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Jochum, Betsy, All-American: South Bend's Outfielder, Pitcher, and Team Player

By Jim Sargent

Betsy JochumDuring one mid-season game in 1944, the performance of South Bend Blue Sox outfielder Betsy Jochum--one of the league's best hitters--demonstrated again her power at the plate as well as the excitement generated by games in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).

Facing Minneapolis Millerette ace right-hander Dottie Wiltse, the right-handed hitting Jochum clubbed one of the longest home runs of the year. In a game characterized by outstanding defensive plays which the Blue Sox finally won, 8-7, one Minneapolis newspaper described Jochum's feat:

Other than the amazing antics of the fielders, the feature of the game was Betty Jochum's home run in the seventh. This muscular young lady whaled one of Dottie's best pitches far over Faye Dancer's head in center field and it rolled almost to the flagpole. A fellow named Sweeney, one of South Bend's rootingest rooters, gave her $25 dollars for the smash.

When I showed that 1944 story to Dottie Wiltse Collins (Dottie married Harvey Collins in early 1946), she replied, "What I remember about Betsy was, `Look out for the hitter in South Bend.' She was a good hitter, one heck of a hitter!"

I talked with Betsy Jochum recently, and she recalled that fans often gave the girls money for good hits or good defensive plays. For example, Blue Sox rooter Arnold Bauer would give players a silver dollar with the girl's birthdate on it for hitting a double, a triple, or a homer! Betsy recalled winning a wrist watch, an RCA radio, and a 45-rpm record player for some of her outstanding games.

In 1944 Jochum was in the middle of her greatest season. She ended up leading the All-American (as the circuit was usually called) hitters with a .296 average. Considering that the league was using underhand pitching and a 12-inch plastic-center softball in 1943-44 (by mid-1949 the ball size was decreased to 10 3/8 inches and a cork center added), her average was excellent.

Jochum led the AAGPBL in several categories during 1944: most hits (128), most singles (120), and most stolen bases in one game, seven, on August 2. Although batting lead-off or in the second spot much of the year, she still produced 23 RBI.

Betsy had good speed. She tracked down long fly balls with ease, and she ran the bases well. In six seasons she stole 358 bases, an average of 60 per year--peaking with 127 in 1944.

Averaging .246 lifetime at the plate, "Sockum" Jochum connected for 43 doubles, 29 triples, and seven home runs. After the first two seasons, she usually batted in the middle of the lineup. Overall, she drove in 232 runs, averaging over 38 per season--topped by a personal-best 63 RBI in 1946.

A versatile athlete, she was asked to pitch in 1948, the first year the All-American featured overhand hurling. The result: the right-hander posted a record of 14-13 and a 1.51 ERA in 215 innings.

Despite six years of stellar performances, Betsy was traded after the `48 season. Having moved from Cincinnati to South Bend and making many friends, she decided to retire from professional baseball.

Like many All-Americans, Jochum came from an athletic background. Born on February 8, 1921, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Betsy grew up with an older brother, Nicholas, and a younger sister, Frances. Her parents, Frank and Katherine Jochum, were German-speaking Hungarians who arrived at Ellis Island, and eventually Cincinnati, before the Great War.

Betsy began playing softball when she was eight or nine.

"The kids in the neighborhood would play on a vacant corner lot, choosing up sides and playing `scrub,'" she told me. "If we had enough people, we played softball. Sometimes we played with a baseball, or any old ball, until we knocked the cover off. Then we would put friction tape on it and keep on playing `till that flew off. Whatever equipment was available was good enough for us!"

She laughed at the memory, because those were typical games for boys and girls who grew up in the Thirties.

At Hughes High, a school with 2,000 students, Betsy played the only sports open to girls: after-school intramurals, including softball and basketball. Gifted with good hand-eye coordination, quick reflexes, natural athletic skills, and a strong arm, she liked to compete in AAU track and field baseball throw contests.

Jochum recalled winning one national competition held in Connecticut in 1938 with a heave of 276 feet, which was second only to "Babe" Didrickson's national record of 296 feet. Betsy won several trophies and cups in the Cincinnati area for baseball throws.

"I started playing fast-pitch softball when I was twelve or thirteen years old," Jochum recollected. "I played for Vic Brown's `Rosebuds,' a florist from Covington, Kentucky, across the Ohio River. Later, my brother Nick and I got jobs with a packing company, H.H. Meyer. I played for their fast-pitch softball team, and we played in leagues in Cincinnati and in Covington, Kentucky. Two or three girls, Dorothy Kamenshek was one, played on the Meyer team and later played in our league."

Betsy added, "I was still in high school when I started playing on those teams. Our Vic Brown team went to a national softball tournament in Chicago. The H.H. Meyer team went to the nationals in Detroit in 1940. We were one of the last four teams in the tournament when we finally lost. An Arizona team won it."

