Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘baseball’

Those two words have never applied to me, EVER. Hi, my name is Becky, and I am hopelessly out of touch with the way my body is supposed to work in any coordinated movement.

When you are the fat kid growing up, the choices for showcasing whatever god-given body skills you have are slim. My mother enrolled me in the requisite “little girl” dance classes – and even I have to admit how ridiculous that was! The ballet tights and tutu must have made me look like the hippos in Fantasia – those fashions were not invented for chubby little girls. And yet I actually truly loved dancing. From the graceful and ordered movements of ballet to the all-out noisemaking in tap class, I really liked dancing. But, when you reach those dreaded pre-teenage years and realize that you don’t look good in that spandex, you give up the love of the activity in some twisted sense of self-preservation and damaged ego. When all the little girls around you are tiny and petite and graceful – and you are everything BUT – you decide that maybe you should find a new hobby, maybe knitting or reading or underwater basketweaving. Anything that didn’t require spandex and coordination…

I was never athletic either. I tried softball for a few years when I was 11 or 12 but I never tore up the field with any outstanding skill. Despite a lifetime love of baseball (instilled in me by my dad, the walking baseball encyclopedia, and my brother, the consummate Yankee fan) and the wish that I could play, I was often stuck in right field for the safety of all parties involved. I was too self-conscious to hit, I was too fat to run, I was too scared to field a ball. Yep, Derek Jeter I wasn’t!

So, now having a brief background into my non-athletic past, I hope you will now allow me a moment of utter pride in the smallest of victories- I actually am trying a team sport again! After 20+ years of being too self-conscious about my weight, my body style and my general lack of coordination, I am actually leaping into a new game – vintage baseball. More to follow on this great sport (!) but I just had to share my joy right now! I actually got out on a field with a bunch of very athletic and very coordinated guys and tried something *gasp* athletic with them! What am I thinking?!

I am so grateful to those guys – this is just my small way of saying thank you to them – for putting up with me. The first practice I sucked big time – and the second week was only marginally better. The guys are being very tolerant of my general lack of skill and are being very understanding as I learn the body mechanics needed to play. Sadly, I am paying the price for hiding my body and not developing any athletic grace for the first 30 years of my life. Or, rather, I should say that my poor teammates are paying the price. But I am working hard to improve – I even now have my own private batting/throwing coach (bless my wonderful coworker and friend Jen) – and practice every day to try to improve. For love of the game, I am trying, dammit!!

But, meanwhile, I am just tickled to death that I have tried something new, something that required almost every ounce of courage I own.  This was a HUGE step for me and, without the confidence I have pieced back together as I have shed some of these pounds, I would never have been able in the past to be brave enough for this. While I lack (and probably always will) a natural sense of grace or athleticism, I have something even better – HEART!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Bonnie Baker circa 1945

The long-forgotten contributors to the American pastime are the women in this country. Not just the wives and mothers who have supported and encouraged some of the best players to join the Yankees, the Sox, the Indians and the Giants; not just the few trailblazing women featured in A League of Their Own; but the vast sea of females who have fought for decades to be able to swing a bat at a hard ball, to stand on the diamond and feel the thrill of The Show.  Women have stood in the stands and cheered on their favorite teams, stood on the field as professional and amateur players, stood behind the plate as umpires, stood in the front offices as executives, even stood in the press box as sportswriters. We have, since the game began, struggled to have an equal place at Home Plate – and I wonder if we will ever be able to finally gain full equity?

The argument can be made that baseball itself is a microcosm of American society at large – from the capitalist system of outrageous salaries, free agencies, and merchandising to the socioeconomic disparities between “haves” and “have nots”; from the ethnic opening of the game from its all-white origins to its geographic expansion across this great land of ours. Baseball, too, parallels the struggles that minorities (including women) have had to make to be included in the American pastime. Just as in society at large, women have struggled to break gender, race, and age barriers to participate in a game that they loved. Facing hardship, bias, intolerance and physical difficulties, women have been able to transform their places on the diamond and have forced their way into a game that has been predominantly male.

