Women's Baseball History with Dr. Leslie Heaphy
Connections: A Podcast of the James L. Hamner Public Library
Published March 23, 2022
Transcripts are edited to aid with ease of reading. Verbal fillers, stuttered phrases, sounds of listening, and laughter are generally removed, but grammatical errors and similar verbal idiosyncrasies are included. Ellipses (…) are used to indicate unfinished sentences or interruptions.
[Intro Music] Jill 00:04
Welcome to Connections, a podcast of the James L. Hamner Public Library. I'm your host, Jill, and the ideas in this episode represented the opinions and experiences of the speakers. They may not represent the library's official position.
[Episode Introduction] Hello, everyone! With me today is Dr. Leslie Heaphy. Dr. Heaphy is a professor of history at Kent State University. She has studied US history, sports history, and published extensively on US baseball history. She can tell you more about why she is qualified to talk about baseball.
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So Leslie, thank you for talking with us today. I actually reached out to you, well, I didn't, but somebody referred me to you, because I read this book Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages and realized there is so much more about woman in baseball that I had no idea I didn't even know, and so I started digging and eventually ended up with you.
Well, thank you for inviting me.
As we get started, could you start by telling us a little bit, in a sentence or two, how you are qualified to talk about the history of women in baseball because as librarians, we always want people to verify their sources.
And probably as a historian as well.
Absolutely. So there's my first the first issue. I am a historian, by background and trade. I teach at Kent State University. And so that's the first part of my... because as historians and librarians, sources are the most important thing for us. And so, I've been writing on baseball just in general since I was in grad school back in the, I hate to say this now, but the 1990s. So I've been doing it a long time. And I've been writing about women's baseball in particular, since I discovered, while I was working on the Negro League, which is my primary area of emphasis and found the women that had played in the Negro Leagues. And that led me down the rabbit hole that put me into women's baseball. And of course, a few years ago, I also published the currently only existing encyclopedia on women in baseball, and I'm working on a second edition, which is about twice the size as the first one. That's how much we have learned. So I think that that's my... and then I also happen to... I'm Vice President of SABER, Society of American Baseball Research, and I chair their women in baseball committee, and I'm on the board for the International Women's Baseball Center that's building a museum for women's baseball in Rockford, Illinois. And so, between the combination of my research and those kinds of... I think that would give you my qualifications.
Why baseball? There's so many things...
Sure. Well, the first thing that most people always ask me, that's usually it. And then the second one is, did I play? And the answer to the second question is no. I was never, I never played baseball myself, didn't even play much softball. I discovered pretty quickly early on that I was not the most coordinated individual and wearing glasses and getting worried about getting hit. And I've worn them since I was like in kindergarten. So, I never really played. But I was, I loved it since I was a little kid. Listened to it, baseball, on the radio with my dad. Went to a number of baseball games. My dad loved to play. And surprisingly, I have three brothers, but none of them really picked up on the baseball side of things. So somebody had to. And it just happen to be me.
And then as I got older, I got to be able to... figured out that you could combine the interests that I have in history and the interest in baseball, all in one thing, and then it became my job. And so, it's, as I tell my students all the time, it's the best of all possible worlds. I teach sports history. I teach baseball history classes in addition to the regular, so I go to a baseball game. I'm technically working. It's awesome. It's always been something that I have loved. I love to watch it. I love to read about it. I love to research it. I love to write about it.
Woman and baseball is not usually what people think of. I remember when I was little, like eight or nine, and heard that girls play softball, boys played baseball. And I was like, "But wait, I don't want to play softball because there's a difference. And it says the word 'soft.' So therefore, it must not be as much fun. I want to play baseball." But I didn't really know anything about the difference. And I had no idea when I read this Out of Left Field that... I knew like the 1940s, there were women who played. That was the extent of my knowledge. So, can you give us what, like the 30-minute version of history of baseball for women?
I certainly can. I'll watch the clock, sort of, but you can cut me off and feel free to stop me and ask me questions as I sort of wander through this. But your refrain is also very common. People will say softball is for girls and baseball is for boys. The most immediate response is well, first of all, they're two very different games. They were never intended to be... one to be the substitute for the other or to be the equal of the other, so that therefore... Right? That's just not the way it works.
And women, quite frankly, have been involved in baseball from the earliest days of baseball have been played, whether people realize that or not. Most people's awareness of the history of women's baseball starts with the movie League of Their Own. Right? Which is the 1940s, 1950s. And this year happens to be the 30th anniversary of that movie, amazingly. And so, that's most people's reference point.
But in actuality, you can go back into, well into the 19th century, and even before that, because if you actually look at the origins of the game of baseball, and where it came from, and if you look at the British origins of the game, we realized very quickly that the game of rounders, which is a British game, was primarily played by girls. And so even in its origins, girls were playing the game of baseball.
