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AAGPBL History: All-American Girls' Baseball League - Its History in Brief - 1943 to 1946
Article courtesy of Arleene Johnson Noga.
All-American Girls' Baseball League - Its History in Brief - 1943 to 1946: Excerpt from the 1947 Fort Wayne Daisies Year Book, Compliments - Sherman White & Co. - Fort Wayne, Indiana
Already a buxom baby when it started its fourth year in 1946, girls' professional baseball has really grown up as a result of the season just completed and seems destined to stay and to continue its healthy growth as a solid sports attraction for the baseball public. Having been started in 1943 with four teams in mid-western communities, the All-American Girls' Baseball League came of age in 1946 with development of the wheel into eight full-fledged, community owned and operated, non-profit clubs in the cities of Racine and Kenosha, Wisconsin; Rockford and Peoria, Illinois; South Bend and Fort Wayne, Indiana; Grand Rapids and Muskegon, Michigan.
Under the able guidance of President Max Carey, former major league star and baseball luminary for 24 years, who operates from league headquarters at the Wrigley Building in Chicago and ably abetted by a staff of managers, commissioners and scouts, this major league of girls' baseball has flourished in these communities of 50,000 to 150,000 people. Each club is operated by a board of directors comprised of leading industrial, business and civic-minded individuals with similar representation on the Board of Governors which guides the league affairs.
From an attendance figure of 259,000 for a six team league in 1944, the interest increased in six league cities in 1945 to bring 450,000 patrons to the gate and in 1946, as an indication of full-blown maturity, the attendance in eight league cities topped the three-quarters of a million mark with 754,000. Here then, is a sports attraction, which has tripled its total attendance figures in the short space of three years.
The two new cities to join the league in 1946 were Peoria, Illinois, and Muskegon, Michigan, both of which cities made exceptionally fine showings at the gate in view of first year introduction of the game and the fact that neither city presented a pennant-contending team. Muskegon, in fact, drew close to 90,000 people for the regular season and gave every indication of proving one of the most successful operations in the circuit. All-time records for attendance were set in other league cities. Grand Rapids drew over 130,000; South Bend attracted over 120,000, Rockford had over 110,000 attendance and Racine set its own all-time record of 102,000. South Bend also set a single game attendance record with a banner turnout of 7,800 for a single contest with the Racine Belles.
Among the league innovations is the custom of training the entire league at one site and the spring of 1946 saw over 200 regulars and aspiring rookies take off for Pascagoula, Mississippi, the scene of the league's spring training camp. All league players received a course in fundamentals and the final allocation of players was made to assure an equitable distribution of talent and even balance of the playing strength of the eight clubs. The spring training program was followed by a series of exhibition tours of four sets of teams throughout the entire Southland, where they played exhibition benefit and charity games throughout all the principal cities of the south.
The league opened its regular schedule of 112 games on May 22. South Bend won the Opening Day Attendance Trophy which was won by Racine in 1945, the first year of such competition, the Indiana City attracting upwards of 5,300 fans to its inaugural. Over 5,000 fans also saw the Grand Rapids Chicks open the season in their home city and crowds of 5,000 and upwards were common throughout the season, especially in these two cities.
The teams play a full season of baseball, with single games scheduled every night of the week and doubleheaders on Sundays and holidays. Only in Racine has any daytime ball been played and that team scheduled a limited number of Sunday doubleheaders in the afternoon. The special and exclusive All-American Girls' Baseball League ball, eleven inches in diameter, was used throughout the season. The bases were moved to a distance of 70 feet apart and the pitching distance from the mound to the plate was set at 43 feet. The league permits runners to lead off bases and steal at any time and rigidly enforces a half-balk rule, making the game wide open and replete with action and thrills.
For the first time in 1946, league pitching rules were relaxed sufficiently to allow for a limited side-arm pitch from an underhand delivery with certain restrictions and the season saw the rapid development of many pitchers as the adoption of the new style of pitching became general. A better and smaller ball, however, reacted to the benefit of the hitters and batting averages generally were on the up-trend.
To add to the general interest, there was a season long dog fight for top league honors, with Grand Rapids showing the way in the early weeks due to a record breaking start when the team won its first 13 games. In the late weeks, it was a battle between the Chicks, the Racine Belles and the South Bend Blue Sox for the pennant, with the Racine team finally clinching the flag on the second to the last day of the season for its second league championship in four years. The Belles were followed in the final standings by Grand Rapids, South Bend and the 1945 champion Rockford club in that order and these four teams qualified for the Shaughnessy play-off series which proves the climax of the All-American season.