From base ball’s very beginnings in the 19thcentury, women had to fight the social conventions in order to simply play in gender-segregated leagues. Teams formed at women’s colleges almost simultaneously with the development of professional men’s baseball – but of course women

Vassar College "Resolutes" Base Ball Club (June 1876)

would be discouraged from ever considering a career in baseball. These teams were formed for exercise only and were expected to only play other female teams. The first known women’s professional team was a team of nine African-American women called the Dolly Vardens, formed in Philadelphia in 1867, just one year after Philadelphia’s first black men’s teams organized and two years before the  first white men’s professional baseball club formed, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. These teams could not, of course, interact with their male counterparts or even dress as practically. Most uniforms were long-sleeved, frilled shirts with high necklines, wide, floor-length skirts, and heeled, high-button shoes. In 1870s America, an American woman could not vote or own property in her own name after she married; she could play baseball, though, as long as she could play it in an outfit that weighed almost 30 pounds!

The first women’s professional game (i.e. players received paychecks) was in 1875 in which the Blondes played the Brunettes in Springfield, Illinois and by 1879 the Philadelphia Blue Stockings and the New York Red Stockings (both female ‘nines’) were battling it out in Philadelphia for the female championship. This was just the start of female teams barnstorming the country and by the 1890s, these “Bloomer Girl” clubs were actually allowed to play against men’s town clubs, semi-pro clubs, and minor league teams – they rarely played against other girls’ teams. Interestingly, the average girls’ club of this era usually included at

Star Bloomer Girls Team (Indianapolis, IN) circa 1900

least 3 men playing (often in drag); Rogers Hornsby and Smokey Joe Wood got their starts on these teams.

Around the turn of the 20thcentury, women began to make inroads into the male teams and leagues. In 1898, Lizzie Arlington (real name Elizabeth Stroud) became the first woman to sign a contract to pitch for the Reading Coal Heavers of the Atlantic League. Alta Weiss joined a men’s semiprofessional team in 1907 and was known for her refusal to wear a skirt on the field – and for leaving her baseball career to become a medical doctor. In 1904, Amanda Clement was the first woman to be paid to umpire and umpired professionally for 6 years after that. In 1908, Maude Nelson was the starting pitcher for the men’s Cherokee Indian Baseball Club. And from 1911 to 1916, the St. Louis Cardinals were owned by Helene Britton. Women were taking places all over the game!

Just as women nationwide were pushing for equal rights in the voting booths, the homes, and in businesses, they also found more opportunities in baseball. The 1920s saw the formation of women’s factory teams, the most famous of which was the Philadelphia Bobbies, founded in 1922 by Mary O’Gara, Edith Houghton and Loretta “Stick” Lipski, who made headlines by travelling all over the East Coast and even abroad to play in Japan. But women were under enormous pressure to stay away from the male milieu of baseball – they were ‘supposed’ to be playing softball. Softball, first played in 1887, was really where women were being encouraged to participate. Because of its different rules – including shorter base paths ergo a smaller field, a larger ball, underhand pitching, and no steals – many assumed it was an easier game and more suited to the ‘feminine temperament.’ But it truly is a different game (and, by no means easier or more womanly, just ask any of the millions of men who play it today) and was not what the female baseball aficionado of the time wanted to play!

Edith Houghton, circa 1925

Women were falling in love with America’s game – the traditional seventh-inning stretch ditty, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” was written in 1908 about a young woman’s insistence that her beau can only date her if he takes her out to a game. For the first time in history, women could see themselves in the face of the game, in the face of Lizzie Murphy who in 1928 became the first person, of either gender, to play for both the American League and National League in All-Star games. And in the face of Edith Houghton, who played for the Bobbies and left to play for New York’s Bloomer Girls and the Hollywood Girls, eventually ending up making $35 a week playing men’s minor league teams. (As a side note, after playing for the Navy WAVES in World War II, Edith wrote to Bob Carpenter, owner of the Philadelphia Phillies, asking for a job as a scout, making her the first female scout in

Jackie Mitchell of the Chattanooga Lookouts (1931)

the major leagues). Or in the face of Jackie Mitchell, who was signed at age 17 to the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1931 and, during an exhibition game with the New York Yankees, struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, causing baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to void her contract and declare women unfit to play baseball as the game was “too strenuous”. Babe Ruth was quoted in a Chattanooga newspaper as having said:

“I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.”

Mitchell continued to play professionally, even at one point travelling with the House of David, a men’s team famous for their long hair and beards – she would occasionally wear a fake beard just for the publicity. These were the women that were inspiring a whole new generation of baseball fans, a diverse and plucky bunch of ‘girls.’ Women of all classes could aspire to the highest level of baseball!

