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Perlick Keating, Edie: All-Star Outfielder for the Racine Belles
By Jim Sargent
Edythe Perlick Keating, the left fielder for the Racine Belles from 1943 through the 1950 season, exemplifies the kind of woman who played hardball in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), usually called the All-American League. A steady and productive hitter, an outstanding fielder, and a fine team player, "Edie" Perlick (her maiden name) batted .240 lifetime for 851 games over eight seasons.
Overall, Perlick has been ranked by AAGPBL researcher Sharon Roepke as one of the twenty best players in the league's history. Edie's batting averages were often among the league's top twenty regulars (considering girls who batted 100 or more times).
Perlick's top twenty rating is also illustrated by her making the All-Star team in 1943, 1947, and 1948. In addition to 481 career stolen bases, she set Racine's RBI record with 63 in 1944. That summer she appeared on the cover of All Sports Magazine.
Fifty years later Perlick is remembered by former Belles and other All-Americans for her clutch hitting and fine defensive play. Her skill as a flychaser was best shown by her leaping catch to prevent a home run in the Shaughnessy Playoff Championship game of September 16, 1946, which Racine won, 1-0, over the Rockford Peaches.
One of the first four girls to sign with the All-American League, Edie was born on December 12, 1922, in Chicago. She grew up in a sports-oriented family with her sister Jean and her brother Allan. Like many All-Americans, Edie began playing fast-pitch softball before she was a teenager.
I first contacted her in 1996, three years after she retired from the Harris Computer Systems Division in Pompano Beach, Florida. Previously she worked for Harris for 23 years.
"Most of us did play in the Chicago Fast-Pitch League," Edie recollected. "Our team had won the Chicago Championship one year, and we went to Detroit for Nationals. These fast-pitch teams were considered some of the best in the country. Unlike today, in those days we had no television. So ballplaying was all over Chicago during the summer. Every empty lot or school playground had a ball game going on.
"In fact, down the alley from our house was a large empty lot. It had lights and benches. Every night there was a men's slow pitch 16-inch game, starting around 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. That game was followed by a girls game around 7:30 p.m. under the lights. The Lund Coal and Oil Company sponsored a team.
"My Dad worked for the Lund Company. At any rate, the girls played with a 14-inch ball, using no gloves. Actually, the ball field really wasn't large enough for a 12-inch ball game.
"These women's teams and men's teams were terrific. People from blocks and miles around would come to see the games every night. During the game, the manager's wife and some of the girls on the bench would go around taking up a collection for the game. It not only helped pay for lights and equipment, but the manager and the girls also made some money for playing ball.
"When I was a 12-year-old, I played on the Collins Coal team. I made 50 cents a game. Our manager was Mr. Collins, a wonderful guy who just loved kids. If we didn't get enough money in the collection, he'd pay us kids out of his own pocket. Jo Hageman, formerly of the Kenosha Comets and later a chaperon, was also on that team. I was twelve and she was fourteen, and we became best friends through all the years."
With such an athletic background, Edie easily made the transition to the Chicago Fast-Pitch League and to the AAGPBL.
The first girl to sign with the All-American was Ann "Toots" Harnett, an excellent third baseman with Chicago's Reingold Brew Maids. Once signed, Harnett, working from Philip K. Wrigley's Chicago Cub headquarters, contacted other prospects in Chicago, across America, and in Canada.
By the time Wrigley and his associates went public with their plans for the All-American League in February 1943, Edie Perlick had been recruited. While she was playing for the Chicago Rockolas in the World Softball Championships at Detroit the previous September, a Cub scout wrote that Edythe "out-hit most of the right fielders in this district." She signed in early 1943, along with Claire Schillace and Shirley Jameson.
After making the league at tryouts held in Wrigley Field that April, Perlick, an attractive 5'3" 125-pound blonde, was allocated to the Racine Belles. The right-handed hitter remained a Belle throughout her baseball career, playing left field until Racine lost the franchise after the 1950 season.
In eight years Perlick batted .240. Her average was good, considering that the All-American used a plastic-centered "dead ball" which was 12 inches in diameter in 1943-44. Moving toward baseball, the league decreased the ball's size almost yearly, to 11 1/2 inches in 1945, to 10 3/8 inches in 1948, when a cork center and red laces were introduced, and finally to 9 inches in mid-1954, the league's final season.
In 1943 the All-American was composed of four teams in mid-sized towns near Chicago: the Racine Belles, the Rockford Peaches, the South Bend Blue Sox, and the Kenosha Comets.