Not only from the standpoint of attendance was the 1946 a record season, inasmuch as the all-time record books were literally torn apart by the spirited and often amazing play of the girl athletes. No less than twelve individual batting records were earned with a number of others being tied. One additional nine-inning no-hit, no-run game was added to the league string by Anna May Hutchison of the Racine Belles. Hutchison went the full route in a 19-inning scoreless contest with Peoria to set another record and captured still a third by appearing in 51 games over the season. Joanne Winter, another Racine pitcher, hurled six consecutive shutouts and 63 consecutive scoreless innings to set new records and also shared with Connie Wisniewski of Grand Rapids a new record for 33 wins in one season. Dorothy Kamenshek of Rockford led the league in batting with .316 and broke the all-time record for total hits and tied the record for singles in one season, while Sophie Kurys of Racine knocked off no less than all-time records for runs scored, stolen bases, bases on balls and fielding at second base. Lib Mahon of South Bend hung up a new mark for runs batted in as she led the league in its exclusive Total Advanced Bases column, a record which tabulates the player's own total bases plus the number of bases by which team-mates are advanced on the individual player's value at hitting when they count with runners on base.
The 1946 season saw the advent of play-by-play broadcasting when Racine radio station WRJN scheduled an elaborate program of play-by-play and direct wire broadcasts of many games, both at home and from other league cities, covering all the Belles out-of-town games in the Shaughnessy play-offs. With all the teams traveling on road trips via special chartered buses, the Racine team also went decidedly big league on occasions by using air travel for hops to Michigan cities across Lake Michigan.
The 1946 teams were again under the direction of qualified and experienced baseball managers such as Bill Wambsganss, former great second baseman of the Cleveland Indians who executed the only unassisted triple play of World Series history, Ralph (Buzz) Boyle, a former member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Johnny Rawlings who was once a World Series star with the New York Giants, Bill Allington, who played in the Southern Association, Pacific Coast and Western Leagues, Pres Cruthers, a second baseman with the Philadelphia A's in the days of the "million dollar infield," Leo Murphy, a veteran of 25 years in organized ball and a former American Association and National League catcher, Chet Grant, former quarterback for Knute Rockne, a backfield coach at Notre Dame for eight years and a Michigan-Ontario League ball player, Johnny Gottselig, manager of the Chicago Black Hawks hockey team and former ball player and manager in western Canada.
The players themselves, largely recruited by the league's far-flung organizational scouts and commissioners, hailed from all parts of the United States and from several provinces of the dominion of Canada. The girls are all signed to contracts by the league, after a try-out agreement which protects their amateur standing until such time that they actually are signed to perform in the league. The players are rated and allocated to the teams on the basis of a point system, although every effort is made to retain the nucleus of each team from year to year by permitting each team to retain ten of its former players on its annual reserve list. The players are typical American girls, school teachers, physical education teachers, high school and college students, clerks, models, librarians, secretaries and office or factory workers in the off-season. They meet the highest standards of feminine appearance, deportment and behavior and they are guided during their playing season by an individual team chaperone who acts as their counselor and friend. Chaperones are responsible for physical, mental and moral well-being, as well as uniforms and equipment, first aid, traveling arrangements, hotel and living accommodations and other requirements essential to team harmony and efficiency.
The players devote themselves one hundred per cent to playing ball during the season, without other occupation. They live in the cities of their hometown team, usually in pairs or threesomes in private homes in the community and they become a part of the social and civic life of that community in which they play. Road trips involve two annual visits to each of the other cities in the circuit, each for a four-game series, at which time the visiting players stay at the best hotels in those communities. All travel expenses, including meal money for individual players on the road, are paid by the team, whereas living expenses in the home town city, usually quite nominal, are the individual responsibility of the player.
The game has had a great influence for the good in communities where it has operated so successfully for the past several years. Girls' professional baseball has become an outstanding family attraction with men, women, boys and girls forming about an equal cross section of the average game attendance. In several of the communities, it has been the most successful sports venture to attract the general interest in many years and it has out-drawn any other sports venture in the history of some of these cities. The revenue from the operation in several of the league cities has already been turned to excellent purpose in helping promote and sustain other worthy youth recreation activities.
The first and only league to train all eight clubs at one site, the All-American Girls' Baseball League had already contracted, before the year's end, to establish its 1947 spring training camp at Havana, Cuba, where training activities and exhibition performances during late April and early May were to be followed by similar exhibition tours through the southern states to those which last year won many adherents and followers for the major league of girls' baseball.