75th Anniversary of the All-American Girls Pro Baseball League

May 4, 2018

“December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy…  No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premediated invasion, the American people, in their religious might, will win through to absolute victory.” – Harry Truman’s address to congress on December 8, a day after the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  This day changed the entire landscape of American History in all aspects, including sports. In 1939 the greatest defense program in the history of the nation, the draft, was put into place. Every man from the ages of 18 and 36 was required to register for 12 months of military service "to ensure the independence and freedom of the United States." The draft put nearly two million men in uniform by the end of 1941.

                In 1941, major league baseball was at its peak, enjoying a momentous year; which hold some of the greatest records in baseballs history. Ted Williams batted .406, Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games, 41-year-old Lefty Grove got his 300th career win, and Dodgers' catcher Mickey Owen was forever eternalized for dropping a pitch that cost the Brooklyn Dodgers the World Series. But Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor sent the entire country into a spiral. Many players put their careers on hold to protect their country. However, the players who chose to stay and keep playing were scrutinized, and many people thought that baseball squandered manpower for the military and should be shut down till war’s end.

 

                Now with all of this scrutiny, beloved Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum mogul who had inherited the Chicago Cubs' Major League Baseball franchise from his father, to search for a possible solution to this dilemma. Wrigley asked Ken Sells, assistant to the Chicago Cubs' General Manager to head a committee to come up with ideas. They came up with the an idea of a girls' softball league be established to be prepared to go into Major League parks should attendance fall due to franchises losing too many quality players to attract crowds. By 1943, and after many lawyer litigations the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBBL) was established.

 

Wrigley originally envisioned that Major League baseball parks could profit from having the women play on the dates the men's teams were scheduled to be on the road. He calculated this would maximize the use of the parks which were now only utilized 50% of the time. He approached other Major League owners, but the idea was not well received. Four non-Major League cities were selected that were in close proximity to the League headquarters in Chicago and close to each other. The cities chosen were Racine and Kenosha Wisconsin, Rockford, Illinois, and South Bend, Indiana. Teams consisted of fifteen players, a manager, a business manager, and a woman chaperone. It was believed that by acquiring notable men sports figures as managers for the girls' teams, there would be greater curiosity and interest by the public. Salaries for the players ranged from $45 to $85 a week. In addition, femininity was a high priority. After their daily practices, the women were required to attend evening charm school classes. The proper etiquette for every situation was taught, and every aspect of personal hygiene, mannerisms and dress code was presented to all the players. In an effort to make each player as physically attractive as possible, each player received a beauty kit and instructions on how to use it. They had specially designed uniforms for each team in the league. The one-piece short-skirted flared tunic was fashioned after the figure skating, field hockey, and tennis costumes of the period. Satin shorts, knee-high baseball socks and baseball hat completed the uniform.

 

The league started off slow, but gained popularity by the end of the 1943 season it had gained immense popularity and expanded in the ’44 and ’45 seasons. In the first three years after World War II, teams often attracted between two and three thousand fans to a single game. One league highlight occurred when an estimated 10,000 people saw a 1946 Fourth of July double-header in South Bend, Indiana. The AAGPBL peaked in attendance during the 1948 season, when ten teams attracted 910,000 paid fans. However, attendance declined in the following years. But life after the War for the ladies was a highlight as well. Life was great. The All-American host cities organized Junior Leagues for young girls 14 years and older. The teams traveled to exotic locations for spring training: Pascagoula, Mississippi in 1946; Havana, Cuba in 1947; and Opalocka, Florida in 1949.

 

The film, A League of Their Own, starring Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell is a fictional story on the life of the players and the start of the AAGPBL; and I think really depicts the time well, and is one of the best sports films of all-time. It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League gave over 600 women athletes the chance to play professional baseball and to play it at a level never before attained. The League operated from 1943 to 1954 and represents one of the most unique aspects of our nation's baseball history.

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