Unfortunately, when the Depression hit, all Americans of all genders and races were forced to concentrate on more pressing problems. Opportunities for paychecks were limited and sure weren’t going to be wasted on a girl in the game! Despite the “Bloomer Girls” that had been playing professionally for almost 40 years (the last of which disbanded in 1934), the public opinion in the 1930s was that women had “inferior abilities” in sports. There were but a few bold women who managed to keep their feet in the doors – among them Effa Manley who co-owned the Newark Eagles with her husband and took care of most of the day-to-day operations. An ardent civil rights activists, she would later coauthor a history of black baseball and would lobby for Hall of Fame inclusion of Negro League Players. She herself would become the first woman elected and inducted to the Cooperstown hall in 2006.

In the 1940s, America went off to war – and her men went too. Women’s opportunities in baseball mirrored those in the world at large. As men headed off to war in the 1940s, women moved into the workplace and again took their place on the baseball diamond. Many minor league teams had disbanded due to male personnel shortages and many feared that the major leagues would soon follow. In 1943, Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum mogul who had inherited the major league Chicago Cubs franchise from his father, frantically began searching for ideas to keep his team out of ruin. His committee proposed a female league to attract the crowds to the ballparks and keep the revenue coming in while the men were off to war and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was born. Originally intended as a softball league, the trustees soon changed the rules of play to match the existing rules of Major League Baseball – although the retention of shorter infield distances and underhand pitching caused some controversy in the media (which would eventually resolve itself as the league adopted overhand pitching and smaller base sizes). Using some of Major League Baseball’s scouts, talented women players were recruited from all over America and Canada. Sixty women were chosen to play on four teams, which included 15 players, a manager/coach, a business manager and a female chaperone. Sadly, it was believed that each team needed to have a notable male sports figure to coach the teams in order to increase interest in the league so 4 men were chosen to ‘lead’ these new teams.

The women selected for Wrigley’s league were paid between $45 and $85 a week, for which they were expected to be skilled on the field and adhere to strict moral and personal standards off the field. Stiff codes of conduct were imposed and femininity was a high priority – the scenes in A League of Their Own showing deportment lessons and table manner classes are not fictionalized. After their daily ball practices, the teams were requested to attend evening charm school classes. Etiquette, personal hygiene, manners, and dress codes were as much a part of this experience as stolen bases, runs batted in, and pitching styles. With the assistance of Mrs. Wrigley, a new uniform was designed to highlight the delicate

AAPGBL player at work

females of these teams – no longer could they wear the trousers that had become custom for women in baseball. Fashioned after figure-skating, field hockey and women’s tennis costumes, these short-skirted tunics showed off the assets of each player. Thankfully, a pair of satin shorts and knee-high baseball socks were allowed to preserve the modesty of the players and a practical sun-blocking baseball cap completed the ensemble.

These new teams were well-received in their sponsoring cities and by the time the Racine Belles won their first World Championship in 1943, enthusiasm was high. The drastic changes in the roles of women in and out of the home (caused by the war) made for an environment much more suited to accepting women on the baseball diamond. Additionally, a trip to the ball park was an easy, inexpensive luxury in the age of food stamps, gas rationing, and long work weeks. Patriotism abounded at these games, including the opening ceremonies in which the teams formed a giant V (for victory) down the baselines followed by the Star-Spangled Banner. The players also spent time off the field visiting hospitals and veterans homes and playing exhibition games to raise funds for the Red Cross. How could a normal, red-blooded American resist the appeal of this new league?

Things began to decline when the league expanded to larger markets for the 1944 season. The media and the fandom in these larger cities were not as inclined to accept and celebrate the female league – often, they were considered only a brief side note to the daily sports reports. The larger

Rockford Peaches (1944)

stadiums put a distance between the players and the fans and removed the ability for most of the female players to be able to hit the ball over the fences for those exciting home runs. Larger cities, too, offered a more diverse set of opportunities for entertainment and people didn’t need to go to the ballpark. But, with some restructuring of the league and its ownership, the league rallied to keep afloat. And, despite the myth, when the war ended in 1945, the AAGPBL was still swinging. Junior Leagues for girls hoping to move up in the ranks were formed; spring training seasons were organized in Mississippi, Florida, and Cuba; two more teams were added and a 4-team minor league system was set up. The league peaked in attendance in the 1948 season and several notable players attracted fans across the country, including Sophie Kurys who set the stolen base record for the AAGPBL with 201 stolen bases in 203 attempts, a record that remains unequalled in baseball history (note: Ricky Henderson is second in stolen bases with only 130). When the league voted to decentralize management, publicity/promotion, and player recruitment, it was the beginning of the end. Other forms of entertainment and increasing personal wealth lured fans from the poorly organized and advertised games; additionally, the advent of televised Major League Baseball games in the early 1950s made it more comfortable to sit at home and watch the game. Revenues began to fall and several teams folded due to simple lack of money. But, during its run the AAGPBL gave over 600 women athletes the opportunity to play professional baseball on a scale never seen before or since!