She reminisced, "I remember the time we played in Chicago against the Rival Dog Food team. It was the last inning, and I was playing center field. The girl hit the ball over my head, and I ran back to the fence to get it. I turned and threw it all the way to home and got her out, and we won the game. I didn't bounce it, like you're supposed to do. I just heaved it all the way!"

Thinking about that game, she reflected, "My whole family liked sports. My father and mother would go along and watch if I was playing. If Nick was playing, we'd all go and watch him."

After high school Jochum attended business school, where she learned to type and to operate the comptometer, a kind of calculating machine:

"Jobs were hard to find in the late Thirties. So, because I played on the H.H. Meyer softball team, my brother Nick and I were employed there for about two years. I finally found a job at the French Bauer Dairy doing comptometer work in the office. My brother also left the packing house, and he was employed by a company that managed apartment buildings."

When she was playing for South Bend, Jochum resumed her comptometer job in Cincinnati during the off-season. After leaving baseball, she operated a comptometer at Bendix Home Appliances in South Bend.

She saved money, attended Illinois State University, and graduated in 1957 with a degree in Physical Education. Living and working in South Bend, she taught P.E. at the junior high level until retiring in 1983.

The All-American League was launched in the spring of 1943. The moving force behind the AAGPBL, Philip K. Wrigley, originally hoped that a good women's league would attract many baseball fans who were lost to the big leagues during World War II. Even though the league succeeded, Wrigley's first love was his Chicago Cubs. After the 1944 season, with the war's end in sight, he sold his AAGPBL interests to Arthur Meyerhoff, his advertising chief.

The league, however, was based on the idea that mid-sized cities in the Midwest could sponsor professional teams with ballplayers who were good-looking "All-American" women who could play baseball like men. Since it was unusual for women to play a "man's game," it took talented, determined, courageous women to make the league succeed. But those were unusual times. World War II raged around the world, and the manpower available on America's home front was limited. Over 6 million women joined the nation's workforce, and more than 600 eventually played in the AAGPBL. The All-American idea worked.

Cub scout Jack Sheehan came to Cincinnati in early 1943, held tryouts, and signed several local girls, including Jochum, Dot Kamenshek, and Marion Wohlwender. The girls traveled by train to Chicago and tried out again, as was dramatized in the 1992 movie, A League of Their Own. If successful, they were sent to one of the original four 15-player teams. Besides South Bend, the league at first featured the Racine Belles, the Rockford Peaches, and the Kenosha Comets.

The All-American controlled all players, and the girls were allocated to different clubs with the aim of keeping the teams balanced. Jochum joined 14 other professional pioneers in South Bend for the inaugural season.

Programs for the 1943 All-American Girls Soft Ball League (the name changed to baseball in 1946) listed the Blue Sox players: right-handed pitchers Margaret Berger, Muriel Coben, Betty Jean McFadden, and lefty Doris Barr; catchers Mary "Bonnie" Baker and Lucella MacLean; infielders Johanna Hageman, Marge Stefani, "Dottie" Schroeder, Lois Florreich, and Mary Holda; outfielders Josephine D'Angelo, Ellen Tronnier, Geraldine Shafranis, and Jochum. Bert Niehoff was named manager and Rose Virginia Way became coach-chaperon.

Betsy, the Blue Sox, and the league enjoyed a good first year, as America continued to fight World War II. Patriotism was on people's minds. Before AAGPBL games started, the girls would form a double line near home plate--in "V" for victory fashion--and join the fans in singing the national anthem. Programs, scorecards, and local merchants promoted war bonds. The admission price was less than $1 for adults, kids paid less, and servicemen on leave got in free.

The circuit divided the season into a first half and a second half in 1943 and 1944, with the first-half winner facing the second-half winner in playoffs. First-half winner Racine beat Kenosha for the 1943 title, while South Bend took second place in both halves of the season with records of 21-16 and 30-24.

Playing 101 games, Jochum led the league in at-bats with 439 and hits with 120. Averaging .273, she topped everyone in singles (100) and doubles (12). She also contributed 27 walks, 66 stolen bases, seven triples, one home run, and 35 RBI.

In 1944 Jochum led the now six-team All-American in hits with 128 and batting average with .296, while helping the Blue Sox challenge for the pennant. The second-half winner, Milwaukee's Chicks--an expansion club, along with the new Minneapolis Millerettes--beat Kenosha for the championship. South Bend was runner-up, posting records of 33-25 and 31-27.

The league grew and prospered through Jochum's final season, 1948. In 1945 the Rockford Peaches won the new Shaughnessy Series Championship (first place versus third, second versus fourth in the best of five games, and winner versus winner in seven games).

In 1946 the All-American expanded to eight teams, including the Peoria Redwings and the Muskegon Lassies. That year the Racine Belles won the playoff title. The Grand Rapids Chicks won the championship in 1947. In 1948 the league expanded to 10 teams, attendance peaked around 910,000, and Rockford won the club's second title.

Jochum produced solid performances for South Bend, hitting .237, .250, .211, and .195, with 36, 63, 42, and 33 RBI, respectively, during the 1945-48 seasons. In 1946, while batting 400 times and driving home 63 runs, she tied Dot Kamenshek of Rockford for the fewest strikeouts among regulars with 10.

