great hepl to me - I'm doing a project for National History Day that is based on this

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      ian warren 6 years ago

      love reading about the woman. As a English man I'm still trying to work out how to play the game.? I was wondering how many player's are still alive.?

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Cecilia, thanks for your commit and for stopping by to read my hub.

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      Cecelia Millhouse 6 years ago from Sanford, North Carolina

      I love reading about this. I prefer baseball over softball and played it for as long as I could. I lived in Fort wayne and my dad always had a picture of the daisies hanging in our house. Loved this hub and enjoyed learning more of the background! Thanks!

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Dahoglund. Thanks for stopping by to read my hub. It is a very interesting piece of history that most people are unaware of that took place when the world was at war. It is good to hear from you again.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I had never heard About this. of coarse I do not come from a sports minded family. I like this bits of unusual history.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Baseball Training Bat, thanks for your comment.

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      Baseball Training Bat 6 years ago

      Really interesting to read this post and photos are good.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      KateWest, thanks for the comment and for stopping by to read my hub.

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      KateWest 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hooray!

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Thanks Rhonda. I appreciate the thumbs up and thanks for stopping by to read my hub.

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      Rhonda Musch 6 years ago from The Emerald Coast

      The movie I saw was a league of their own. This was and is a great movie. Great hub about those times and back then. Voted up.

      Sweet wishes Rhonda

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      mortgage-news, thanks for the comment. I have to sit down one day and watch this movie in its entirety. I only saw bits and pieces of the movie.

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      mortgage-news 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      A league of Their own was a great movie! Nice job providing more background about that era.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Ketou, when the United States went to war during World War II just about all able-bodied man including the professional baseball players were drafted to fight the war. Some men volunteer their services.

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      ketou 6 years ago

      :).. never knew baseball was once ruled by girls. Interesting.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Dhart, thanks for the comment. I am planning to write a hub on the Women Negro Baseball League in the near future.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Scooby, thanks for the comment and for stopping by to read my hub. I am glad you enjoyed reading it.

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      Dhart 6 years ago from Culver City, CA

      Great hub! The only bad thing about those women's leagues is that they never integrated, even after Jackie Robinson & Co. broke the color line in MLB - I think that was a factor in those women's leagues folding.

      Mamie, Peanut, and Toni should've been integrated into that women's league!

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      Scooby 6 years ago

      Enjoyable, well-formed article. I'm a history buff and I'd never seen this covered before. Thank you. :)

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      TurtleDog and Eiddwen, thanks for your comments and for stopping by to read my hub.

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      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Brilliant hub and thanks for sharing.

      I now look forward to reading more of your work.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • TurtleDog profile image

      TurtleDog 6 years ago

      Really great hub. Enjoyed reading it and, thanks to your article, really looking forward to some Major League Baseball starting this week.... Thanks for the post

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Justom, I am planning to write a future hub on women who played in the Negro League and thanks for the comment.

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      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      This is a nicely done hub, Dottie Kamenshek is from my town. Since this was about girls and baseball I was surprised to see the three women that played in the Negro Leagues (against men). Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, Connie Morgan and Toni Stone were not mentioned. Those three were most impressive to me. Peace!! Tom

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Jay, thanks for your comment and for reading my hub.

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      Jay 6 years ago

      Thank you for your excellent and timely article. I just put a similar piece in our newsletter at work. March is National Women's History Month.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      gg.zaino, thanks for the comment and thumbs up on my hub.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Saloca, thanks for your comment and for stopping by to read my hub.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Conter Strike Hacks, thanks for your comment.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Chrisand, thanks for the comment and for stopping by. Baseball fans everywhere need to salute on the women out their for keeping this game alive during the war.

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      greg g zaino 6 years ago from L'America- Big Pine Key, Florida

      Melpor- great hub to read on opening day! Voted 'UP" and 'awesome' my friend of the game.

      am going to share this on facebook if you don't mind...

      A very strong paper- your research was presented interestingly and professionally.

      thank you for this 'Opener' Melpor.

      peace ~ greg

    • Saloca profile image

      Saloca 6 years ago from Liverpool, UK

      Fantastic hub! These women were amazing!

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      Counter Strike Hacks 6 years ago

      lol cool hub

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      chrisand 6 years ago

      Women really did play a crucial role in many areas while the war was on. Keeping this game alive during the war gave baseball fans a lot of enjoyment during this tough time. A well researched hub melpor

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Gabbler, thanks for stopping by to read my hub. I hope you get an "A" on your report.

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      gabbler 6 years ago

      this helped me on my report at school thank you!!!!

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Genna East, thanks for your comment. During World War II women filled in a lot jobs at the time while the men went off to war. The country would not have won the war with their contribution in jobs.

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      Genna East 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I am so happy someone decided to write an article about these terrific gals! This is just another example of the many ways women "stepped up to the plate" during WW II.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Kingis, thanks for your comment on my hub.

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      Patrick King 6 years ago from Springfield, IL

      Great hub. I tend to forget that my hometown was home to team in the AAGPBL.

    • melpor profile image
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      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Thanks Husky1970. Also thanks for stopping by to read my hub.

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      Husky1970 6 years ago

      Great hub and great topic. These ladies could really play. Nice job.