If you want to think then in this country about sort of the more organized history, then we generally start with 1866. And in 1866, Vassar College had a number of, eight, women's baseball teams and typically college teams in the 19th century, and Vassar was the best example of this, Vassar started with the idea of playing what we would call intrasquad games. So freshmen's versus sophomores', sophomores versus juniors, within the college itself. And then gradually as more colleges added the game, then they started to play one another. And so we see the intersquad kind of games. College baseball for women was not extremely popular, but through the 19th century, there are 9, 10 colleges that are going to have women's baseball teams. Mostly on the east coast on the west coast, not much in sort of the center of the country. And that just follows where the colleges were.
Did they wear corsets, while they were doing this?
But most of it was until Vassar starts in 1866 with its most famous team, a team called the Resolute. And that's usually the picture that everybody sees if you look them up. And we know most about the Resolutes because of one of their players, a young lady by the name of Annie Glidden, who wrote letters to her brother about the games they were playing. And in one of the letters, she asks him to send her his baseball glove, which is kind of unusual, because they didn't really have baseball gloves for most people. So, I'm assuming it was just a glove, because baseball players, even men, didn't use gloves in the 1860s and '70s. But she asks. And he basically laughs at her and says, why would you want that? And she says, because we're gonna play baseball. And so they do. And of course, you can imagine, and the pictures, long skirts, the whole deal, playing baseball. They typically did not, at least from the pictures that we see, they generally did not because they would not have been able to run, because corsets were so tight.
But they did wear the long dresses, and were completely covered, and the lace-up boots - the whole deal. And so as you can imagine, some of the articles in the newspapers and things tended spend much more time focused on their attire than on their play. And talking about how ridiculous it looked watching them run in those skirts and things like that. But we did discover there was one advantage to women playing with those long skirts, because in the 1860s and '70s, for time, one of the rules that was still being played, in amateur baseball in particular, which is what these woman would have been, was that you could catch the ball on a bounce. And of course, if you're wearing that big, long skirt, you can smother the ball in the skirt, and it's not going anywhere. A unique advantage and for most accounts that you read, it may have been a benefit like that, but for running and running the bases in particular, a huge problem. But women's college baseball is kind of where it starts.
And then what we see in the 19th century, in addition to the college game, are the development of what we call, what were called at the time, usually just red and blue teams. And the red and blue just typically indicated either the color of their belts that they wore on their dresses, their hats, or their socks. And they would wear red and blue. And so they were often just referred to as the Philadelphia Reds or the Philadelphia Blues or, right. With no other distinctions. These were just, for the most part, semi-pro amateur teams. I'd guess you'd say semi-pro because the women did get paid something. And there were a fair number of red and blue teams playing mostly, again on the East Coast. A little bit out here in the Midwest, but because of density of population and things you see them playing, for example, we know that there were a number of Philadelphia teams playing. Trouble with trying to identify a lot about these red and blue teams, is newspapers tended to not cover them in great detail, or would just mention that a game was going to take place and then that was it. Or occasionally, you'd see an account of a game and they'd list the players as Miss Sue and Miss Emily and Miss... with no last names and you're like, "Okay, that's not really helpful." We can't research these people because we have no idea who they are. But it was indicative of the attitude towards women in general in the 19th century, right. That women weren't supposed to be doing these kinds of things, and exercise was bad for women, etc, etc.
And the general consensus of a lot of newspaper articles in the 19th century was that women who played sports, and particularly baseball, were women of questionable character, a lot of times, was the way a lot of the reporting went. Good families would not want their daughters playing baseball was sort of... but it didn't stop them. But we do know that a lot of the women's teams that played in the 19th century under these sort of red and blue kind of distinctions were not necessarily good ballplayers, and it was really more about entertainment. It tended to follow a lot of the circuit of sort of the vaudeville kind of ideas in the 19th century. But they were playing and there's no doubt that they were playing. And unfortunately, in some cases, we also know that they got taken advantage of a lot by men who usually organized the teams and would abscond with the money. Take them to a city and leave them there. And that's what lead to that sort of idea that, "Well, see good women wouldn't be doing this kind of thing."
And so you also see scores in baseball games in the 19th century that, and this was true of men's games as well, that, you know, you might find a score of, ooh, 35 to seven, which looks more like a football score than a baseball score. Which tells you something about, probably, the quality of play. But you got to remember in the 19th century, they didn't play with gloves. And they had slightly different rules, like being able to catch the ball on the bounce, things like that. So, but there were lots of teams playing all over.
We even know that in 1883 and 1884, just to round out the picture here, that there were at least three African-American women's teams playing in the city of Philadelphia. They were really exciting names. One of them was the Dolly Vardens. And often the papers would refer to them as the Dolly Vardens One and the Dolly Vardens Two. And then they played another team in Philadelphia, called the Captain Jinks. Don't know where the name came from, but that was also a women's team. Not a lot of articles in the paper about them. Probably about five or six talking about them playing one another, the curiosity that they were for fans to come out and see them. There's one article that really describe their uniforms. And so consequently, today, about a year ago, or maybe two years ago, now, a book came out on the Dolly Vardens. It's a children's book and the illustrations are based off of that newspaper articles. If anybody wants to look them up, they can see this great... and the illustrations are awesome in terms of getting to see what the uniforms would look like, based on the description in the paper.
