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By Jean L. S. Patrick
Pitcher and outfielder Agnes Allen traveled more than seven hundred miles from her birthplace in Alvord, Iowa, to play for the Kalamazoo Lassies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. But her early travels with the Springfield Sallies took her all the way to Yankee Stadium.
Agnes Allen was born on September 21, 1930, to Edward and Bernice (Martin) Allen. During her early years, she lived on a farm near Alvord, a tiny town in the northwest corner of Iowa, just a few miles from the South Dakota border.
Following her mother’s death, eleven-year-old Agnes and her family moved to nearby Larchwood, Iowa, to live with her grandmother. In Larchwood, Agnes attended the local Catholic school and played in occasional softball games on the weekends. But at home, her family focused on baseball.
“My dad was a ballplayer when he was young, and I had two brothers who were ballplayers,” said Agnes, who also had two sisters. “My one brother (Paul) was just a couple years older than I, and we played all the time.”
Agnes’ dad, a former pitcher, gave her plenty of instruction. “His most important thing was that you knew where you were throwing the ball,” she recollected in a 2008 interview. “And you had to be able to put it there. If he put his mitt up there, why you better hit it!”
When Agnes was 19, her dad read about the AAGPBL in the newspaper. “I said, ‘Oh, gosh, that’d be fun,’ and he said, ‘No, that’s not for you.’”
But his opinion changed. Tryouts were held in Rockford, Illinois, where Agnes’ aunt and uncle lived. “So Dad thought it would be all right,” said Agnes, who had completed one year of college by this time.
“I was nervous, very nervous,” she said, remembering the long car trip to Rockford in 1950. But her dad responded with common sense. “It’ll be a good experience for you,” he said. ‘This is just catchin’ the ball and hittin’ it. There’s nothin’ to be nervous about.”
This encouragement reflected her dad’s personality. “He wanted us to go forth and do what we loved to do,” Agnes explained. But her aunt and uncle had a different refrain: “If your mother was alive, you wouldn’t be doing this,” they often chided. Even so, they supported her.
Approximately 100 highly qualified girls from “all over the Midwest” joined Agnes at the three-day Rockford tryout. She impressed the scouts with her pitching. “I could throw a curveball and a fastball, so I think that’s what got me the job,” said the right-hander. “I don’t think it had anything to do with my hitting!”
After returning to Larchwood for the summer, her dad received the official letter that invited Agnes to Chicago for more tryouts. “Dad didn’t know if he wanted to let me go or not,” recollected Agnes, remembering how her father’s paternal instincts kicked in. “But he said, ‘If you can get on a team, that might help you get through college.’ That was still the most important thing.”
In Chicago, Agnes stayed in a hotel with all the other girls who were trying out. “It was very competitive,” said Agnes, speaking of the tryouts. “My dad called me at the end, and I said, ‘I don’t think I made it, Dad.’ He said, ‘Why not?!’
“I didn’t think I was lovely enough,” said Agnes, recalling the moment. “I was bashful. They [the other girls] would talk about where they played and who they played against, and [I] just played catch with Dad and Paul.”
Yet Agnes made the roster of the 1950 Springfield Sallies. The Sallies – along with the Chicago Colleens – were referred to as “traveling teams” or “rookie teams.” These teams played against each other in Illinois and throughout the South and the East. The purpose of these teams was threefold; to develop the talent of players who were on the cusp of being ready for the main league, to generate interest in the league, and to scout and recruit new talent.
The travel was constant, according to Agnes, who was often homesick and wrote home every week. “We’d play in one city, stay overnight, and travel to the next city,” she explained. To pass the time on the long bus rides, the players would sing, talk, and get along, for the most part. Her roommates were Bobbie Liebrich and Pat Barringer, the chaperone/managers for the two teams.
One experience stood out from the rest. On August 11, 1950, the Sallies and Colleens played a three-inning exhibition game at Yankee Stadium prior to the New York Yankee–Philadelphia Athletics game. The Sallies sat in the Yankee dugout. The Colleens were assigned to the visiting team’s dugout.
“I was so nervous,” she said, remembering her first trip out to the mound. “But after awhile, it was just another game. We got some hisses and some boos and a lot of cheers if someone got a hit or you struck somebody out.”
Playing on a regulation major-league field was a change for Agnes. The distance from the mound to the plate was 60 feet, six inches, five-and-a-half feet longer than the distance that the AAGPBL players were used to. “I was a fastball pitcher, so I imagine that I walked a few,” she recalled.
Agnes also met several Yankees in the dugout. “They’d come up and shake your hand and ask you where you were from,” she said. Although she didn’t remember whom she met, her teammates remembered meeting Casey Stengel, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, and Yogi Berra.
“Yankee Stadium was beautiful,” she said, despite the 3-0 loss to the Colleens. Later, her brother Paul had some words for her. “‘I should have been there pitching.’ he said. So I said, ‘Get to work!’”