With the collapse of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1950s and the accompanying return to a more restrictive view of a woman’s proper sphere, women’s opportunities in baseball again declined in the postwar years. In 1952, Eleanor Engle signed a contract with the minor league Harrisburg Senators but before she could take the field, MLB commissioner Ford Frick banned women from playing on any major or minor league team, stating that women (and the accompanying attention and publicity) would distract from the game – and Engle’s contract was then quickly voided by team officials. Frick’s ban stands in effect to this day.

As an interesting side note to the AAGPBL story, black women were barred from playing and subsequently found room for their talents on men’s

Connie Morgan getting batting advice from Jackie Robinson (1953)

teams in the Negro Leagues. Three women played for the Indianapolis Clowns in the 1950s, including Connie Morgan of Philadelphia, who played second base for two years. Hilda Bolden Shorter, who grew up in Darby, Pennsylvania, inherited ownership of the Negro league Philadelphia Stars from her father Ed Bolden in 1950 and remained at the helm of the club until 1952. Several of these women, like Toni Stone, Connie Morgan, and Mamie “Peanuts” Johnson, would end their careers with statistics that shamed their male counterparts.

Women’s opportunities in baseball did not increase significantly until after passage of Title IX in 1972, which required schools that received federal funding to provide equal opportunities, including athletic opportunities, to both sexes. The women’s rights movement of the 1970s also influenced younger girls who wanted to play baseball, and in 1974, following numerous suits, Little League opened its fields to girls under court order.

Slowly, women also found positions in the media, management, and umpiring of the game. In 1967 Bernice Gera, who was born in Ernest, Pennsylvania, and grew up participating in sports of all kinds, decided to attend the Florida Baseball Umpire School, and she became the first

Bernice Gera, circa 1972

woman to complete the course. Gera tried for a number of years to break into organized baseball, but it was clear that her gender stood in the way. After taking her case to court, she umpired one game before calling it quits—it was too hard to fight for every game. Major League Baseball opened its clubhouses to female reporters in 1970 but the harassment was endless, including one female reporter who received a dead rat in the mail. In 1977, Mary Shane became the first woman employed on a daily basis to do play-by-play for the Milwaukee Brewers, hired by the famous Bill Veeck. In 1979 Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, continuing his controversial rulings, threw the women out of the clubhouses, thereby removing their ability to compete with their male counterparts. But they haven’t kept us out for long – in 2005 Suzyn Waldman with the New York Yankees became the first full-time female television commentator.

Although organized baseball officially banned women players from major and minor league teams, the women of the 1960s and 70s didn’t let this stand in their way. In 1974, with the passage of Title IX, girls could finally play baseball in their schools, in Little League, and on college teams. Umpire positions, opened up by trailblazers like Bernice Gera, Christine Wren, and Pam Postema, keep women behind home plate as well. Women in the owner’s chairs, like Effa Manley (Neward Eagles), Hilda Bolden Shorter (Philadelphia Stars), Jean Yawkey (Boston Red Sox), Jackie Autry (Anaheim Angels) and Joan Kroc (San Diego Padres) and Marge Schott (Cincinnati Reds) have allowed women to call the shots in management and financing of their teams as well. Joan Payson, as 10% owner of the New York Giants, was the only stockholder to vote against the move to San Francisco. She became majority owner of the expansion Mets in 1962 and in 1969 she became the first female owner to win the world championship and, upon her passing, left the team to her daughter and granddaughters to continue the legacy.

Opportunities for women to play professionally, however, remained scarce. Finally, in 1994 (exactly 40 years after the AAGBL folded), the Colorado Silver Bullets formed and lasted four seasons as a professional team. Women came from all over to join the club, which played men’s

Colorado Silver Bullets circa 1995

college, amateur, and semi-pro teams. But, since there was no league for these women to play in, their competition base was limited only to the men’s teams that were willing to play against them.