But the description basically gives us the sense that most people saw women ballplayers, regardless of how good or bad they were, as mainly just a curiosity. Something to come out and out of, what, are they going to be any good, is it going to be something we just get to laugh at, I can't believe that women are playing this game. But they did come.
And so in the 19th century, that's the kind of baseball that you get for women. And then towards the end of the 19th century and moving into the early 20th century, we sort of shift from this idea of the Reds and Blues kind of an approach to what we call bloomer teams. And the bloomer teams come in in the late 1890s, and will continue up through the 1920s, and maybe even a little bit into the 1930s. And these were much more organized, much better ballplayers. And they were barnstorming teams, which just simply meant that they traveled across the country and played whatever opponents they could find, male or female. And so we find them playing women against women, but we also find women's teams playing men's teams on a pretty regular basis. And they of course, they refer to them as the bloomer teams because of their slight shift in uniform. Because we start seeing them wear under their shorter skirts, the famous bloomers that Amelia Bloomer made so fam...had created. And so that's where the name comes from.
One of the other unique ideas for some of the bloomer teams was that it wouldn't have been a surprise to find a bloomer team with at least two men playing on the team, and typically the two men who are the pitcher and the catcher, because the basic thought process was those are the hardest two positions and most important, and women can't really handle those, so we'll make them men. And so... that wasn't always the case. But a lot of bloomer teams, when you look at the pictures, clearly had men playing on the team. So it's a mix. Which in and of itself kind of interesting, but unfortunately that assumption once again.
So, women were not the ones organizing these teams?
Typically in the 19th century, no, by the time you get to the bloomer teams, we are going to see some women who are going to be organizing these teams. And those teams tended to, but not always, tended to be entirely women. Some of the teams simply just had a male catcher and pitcher, because that was just the mindset at the time that that was not a position for a woman, who was the most important, and so women couldn't handle that kind of... That was kind of the thought process. And so Grover Cleveland Alexander, who played in the Major League started out about a bloomer team. So we know that there are some.
But to your question, what we do find with the bloomer teams and realization that this is when we start to really see some serious women's baseball, some of the teams were really fantastic. The New York Bloomer Girls play for more than 20 years. And they're often listed in the paper, you know, as the leading women's team in the country, and they're playing all over that they are the best women's team around.
Now, you have to take some of those titles at times with a little bit of a grain of salt, because there was no league, there was no championships. Teams could simply declare themselves the best ever, and the newspapers would print that. It's a great way to advertise for yourself, right?
But the New York Bloomer Girls, from all, you know, are one of the great examples of a really good women's baseball team. We know that one of the owners and managers of the New York team was a woman by the name of Maud Nelson. And Maud Nelson had a very long baseball career as a player, as a manager, and as an owner, and was involved in baseball for over 25 years.
And so there's been some recent talk of trying to put together a nomination for her for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Which would be really cool, because there's only one woman currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And so it'd be nice to see more. But Maud Nelson is a good example.
So the bloomer teams kind of dominate from the late 19th century through the 1920s and into the 1930s. At the same time that the bloomer teams start...
Isn't this the time, the late 19th century, the earliest 20th century, that baseball was becoming really popular in Japan. Were there Japanese-American women teams in the United States?
Yes, yep. It is.
Were there Japanese-American women teams in the United States?
Not in this country, because we just don't have a significant Japanese population yet. Particularly because they just, with the railroads and things, start coming in in the late 19th century.
What we see instead is by the 1930s, there's going to be actually women's teams playing in Japan. And they are actually, there are actually professional women's teams playing in Japan before there are here in this country. And that's indicative of women's baseball history. There are professional leagues and teams and much more interest in women's baseball around the world, and much greater support in Japan and Canada, in Australia, than there is here in the United States. Which is kind of interesting, since we call it...
Didn't the Australians...
Oh, yeah. Australia is huge. Women's baseball in Australia is huge.
They were just in the news recently, I think.
They have a professional, they have a professional league that they've just started. Yep.
That might be what you saw, because, yeah, women's baseball there is huge and very well organized, and very well supported. And I think it's kind of ironic when you think about it being our game, and we call it America's national pastime. And it's like, yeah. But that's where that whole softball-baseball thing comes into play again, and that notion.
So in the early 20th century, in addition to these bloomer teams, what you also have are some women who start playing as individuals, mostly on men's teams. Lizzie Murphy is probably one of the most well known names. Young lady out of Warren Rhode Island, who played in the first part of the nine..., the 20th century. Sorry. On a number of different, both local and in the Rhode Island area, and then played on teams there against, in, again, exhibition kinds of games against the Boston Red Sox and against some other major league competition, and appears to have been a very solid first baseman and had a career that probably lasted, again, over 20 years, mostly on barnstorming exhibition kinds of... But listed in the paper all the time as the premier women's ballplayer, the best first baseman you're going to find. She's one example.