Agnes’ summer season also included a game at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. Although the players enjoyed the variety of experiences that came with playing on the traveling teams, most of the girls aspired to join the league itself. “Everybody was fighting for a chance to play in the league,” she explained. “But we became friends. Everybody looked out for each other.”
Following the 1950 tour, Agnes signed with the Kalamazoo Lassies. However, she returned home for another year of college at Augustana College and Iowa State Teachers College. She returned to Kalamazoo for the 1951 season, roomed with Bobbie and Pat, and became one of the Lassie’s starting pitchers. “I had a good fastball and a good curve,” she said. “But I was a little wild.”
Agnes recalled that the 10” ball used in 1951 was “a little larger than a baseball.” Overhand pitching (which the league had established in 1948) was not a problem. “My dad taught me that when I was young,” she explained. But finding metal cleats in her size was a challenge. “I don’t wear very big shoes,” said Agnes, just 5-foot-3.
The Lassies usually drew a good crowd, thanks to a commitment to promotions (especially by owner Lee Elkins who took over the team in 1952). “The fans were always pleasant,” said Agnes. “But sometimes you’d run into some smart-head who said that you should be home scrubbing the floor.” Agnes said she usually just laughed at the hecklers. But she recalled the time when someone kept yelling at her to go home. “I finally said, ‘If you’re so good, why aren’t you playing?’” He walked away, and everyone clapped.
Agnes didn’t attend “charm school” as did many earlier members of the AAGPBL. However, she and her teammates followed the league’s dress code and the rules of behavior. “No slacks in public,” said Agnes. “You had to be in a dress or skirt.” Chaperones also were a part of their lives and enforced the rules. “You couldn’t go out and stay out all night. Or drink. But I wasn’t a drinker anyway, so it didn’t bother me.”
Agnes played for the Lassies from 1951-1953, except for a few games she played with the Battle Creek Belles in 1951. Her strongest season was in 1953, when she had a 10-9 record with a 3.70 ERA. Remembering her three seasons with the Lassies, she recalled teammates Doris Sams (“She was a home-run hitter and a nice gal”); Doris “Cookie” Cook (“Oh, she was funny!”); and two Cuban players (likely Ysora Castillo in 1951 and Isabel Alvarez in 1953).
The Lassie’s manager was Mitch Skupien, who led the 1950 tour and began coaching the Lassies in 1952. “He was a pretty nice guy,” said Agnes. “He’d get after you if he didn’t think you were trying hard. He’d [also] get after you as a team for this, that, and the other thing. He was very good.”
During the off-season, Agnes stayed in Kalamazoo to take classes at Western Michigan University where she obtained a secondary education degree to teach physical education. At this time, she was employed at a grocery store, working as a clerk, cleaning, and going in on Sundays to go over the books. “I needed the money,” she explained. “If I had a quarter in my pocket, I was lucky.”
Following the 1953 season, Agnes taught for a couple of years in Michigan, first in the Upper Peninsula and later in the southeastern part of the state, teaching general science and physical education at the junior high level. Later, she went to Physical Therapy school for two years at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. From there, she worked at McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She eventually worked at the Canton-Inwood Hospital (not far from Larchwood and Alvord), continuing as a physical therapist until she retired at age sixty-nine.
At age seventy-seven, Agnes articulated the importance of her years with the AAGPBL. “I think it gave me encouragement to try things I wanted to do that I perhaps would not have,” she explained. “Any time you try something new and can achieve it, it gives you another push to do something beyond that.”
Agnes Allen lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, during her latter years. She died in Flandreau, South Dakota, on February 24, 2012, at the age of 81. She is buried at St. Mary Cemetery in Alvord, Iowa.
Agnes Allen Seasonal Pitching Records
Year G IP R ER ERA BB SO HB WP W L PCT
1950 15 - - - - - - - - -------------------------------------9 5 .643
1951 24 100 94 69 6.21 126 51 2 11 3 10 .231
1952 12 66 56 44 6.00 57 33 1 2 1 7 .125
1953 24 158 85 65 3.70 113 50 3 10 10 9 .526
Agnes Allen Seasonal Batting Record
Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO AVG
1950 17 38 5 10 0 0 0 6 0 8 4 .172
1951 27 36 4 6 0 0 0 1 0 0 5 .167
1952 56 161 15 26 6 0 0 10 6 6 13 .161
1953 38 70 12 13 0 1 0 2 1 6 7 .186
(source: All-American Girls Professional Baseball League website, www.aagpbl.org)
This essay is based on a February 8, 2008, interview with Agnes Allen at her home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Other sources include A League of My Own, by Patricia I. Brown (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003); The Origins and History of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, by Merrie A. Fidler (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006); and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League website: www.aagpbl.org.
Contributed by: Jean L. S. Patrick
Submitted on: 08/18/2013
Copyright: SABR/AAGPBL Joint Biography Project