October 31, 2016



The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), as it became known, lasted 12 seasons, under three different ownerships. It eventually expanded to as many as 10 teams, all in the Midwest. That's a pretty good run for a women's team sport; many an effort since has gone under much faster. Salaries were not startling--$60-$85 a week at first--but well above that of most munitions workers. The managers were men, including a number of former major leaguers, such as Bill Wambsganss, who turned the only unassisted triple play in World Series history in 1920, and Hall of Famer Jimmy Foxx.

At first the women played softball, but the game evolved; it's best to see the sport the women played as a hybrid between softball and baseball that got closer to the latter over time. By 1948 they were pitching overhand, using a hardball. The women showcased an energetic brand of baseball, running wild on the base-paths and sliding head-first, on account of their uniforms--a one-piece dress, cut four inches above the knees.

At a time when many physical educators of both sexes thought that competition coarsened girls, the league's management placed an emphasis on femininity. Players took mandatory etiquette lessons and had to follow strict rules of conduct. The handbook, created by the league, gave advice on everything from speech ("no slang or slurry words") to beauty routines and hygiene (shower after games and dry thoroughly) to sportsmanship and stretching. "You have certain responsibilities," the guide noted, because you "are in the limelight."

On-field makeup was compulsory; one player recalled that a chaperone held her back from going to the plate in a tense situation until she refreshed her lipstick. The team chaperone had to approve all social engagements. In each town, there was a list of places not to go.

All of this sounds both curious and condescending, but it was a calculated choice to make these athletes less threatening to the social mores they were so enthusiastically flouting. For these jocks, if the price of playing for real was makeup lessons and stupid rules, so be it. And drawing on talent from all over the country, Canada, and even Cuba--but no African Americans, even after Jackie Robinson had debuted--the AAGPBL teams gave a chance to some 545 athletes. Wally Pipp, the man Lou Gehrig displaced at first base, called Dottie Kamenshek of the Rockford Peaches the "fanciest-fielding first baseman I've ever seen, male or female."

Posted by at October 31, 2016 5:22 PM