Who's also another young lady by the name of, she came to be known in the papers as Lizzie Arlington. Playing in Pennsylvania at the end of the 19th century, was signed, very briefly to play in an exhibition series with a minor league team and Philadelphia. So we have a number of women starting to get a chance to play and those are just a couple of examples.
At the same time, we also have our first professional, because she got paid, female umpire, Amanda Clement, who is going to umpire from 1905 through 1910, 1911, all over the Midwest. She got started because her brother, she went to watch his baseball games and one of the umpires didn't show up. And he basically said to the boys, "My sister can do this," and they're like, "Yeah, right." And he's like, "No, she can," and they let her and discovered that, yes, she could. And she was very good at it and she made a living at it, or at least enough money that she basically saved the money that she made from umpiring for the four or five years she did it in order to pay her way through med school. And she did. And so, what's interesting is she's umpiring in the early 1900s. We don't see another female umpire on any kind of professional scale from 1910 until the 1970s, which is kind of amazing to think about.
That seems to be the way a lot of women's history does.
Yeah, yeah. Because we go from Amanda Clement on the umpiring side to Bernice Gara in 1972, same year as Title IX. I don't think that's a coincidence. And Bernice Gara breaks in and umpires one game. Because she had to fight through the courts to get... And so she umpired the one game and then she quit because it was so... And she just said, "I'm not doing this. I just wanted to..."
So, the first real woman who umpires a significant amount is Pam Postema, starting in 1977. Pam makes it actually all the way through AAA. Spends six years at AAA and never got an invite to the Major Leagues. And she eventually gave up, because she just said they're clearly not going to give me that opportunity.
We still to this day don't have a female umpire even though basketball and football have female referees and they're contact sports. And we can't get one in baseball. Which is, you know, sort of in, again, this whole idea that well, baseball is the man's game, even on that side of things.
So we do have umpiring coming in at the turn of the century as well.
We also have some more Black women's teams that are playing. Probably the most famous in the early part of the 20th century was a team called the St. Louis Black Broncos, who play in the St. Louis area in 1910, 1911, playing all men's teams because they, St. Louis had a really good Industrial League. So we see a lot of teams playing. And the number of women's teams that start playing in the teens and 20s is way more than people would think. And we're just sort of discovering the surface of how many teams, because you get an article here, you get an article there, trying to put together unfortunately, the details.
But probably one of the most famous teams in the 1920s is the Philadelphia Bobbies. The Philadelphia Bobbies traveled all over to play. They had a young lady by the name of Edith Houghton, who played on their team between the ages of 12 and 18. And she was the best player on their team. By far. And she was the shortstop, second baseman, usually. And she, they referred to her often as The Kid Ball Player, The Kid Shortstop. The team that she played on, actually took a trip to Japan and went on a tour playing baseball in Japan, which is completely unusual, even for men's teams, or American men's teams were not regularly going over. But in 1927, they went over to play in Japan and were received to great fanfare and great love from the fans. Unfortunately, on their, they got left by their organizer in Japan. And the Japanese people themselves sort of took the ballplayers in, raised the money to send them back to the United States because they didn't have money to come home. And unfortunately, the story gets even more bizarre or more sad, because on the way home, they encountered a major storm and one of the ballplayers got washed overboard and drowned. It's a terrible, terrible ending to their story in Japan, but their baseball play was well received.
And Edith Houghton is a really big name for people to... not a lot written about her, but Kat Williams is currently writing a book about Edith Houghton, because there's only a couple children's books about her right now.
As you move forward, you move into the 1930s, and we see these kind of bloomer teams continuing. And then a rather unusual situation happens in 1931. We get a young lady by the name of Jackie Mitchell, who is signed to play in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees. And it's unclear even to the present day, nobody can say 100%, you know, talking about sources and being able to verify these things, whether this was done purely as a stunt, or whether she actually was a really good ballplayer in this, she actually did this, because what she's known for is she struck out, she was brought in in the first inning of the game. First pitcher, started the game and they took them out and brought in Jackie Mitchell, and she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. And so the question that people want to know always is, did she really strike them out? Or was it purely for show and publicity? She says she did. She said it till the day she died. She said she, she was a left handed pitcher, she would have been a curveball-screwball kind of pitcher which would have been unusual in the first place, probably a little bit of a sidearm-underhand motion which might have...
Ruth, of course, said, and if people know anything about Babe Ruth this won't surprise them, it wasn't serious. He could never be struck out by a woman, that would be, that would never happen ever, ever. And so it was all purely for show and blah, blah, blah.