In the last 20 years, the American Women’s Baseball Association (AWBA), American Women’s Baseball League (AWBL), and Women’s National Adult Baseball Association (WNABA) have been organized in an effort to create an organized united baseball system for women. A Women’s World Series was played in 2001 in Toronto with teams from the USA, Australia, Canada and Japan competing. In 2003, women’s baseball became an official sport in the Amateur Athletic union, the first time a national organization sanctioned and supported women’s baseball. In 2004, John Kovach, the director of the Great Lakes Women’s Baseball League, worked out a deal with Little League to develop girls’ Little League baseball programs around the country. And in 2009, Justine Siegal became the first female coach of a men’s professional team with the Cleveland Indians.

While many male baseball fans may think that the game enjoyed a period of testosterone tranquility or man-cave solitude in its ‘good old days,’ women have been involved in the game since its very beginnings. Individual women, women’s teams, and whole women’s leagues have contributed a tremendous amount to the creation, evolution, and expansion of America’s game. We, as fans of that game, cannot afford to forget that women deserve the right to be a part of America’s pastime. The history of baseball is rich with the stories of the brave females who have helped to build the game, who have proven that baseball is not and cannot be the exclusive playgrounds for the boys of summer. And while we have not yet been as successful in breaking down the barriers as some other groups of minorities, we women are ready and waiting for our chance to shine on the diamond!

 

To learn more about women in baseball, check out:

Sue Macy’s  A Whole New Ball Game

Merrie Fidler’s The Origin and History of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

The All American Pro Girls Professional Baseball League

 More than a Man’s Game: Pennsylvania’s Women Play Ball

Society for American Baseball Research

Gai Berlage’s Women in Baseball 

Susan E. Johnson’s When Women Played Hardball

Deidre Silva’s It Takes More Than Balls: The Savvy Girls’ Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Baseball

Marilyn Cohen’s No Girls in the Clubhouse: The Exclusion of Women from Baseball

Jean Hastings Ardell’s Breaking Into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime

Read Full Post »

I have once again revisited one of life’s sadder lessons – you just never know when your time on this earth will be up. I have lost many loved ones along the path of my life but still can never seem to grasp how fragile life is and how quickly it all can change. I am once again reminded how important to live your life well and fully – not only can it all end suddenly, but you want to leave behind a legacy of kindness, love, and faith.

A good friend of mine plays in a vintage baseball league and I have been watching him play with his team for years. Their captain, “Curly,” was one of the most lively people I had ever seen – constantly cheering his teammates on, shouting instructions, keeping the crowd educated and excited about the game of vintage baseball. He never once forgot to congratulate someone for their good play, regardless of what team they played for. He could run like the devil and hit like an angel. He loved the game and he shared that love with his son. He was a fair and strong leader, constantly encouraging and rallying his teammates. He was, as many have observed, a true gentleman ballist and a great guy. And, sadly, I do use the past tense, as he collapsed and died at last week’s game.

My heart breaks for his friends and family, as he was still a young man with so much life yet to live. Many times now, his team and his family will feel that tremendous loss. He has left a hole in the fabric of the league, his team, and his home. My thoughts and prayers have, all week, been with those that were with him when he died doing what he loved.

Someone once told me, when I had lost my friend Liz to cancer, that God needed her – there were angels needed to do his work. I have more than once taken a great deal of comfort in that statement, praying that my loved ones were now serving in the Lord’s kingdom using their special gifts. My uncle, for instance, is now watching over hunters and fishermen, making sure that everyone stays safe. Liz, that wonderful mother and friend, is still providing guidance and encouragement to all of us that loved her. My grandmother, that sweet Southern lady turned Rosie the Riveter, is baking heavenly cookies for the children of Heaven. My brother firefighter, Larry, is now guarding us all every time we gear up, making sure that everyone comes home. And now I can guess that “Curly” is leading the Lord’s base ball club and cheering on his earthly team.

So, live your lives well, my friends, as you never know when your last day will come. As Linkin Park says in their song Leave Out All the Rest: “When my time comes / Forget the wrong that I’ve done / Help me leave behind some / Reasons to be missed.” Life is short and fragile and wonderful and I don’t want anyone to miss a single minute of happiness and love. And rest in peace, “Curly,” and know that you will be missed.

Read Full Post »