Two years later, about a month into the 1948 season, the strong-armed outfielder (who started the year slowly at the plate) was asked to pitch. With no hesitation, Betsy took the mound and won 14 games. Short on overhand hurling, South Bend finished third with the club's first losing record, 57-69.

Betsy recalled that she began pitching almost by accident: "I was throwing the ball with the girls and warming up before one game. Marty McManus watched me and said, `Why don't you try pitching? You've got a good arm.'

"So I tried, and it worked."

Statistics hardly measure Jochum's worth to her club, and to the league. Known for her positive temperament, her steady hitting, and her classy fielding, the 5'7" beauty, a talented and attractive brunette who was friendly, shy, and modest, became the ultimate team player.

On September 16, 1946, after the season ended, Albert McGann, South Bend's president, sent Jochum a letter of praise. He enclosed her 1947 contract and a "bonus" check for $105.90. According to McGann, although the club took third place, "This bonus was voted as a result of your very cooperative attitude and your earnest effort to help South Bend win a pennant."

About two months into the 1948 season, in a story entitled "Posies for Jochum," the South Bend Tribune called her the team's best all-around player:

It is the consensus of opinion among Blue Sox fans that the finest all-around job being done for the team this year is that turned in by Betsy Jochum, pitcher-outfielder-infielder. She is right near the top among the league's pitchers with a record of 13 victories and six defeats, and she plays the outfield or infield with such marked ability that manager Marty McManus uses her quite frequently on the nights when she isn't scheduled to pitch. What enhances her value to the team, also, is her even disposition and her willingness to tackle any job assigned her, be it pitching, outfielding, first basing or pinch hitting. There's no temperament in her makeup, she's never mad at anybody or anything, and has her eye at all times on the team's success rather than on any personal glory. She wasn't hitting very well at the start of the season, but in her last four trips to the plate in Playland Park she has hit a home run, a triple and two singles. She is one of the last two surviving members of the original Blue Sox of 1943, Bonnie Baker being the other.

So well did Betsy perform that at the season's end, McManus encouraged her to ask for a raise. "He said I deserved more money," Jochum recalled. "So I went down to see Doctor Harold Dailey, and he said, `No.' After it happened, I was traded. I don't know that if that had anything to do with it, or if Peoria wanted someone who could pitch and play the outfield, too. I never did find out."

Not only was she traded, but other Blue Sox girls were told about the trade first, before Betsy. In that sense women of the All-American were treated the same as big leaguers of the era: players were the property of the ball club.

The manner in which she was told about the trade made Jochum angry. She liked living in South Bend, so she retired.

Even if her pro career ended on a low note, Jochum was an important member of the Blue Sox, and she has many fine memories of her league years.

For instance, people have asked if she remembers the time she caught a long fly ball barehanded. Betsy explained, rather modestly, "It was hit over my head to my right-hand side, so I couldn't really get my glove on it. I was playing left field at Bendix Field in South Bend, but I don't remember who we were playing."

She participated in the first All-Star game in mid-1943, when selected players from the Blue Sox and the Peaches played a team of Belles/Comets at Wrigley Field to raise money for the Red Cross. The Blue Sox/Peaches won the opener, 16-0, but a lack of time caused the second tilt to go only three innings.

One unusual feature of the game was that Wrigley ordered temporary floodlights rigged on top of the grandstands. The lighting was dim, but Betsy remembers the event well, including the appearance of Hollywood's Victor Mature to highlight the between-games fund-raising for war-related causes.

Jochum's favorite memories include:

  • playing in a July 4, 1948, double-header at Playland: "We had about 10,000 fans at those games."
  • liking the South Bend fans: "The same faithful fans would sit behind our dugout every night, and they would yell, `Sockum Jochum' when I came up to bat!"
  • taking the spring training trip to Havana, Cuba, in 1947: "I took my first airplane flight, we stayed at the Seville- Biltmore Hotel, and we played our games at the`Gran Stadium.' All the teams were filmed for `Fox News' going down the steps at the University of Havana."
  • enjoying a cruise across Lake Michigan from Muskegon to play a game in Wisconsin: "This was a special treat for us, and the driver took the bus around the lake."
  • riding on the team's private bus starting in 1946: "No more trains or luggage to carry!"
  • going to spring training in the South: "We went to a naval base in Opa-Locka, Florida, one year, and another year we went to Tampa, Florida."
  • making her debut as a pitcher on May 29, 1948: "I gave up two singles, struck out five, walked none, and allowed only four runners on base." Betsy won that first game, 6-0.

A valuable hitter, an excellent fielder, a solid run-producer, and a fine team player who was appreciated by her teammates, by many of her opponents, and by South Bend's loyal fans, Betsy Jochum was a true All-American in a league filled with some of the most talented, dedicated, and unusual women of the 1940s.

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Contributed by: Jim Sargent
Submitted on: 11/12/1998

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