Lou Gehrig, of course, said yeah, she struck them out. And that also is no surprise. So you got mixed stories from the two of them.
And then you got Jackie Mitchell. So hard to say for sure.
What I basically have come to conclude is without a doubt, there was an element of publicity just in the idea that you're going to even attempt... she was 17 years old and they brought her in to do this, and so that and that itself tells you...
But, we do know that she continued to play baseball. She, after this incident and was, played with the House of David, the traveling religious team. The guys with the long hair and the long beards that never cut their hair. She traveled with them playing. So she appears to have been a pretty good ballplayer,
I would not have thought that particular team would have allowed a woman in a men's team.
They did. She did. And there may have been a couple others at times that played with them, as well. She was probably the most famous. Because they're a traveling team, part of it was to not only promote their religious ideas and things but to make money and to make that money to send back to their community. And so if that helped make money, I think they were open to, you know, because they traveled a lot of the time kind of like the Harlem Globetrotters, you know, had their, the Washington Senate or Washington, not Senator... yeah, it was Senators that traveled with them all the time. The House the David team traveled with a Negro League team all the time, and played against a Negro League team as a regular opponent, which also might not be something people would have expected. But again, it was good competition, money making. So that's one of the interesting things that happens in the 1930s. It's just a little unusual.
And then you move into the '40s. And this is where everybody's, sort of, knowledge comes into play. Because in the 1940s, what you have is the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, '43 to '54. So it was Philip Wrigley who started the league, the owner of the Chicago Cubs. And Wrigley did it because so many ballplayers were being drafted into service between the major leagues and the minor leagues.
Why is it the "Girls'"? Why is it named "girls", when it's, like, you don't have the Boys' League? So why is it "girls"?
Again indicative... that's a great question... indicative of the time period. That would have just simply been the terminology they would have used. They didn't tend to think about the idea like we do today that you call them boys and girls, and then you call the men and women. They just referred to often all of them as girls. It's also a way of making it very clear to those watching that this is not as serious as a men's game. So it sends a particular message. Because the whole idea of the league was it was never meant to be permanent at all. It was never even meant to last as long as it did. In Wrigley's mind, it was only supposed to last till the war was over. So that would have been, should have ended in '45.
But the women themselves ultimately end up taking over the league and running it themselves, and it lasts till 19, through the 1954 season. It did start solely as a softball league. I mean, that's what it was when it started and it gradually evolved into them playing by the baseball rules, because they started with a softball. They started with underhand pitching and everything and then gradually they move to sidearm and overhand and change the base length and everything. So a lot of the years even though they called it a baseball league, it was really softball, but eventually became...
And Wrigley's idea was that this would just simply be until baseball could return to its full strength. Because during the war, between Minor League and Major League Baseball, they lost over 500, almost 600, ballplayers to serving in the military. And so it was the idea of keeping people entertained, was something... It was an entirely Midwestern league. And so it was all out here where I am in Ohio. Ohio didn't have, but Illinois, so it was here in the Midwest. Ballplayers came from all over the United States and Canada. And then by 1947 onward, there are also eight women who come from Cuba to play. They were brought up because Cuban women's baseball had started in the '30s, so there were women playing in Cuba and the All-American League went down to Cuba for spring training on one occasion, and so the connection's there. And so, we have eight young ladies.
And when I say young ladies, a lot of the players in the All-American League ranged in age from about 14 to 21, or 22. Some of them were not able to join until school was out every year because they were still in school, so they joined the team in June. If people have seen the movie, they've got a general sense of what the league was like. The movie takes some liberties as Hollywood does, but it gets a pretty good... There was a charm school, but the charm school only lasted for one year. They did wear skirts, that was a Philip Wrigley idea, because he wanted to remind people that these were girls playing baseball, and that was absolutely what he wanted them to remember. So that they would not be any sense that...
Because they couldn't tell just by looking at them?!
Yeah. I know. I know. Thank you.
But, I guess it was also part of this attitude that was very present in the '40s, before, was this idea that you wanted to make sure people knew that even though they were playing baseball, they were still, they weren't going to lose their femininity. That this game wasn't going to change them into men somehow. And this was the way to remind them.
It has the same idea as the Rosie the Riveter idea. If you think about the image of Rosie the Riveter, she's wearing makeup and everything under, and that, part of that was, again, a very deliberate message to say to society, "We're asking these women to do this just for now. And when this need is over, they'll go back to being women. So we're not changing them. They're not going to become, and they're not going to lose their femininity. And so that was literally the reminder, the thought process, but that was literally what was said.
And so, by the time the women take over the league themselves and they're running the teams, they're still wearing skirts, because at that point, that's the selling... and that's what their uniforms were. But they started wearing shorts underneath them to try to make it a little better for playing. Because if anybody's played softball or baseball, the idea of wearing a skirt and sliding and doing it, is just awful. And one of the worst injuries that most of these women had, of course, was huge raspberries and scars that some of them still have to the present day from sliding into bases wearing a skirt. But that was...
