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Memories of the AAGPBL in 1943

By Mary Pratt

 

In order to refresh my memory, I decided to pull out my 1943 scrapbook, and there, on the wooden carved cover, were the signatures of those who finished the 1943 season as a Peach.

  • Millie Warwick, Regina, Canada
  • Dottie Kamenshek, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Dorothy Green.Natick, MassBetty Moczynski, WisconsinBerry Melin, Rockford, Illinois
  • Millie Deegan, Brooklyn, NY
  • Eileen Burgmeister, Theinsville, WI
  • Terri Davis, Toronto, Canada
  • Helen Nelson, Toronto, Canada
  • Marge Peters, West Allis, WI
  • Betty Jane Fritsch, Oshkosh, WI
  • Olive Little, Poplar Point, Canada
  • Marie Timm (Chaperone), West Allis,WI
  • Eddie Stumpf (Mgr.), Milwaukee,WI
  • K. Nelson (Business Mgr.), Gloversville, NY

Carved in the center of my scrapbook cover was the seal GSBL.  The seal was to become AAGSBL and eventually to be our current seal, AAGPBL. Just as our seal changed over the years, so did the rules of the game. These changes involved team rosters, pitching styles and distances and length of the base paths. Changes in team rosters usually resulted from injuries to players. It was a league policy to attempt to keep the game as competitive as possible. I was subjected to that policy in June 1944, when I was reassigned to Kenosha because Kenosha pitchers, Lee Harney and Nickie Fox were sidelined at the time.  Frequent roster changes were done quite often during each season. As a result, many team pictures were changing constantly.  In 1946 and 1947, I was reassigned back to Rockford. It was prior to 1943 that I met Dottie Green.  Walter Brown, at the time, was the owner of the Boston Garden.  He had decided to sponsor a softball team. They would play during the summer months.  One of our special trips was to Madison Square Garden to play the Roverettes.  Millie Deegan and I renewed acquaintances in 1943 when we met in Rockford.  We were opponents in New York, but teammates in Rockford.  Millie started at 2nd base in Rockford, but was to become an outstanding pitcher.     

When I arrived in Chicago in June of 1943, I was met by Mr. Sells. I had taken the night sleeper the day before from Boston, having remained in Quincy to complete my teaching schedule. Mr. Sells put me on another train and I arrived at the 15th Ave. Stadium in Rockford.  The game was in progress and Marge Peters was on the mound. That evening I became a Rockford Peach.     

So many of the former Rockford players who finished that 1943 season are gone now.  Many of my memories of 1943 overlap into 1944. I was unable to attend spring training in 1943, but did attend in 1944. It included a program conducted by Helene Rubinstein and her associates. Just as was portrayed in the movie, we were instructed and advised of ways and methods by which we could improve our conduct and our appearance.  Their program reinforced policies and practices that had been established by League administrators.    

 I can still remember the impact of players from Canada in 1943, followed by the influx of players from California in 1944.  That was the start of a venture in professional athletic competition for females such as I have never experienced in my lifetime. Those of us who attended the first renewal of our friendships in Chicago in 1982 might recall the remark made by Patty Berg at our banquet. She remarked that what she had done to advance competitive golf for women was now a challenge for us in professional baseball for girls and women.   

 From the very beginning we received wonderful fan support. Workers at the plant where Eileen Burgmeister worked before she became a Peach sponsored an evening for her. Sunstrand Machine Tool Co. also sponsored a great night for Olive Little.  Olive pitched the first no-hitter in 1943. She attended our first “get together” in Chicago in 1982 with her husband.  She remarked to me that her granddaughter was then competing in the Lassie League in which she played prior to coming into the AAGPBL. On many occasions fans presented Olive with jars of olives.  She was certainly the “role model” that Mr. Wrigley and his associates envisioned when he established this unique league.     

Many other events were held during the season.  An “Appreciation Night” was sponsored by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles prior to our leaving for home at the close of the season.  Many fans also attended the 1982 event in Chicago.  They came with Millie Lundahl who was the chaperone. One of my fondest memories was the event held at Wrigley Field.  All four teams competed in a double-header sponsored by the Red Cross. The unique feature was that it was held under the light - a first such event. They installed portable lights, but we still had the recognition of being the first to play at the field under lights.     

It would be an oversight if I attempted to name players who had exceptional ability.  There were so many. I did, however, play with and against the four who were the first to sign contracts. They were Clara Schillace, Ann Harnett, Shirley Jameson and Edythe Perlick. Dick Day, the Sports writer for Rockford did some interesting figures in his July 24, 1943 column: Gladys Davis (ss): Games 49, AB 172, Runs 43, Hits 64, Batting Ave. .372.  Leading pitchers: Berger and Nicol; Team Batting: Racine .257. Last I heard we still had not located Gladys.     

To those who participated in the League, to those who are Associate Members, to those who have read and are interested in the history of the League, it is obvious that the All American League was a combination of Softball and Baseball.  All who participated were able to adjust to the changes that were made from season to season. We were and continue to be a part of a unique venture.  We all live with those wonderful memories and the wonderful friendships that we made.     

Because I had the opportunity to play for two teams, Rockford and Kenosha, I had the privilege to play with and against many wonderful players. There are a few that I will always remember. I played with and against “Pinky” Pirok and Dottie Schroeder, with and against Ann Harnett, with and against Shirley Jameson, with and against Audrey Wagner, and with and against Kammie Kamenshek.

To have pitched against Olive Little, Helen Nicol Fox, Sonny Berger, Dottie Collins, Mary Nesbitt and Joanne Winters was a real challenge.  All pitched the “traditional softball style” in 1943-44. The limited ¾ sidearm delivery in 1946, the full side arm in 1947, and the overhand in 1948 with the ball size going from the 12” to 11-1/2” to 10” made it a different game.  Then the ball size eventually went to the 9-1/4” and the pitching distance and base paths were lengthened to Major League proportions in 1954. It was a credit to those who were able to adjust to the different size balls, pitching distances, and base paths.    

 When Mr. Sells told me in an interview at Cooperstown in 1982 that he had been given $100,000 to recruit girls from all over the USA, it was obvious that he did an outstanding job. Those were certainly highly skilled girls who played from 1943-1954.  We were all so fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate. So many were not even aware of Mr. Wrigley’s venture until Penny Marshall and Columbia Studios decided to make the movie.  We should all be grateful for the “story” that Penny Marshall and Columbia Studios did in portraying “Our Story.

 

 

 

Contributed by: Shelley McCann
Submitted on: 06/28/2011

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