Teams had chaperones that, promising their parents that we were going to take care of them, we would make sure nothing happened to them. They had rules about, you know, men coming to their hotels, and all of this. So chaperones for a lot of the teams were necessary to make sure that things were kept above board. But for most of the young ladies who played in the All-American League, this was an opportunity they never would have had otherwise. A chance to see the country, to see some of the world, because they traveled down, as I said, to Cuba and into Latin America for spring training. And for many of them, this was their first chance to get out and do something and to earn money for themselves.
And so it's amazing the number of them that went on, after the League is over to get college degrees, and many of the master's degrees, and even PhDs, and get involved, as some of them broke barriers in companies as becoming the first women being hired. And many of them have said, without that experience in the All American League, they never would have done those kinds of things. Never would have had the courage, the opportunities, the thought that you could even do something like that, which is really kind of amazing to think about.
And so the demise of the league in 1954 is a very sad thing. And it happens mostly because of the advent of television. Because with television now people could watch a Major League game, they didn't have to go out and see a Minor League game, or especially, a bunch of women playing. And so, the League folds after the 54th season, unfortunately. And so, that's the last, first and only, last professional women's league we've ever had.
It's not the last professional team because in the 1990s, the Colorado Silver Bullets are sponsored by Coors Brewing Company, and they play from 1994 through 1997 as a traveling women's professional baseball team. And they traveled all over the country playing men's teams of varying levels, for everything from high school all the way up. They played some of their games in major league stadiums, but I watched them play in Kansas City one year where the Royals play.
It was a fascinating thing to watch, because here come the, it was a doubleheader, essentially, game. And the first game was the women's team playing an amateur men's team. And then right after that the Royals were playing whoever. And I went to go see the women's team. And then I watched as the audience basically completely shifted, and everybody was there to see the women left. And then all the people who came to see the Major League team came in. And I thought that was fascinating to see. That it wasn't kind of like this crossover audience. All the women and moms there with their little girls to see these girls playing. And then they left. And then the other audience came in. It was fascinating to watch.
The Colorado Silver Bullets, I said, played from '94 to '97. From the end of the League in '54 to the Silver Bullets playing in '97, there's not a lot of women's baseball. It kind of disappears. And this is why today a lot of people will say women are playing baseball for the first time. And I would argue, no women are returning to baseball because after '54, we don't really see much happening on any large scale until after Title IX.
There's an attempt to sign a woman in 1954 to a Minor League baseball contract. Her name was Eleanor Engle, and she was, the Harrisburg team tried to sign her and her contract was immediately voided by the president of the Minor Leagues.
And he basically said, over my dead body will a woman ballplayer play on a men's team. He said it would never happened because women weren't strong enough, they would get hurt, etc, etc.
So, that's really the last attempt we see in women playing baseball in any organized beyond maybe Little League kinds of things and some efforts on that side until the 1970s.
Because Little League, of course, starts in the '30s. And initially, the idea that literally, that's where it came from: baseball is for boys and softball is for girls.
Softball, of course, was never created with women in mind. Softball was actually created in the 1890s for men. It was originally designed, came up with the idea by a group in Chicago to give older men something to do in the wintertime. And so it was an indoor game, and it was designed for and then it gradually developed into this.
And then when Little League got challenged, and really, because of Title IX, when Little League got challenged about the idea that women, girls, couldn't play, their solution to being, for saying, you must let them play, et cetera, you must let them be involved in Little League, was to create Little League softball divisions. And that's what they did. And so Little League has its own softball division. And that was a way of saying, "See, we're providing..." And they missed the whole point you made it the beginning, which was, but they're different games.
They're both great games. And softball is wonderful, but it's a very different game. And so to say it was an equivalent, and that's the problem that we're still sort of facing today as a result.
You know, Maria Pepe was the one who challenged the whole Little League idea in 1972 and took it all the way, took it to court, and she won. By the time she won, she was too old to play. And so she barely got a chance to play, because you age out of Little League. And so she made it possible for others.
But again, long fight through the '70s, '80s, into the '90s. There's a couple of other independent teams, women's teams, that develop in the late '70s, early '80s. But the Silver Bullets are the next really big...
And then in the '90s, towards the end of the '90s, we see an effort that has borne fruit to the present day, to create a women's national team. And they did and that was created in order to play internationally. And so we see in the late '90s, the creation of a World Cup, and then essentially a Women's World Series that gets played every couple of years. It rotates around the world. So it's been played in Canada, it's been played in Japan, it's been played here in the United States. I think it's, I'm not sure, it's going to England next year or the year after, but it's... so it moves around. And in the truest sense, it is a true World Series. Because the Men's World Series is all American teams. But, we call it a World Series. In women's baseball, it is a true World Series. And so currently, we have a national team.
We have lots of traveling women's teams, we now have the start of, for the first time, some college women's baseball teams that are getting started. There are tournaments all over for women and young girls.
There's a team called the Pawtucket Slaterettes that have been playing for almost... They have leagues for all ages. They've been playing for almost 30 years and nobody really knows much about them. But they've been playing and giving opportunities for all ages of girls and women to play baseball.
One other piece that I would throw into the this history. So in the '50s, we also know as the Women's League was ending, we get women who are going to get the opportunity to play in the Negro Leagues, and so they are professional. And so we have three women who play in the 1950s: Toni Stone, Mamie Johnson, and Connie Morgan, and they play for the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs.
And Mamie Johnson is the character in the movie, there's that one scene where two black, young black girls come and they want to try out and the girl throws the ball over the fence and they're sent away. That was Mamie Johnson. She showed up and she was sent away because the All-American League, part of their their idea was it had to be white women, and they were not going to work with that issue of race. And so she was not allowed to play. And so instead, she ended up being the first professional female pitcher in a male, in a men's professional baseball league when she got a chance to pitch for the Indianapolis ABCs in 1954.
So, Toni Stone played for two years, in '53 and '54. She was a second baseman, and Connie Morgan was an outfielder. So we have the three of them getting a chance to play. Tony Stone, who was the first, had been a female ballplayer since she grew up in the St. Paul, Minneapolis area. She played on men's teams, she moved to San Francisco, played on this, for the San Francisco Sea Lions, moved to New Orleans and played for two men's teams in New Orleans before she got the chance. So she had a long baseball career.
And then a lot of people might recognize Mamie Johnson's named because when Mo'ne Davis pitched in the Little League World Series, everybody realized, wow, this is one of the first times we've seen a pitcher at this level. And they actually arranged a meeting between Mo'ne Davis, and Mamie Johnson. So, which was kind of cool to see, because Mamie at that point would have been in her early 80s. And so, getting the chance to put the two of them together was kind of cool.
And so that's kind of a big, broad overview, throwing in some, and I know I went way over a half hour, I just realized I took about 40 minutes, but I didn't know how to, you get me started, and I can keep going and going. So. So that's a big, broad overview. And I'm happy to expand on anything you want me to. In 40 minutes, I thought I did pretty good.
Yeah, I think so, too. I was what, 140 years or so of history?
Yeah. More like 160.
This might be a better question for a social scientist. I don't know. But as you're talking, I am thinking, if women were initially added to teams for the novelty factor, and then they were required to wear skirts or whatever, in some way, prove that they are still female. And then TV comes along so people don't go to watch woman's teams play. Why did someone not capitalize? It seems like there's a disconnect in the logic here. Because if you're watching girls play and you want them to be feminine, and your expectation of going is "we get to watch a bunch of woman" not "we get to watch a bunch of baseball players" and then TV comes so you can watch a baseball game more easily. Why is the thought not still "but let's go watch a bunch of woman" because our whole point was "we want to watch woman" not "we want to watch baseball."
You're absolutely correct. There is a bit of a disconnect there. And when you ask people that, they don't seem to get there's a disconnect there.
But I think the closest, you know, that I can think about that might sort of be similar. I don't know if you remember when the NFL attempted to create that extreme football league that they created? And they had women cheerleaders up in the stands. It was the craziest thing. And they thought that would draw attention. And it did and bring people who wanted to see the women up close. Right, that whole idea. And it worked for a little bit, and then the sort of novelty wore off.
The same thing happened with one of the predecessors to WNBA, the American Basketball Association, the first women's basketball league. When they created the first one, it was, the similarity to the 1940s baseball team was that they dressed these women in light colored spandex uniforms. I mean, just think about that, and obvious reasons why you would do that, right? Because it emphasizes, these are women playing, and they thought that this would attract it. And it did initially. And then the novelty wore off in the league died. And it never really was able to take off. I think some of it was, the novelty wears off.
And so, the idea that it's just a bunch of women playing, but oh, but I really want to go watch a baseball game, and that's really what I'm after, and now I can. And so, I think some of it is just simply that notion that for men, that it was the idea that okay, this was entertaining, but I really want to watch a baseball game, and I was only doing this because there wasn't something else to watch, and now there is. And so, I think for a lot of people, that's what it was. And now sociologists, obviously, we might have a slightly, but that's my best take on what I saw happening.
Because the same thing happens to Minor League baseball. Minor League baseball at the time is hugely hurt by television as well. Lots of Minor League teams fold because now people could watch a Major League team. And they'd rather watch the big superstars that they were hearing about, then people that they had never heard of, and things like that. That was fine when there was no other alternative, but when there was a better alternative, you go to the better alternative
That makes sense. And what's happening with the Negro League at this point?
So the Negro Leagues, of course, Major League Baseball is integrated in 1947. And so the Negro Leagues starting from 1948 onward are going to be in decline. And that's the comment that some people make for the reason for the three women being brought in. Were they just brought in to help with putting butts in the seats, essentially, right? From 1953, because that's 1953 and '54. And there's certainly again, an element of that. But all three of the ladies were very good ballplayers. There's no doubt.
I mean, Connie Morgan, in the Philadelphia area where she was from, was a fine baseball player, but she was an even better basketball player. She played for a team called the Honey Drippers in Philadelphia, and she was a superb basketball player. So, these were really good athletes. So, even if it was initially they'll help bring, they could also play. Because after a while, the novelty wears off. If they're not a good ballplayer, people aren't gonna keep coming to see them play. They're just not. And you're going to start to be seen as a joke rather than, alright. And so in that case...
And so the Negro Leagues, and of course, the Negro Leagues fold in 1960. So they're on the decline because of integration, and there's nothing to replace that. And so they're on decline as we move through... By 1960, that's their last, really their last season. So it kind of corresponds with what we see happening to what happens to the women's leagues, as well.
Were there any other minority leagues like Pacific-Asian, or...
There were not leagues. There were teams. So there were other, there were lots and lots of Black women baseball teams playing throughout this same time period.
There were also before World War II, out in California and things, some Mexican-American Women's ball teams playing. On the same day, like they play on the same day as their men, the Mexican-American men's teams. Often sponsored by local churches, and the railroad companies and things. But again, not really leagues.
There's an attempt out in California to start it was called the East Bay Colored Girls League, and it was a four or five team league. There were a couple attempts on and off to try to start small women's leagues in regional areas that never really were very successful.
Mostly what you have is just individual teams playing, or a couple teams in an area playing one another. And then the traveling teams, the barnstorming teams, that played all over the place.
The only other area where you see women making inroads, which I didn't mention, was obviously in ownership. And the women that have gotten involved in more recent years. Currently, there are 12 young ladies and young women who are working for Major League Baseball teams, in various capacities. In the baseball, on the field as coaches and those kinds of things. Which is huge. About four years ago, we had three or four. Now Kim Ng is now general manager for the first time of a Major League baseball team.
The only woman elected officially to the Baseball Hall of Fame, of course, is Effa Manley. and Effa Manley owned the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues with her husband, Abe, but she was the force behind the team. And so she was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. And she is the only woman officially elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I feel like there's a lot more to say on this.
One would think so.
But because there are no Leagues, and quite frankly, the Hall of Fame has always been seen as sort of Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. Look how long it took to get Negro League players in and there's still a lot of them or not, and special considerations have to be given each time votes get taken for the Negro League because they're not playing in the Major Leagues. And they had organized leagues from the '20s to the '60s.
Women have only had one organized League and it only lasted 11 seasons. Hall of Fame rules, right now, say that you have to have played in a league for at least 10 years to be considered. The Women's League only lasted for 11 and very few women played that entire time. So based on the current existing way that Hall of Fame works, it's really hard to get...
So, Effa got in because she's an owner. And that was the category under which we put her in. That was part of that 2006 election that of the Negro Leaguers that went in. And we had 17 of them that went in and Effa Manley was one of them as an owner, but it was under, the Negro Leagues go in under a different voting process.
There's a push starting to try to get Maud Nelson as possibly the next one who has a long career, long career as a player and an owner, that kind of thing. So, we'll see where it goes.
It seems like there should be a lot more.
Yeah. Yep. Yeah. So it just says we'll have to do it again.
So, as we wrap up, is there anything that you would like to say to girls and young woman who maybe don't have the opportunity to play baseball, but this is where their interest really is, or they'd like to explore it?
The biggest thing I would say to any young person who wants to play today, or be involved in the game of baseball in any way, shape, or form is, "Don't let anybody stop you."
There are plenty of opportunities out there. There are plenty of women who are making inroads as players as owners as umpires, as announcers. You mention it, there are women out there doing it. And there are a lot of organization where they can reach out for help and assistance. Baseball for All is the, one of the big overarching organizations that provides, particularly the opportunities for playing the game. Major League Baseball itself has started a number of different kinds of tournament each year over the last four or five years, specifically for different age groups of young ladies to play. And so, there are opportunities out there.
And so, I would just say to any young woman, young girl who wants to, is to not let anybody tell them they can't. Women have always been involved in the game from the very beginning, in every aspect that you can think of: as writers, as reporters, as announcers, as grounds crew. You name it, they've done it. We just might not necessarily... Today, they may not be household names, but they're there.
All right. Well, Leslie, thank you for giving us your time. There's clearly so much to learn on this topic. I think this would be a very interesting high school history class.
I agree. That'd be a fun class to teach.
Thank you for your time.
It was my pleasure. Thank you for asking me. I really appreciate, I can talk about this for forever.
Listeners, I hope you have enjoyed today's episode, a quick overview of the extensive history of woman in baseball in the United States. If you are the kind of person who wears Halloween costumes, hopefully you have gotten some ideas for people from history that are worth highlighting.
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Until next time, keep learning.