According to the league's official program for 1943, Racine's roster included pitchers Mary Nesbitt, Olive Bend Little, Annabelle Thompson, Rita Corrigan, and Gloria Marks; catchers Irene Hickson and Dorothy "Mickey" Maguire; infielders Margaret "Marnie" Danhauser, Glenora Moss, Charlotte Smith, Leola Mae Brody, Madeline "Maddy" English, and Sophie Kurys; and outfielders Claire Schillace, Marjorie Hood, Eleanor Dapkus, and Perlick.
During the first two years the All-American's playoffs (matching the first-half season winner versus the second-half winner) were called the "Scholarship Championship," because girls on the winning club received $500 scholarships for college.
In an all-Wisconsin playoff that September, first-half winner Racine (20-15 and 25-23 records, and 45-38 overall) beat second-half champ Kenosha (16-19, 33-21, and 49-40 overall) in three straight games. In 1943 Perlick batted a career-best .268, which was the league's 12th highest average among regular players.
Edie returned to Chicago after surviving one season, including frequent trips between league towns. During the war the teams usually rode commuter railroads, Chicago's "North Shore" and "South Shore" lines. After 1945, the girls traveled by bus.
Racine enjoyed two more good seasons, but the Belles did not make the playoffs in 1944. In 1945, when the league began the Shaughnessy Playoffs (first place versus third and second place versus fourth in the best-of-five games, and winner versus winner in the best-of-seven), Racine placed fourth but lost to Fort Wayne in the semifinal round, three games to one.
Edie also enjoyed solid seasons, hitting .229 (21st in the league) and .213 (19th), respectively. But those averages are misleading. Her timely hitting was best illustrated by RBI figures: she drove in an All-American and Racine-best 63 runs in 1944, and a team-high 41 runs (third in the league) in 1945.
Racine's 1945 yearbook called her "one of the real standbys of the Belles for the last two years, a consistent threat at the plate and a brilliant and heady outfielder."
In 1946, when she hit .230 (22nd in the league), Perlick, who had exceptional speed, stole a personal-best 88 bases.
"I started out sliding into the bases," she recalled, "but after many strawberries and a sprained ankle, I decided I was fast enough to avoid sliding. If you studied the pitchers, you'd know just when to get the jump on them. And most of the time I was fast enough to beat it out successfully."
Edie's teammate, Sophie Kurys, considered the league's best second sacker, set an all-time record with 201 thefts in 203 attempts in 1946. Voted AAGPBL Player of the Year, Kurys led the Belles to the league championship. The Flint, Michigan, native hit .286 with five doubles, six triples, and three homers.
For Racine, however, the first season after World War II came down to the Shaughnessy Series. The Belles won first place with a league-best 74-38 record, won the semifinal round by beating South Bend in four games, and took the lead in the finals over the 1945 champion Rockford Peaches, three games to two.
On September 16, 1946, at Racine's Horlick Field, the Belles and the Peaches played one of the great games in AAGPBL history. The contest went 13 innings without either club scoring. Finally, with one out in the fourteenth, Kurys singled off Rockford relief pitcher Millie Deegan. Sophie promptly stole second.
When Kurys broke for third on the next pitch, the hitter, Betty "Moe" Trezza, singled sharply through the right side of the infield. Sophie rounded third, raced home, and hook-slid by the plate, barely avoiding the catcher's tag. Racine won, 1-0, becoming the 1946 champions of the All-American League.
Defensively, the Belles made some great plays. Edie, who batted clean-up but went 0-for-5, made one outstanding catch which helped win the championship. Sophie Kurys told me about Perlick's grab:
"Rosie Gacioch was a fairly good hitter. She really nailed the ball, and I don't know, Edie, whatever sense she had, sixth sense, or whatever, she just seemed to take off at the crack of the bat. Right at the last second, she turned around and leaped and caught the ball!
"I can still see it, to this day. It was the most tremendous catch I've ever seen in my life, and it saved a home run."
Perlick's 1947 season was again solid, as she averaged .239 (11th in league). She also produced 39 RBI (11th best) and made the All-Star team--an accomplishment she repeated in 1948.
Edie's season highlight, however, came during the Shaughnessy Playoffs. Racine finished 1947 with a 65-47 record, second only to the Muskegon Lassies at 69-43. Racine drew Muskegon for the first round. The Belles bumped off the league's top club, four games to one, thanks in part to superb pitching by right-hander Anna May Hutchison. In the championship, however, Racine fell to Grand Rapids in seven games, losing the title as they won it the year before--by a 1-0 score.
Still, Racine and Perlick played clutch ball. The first three games went into extra innings, with the Belles and Hutchison claiming the opener in 12 innings, 2-0.
But the Chicks won game two, 3-2 in 10 innings, and game three, 2-1 in 10 frames. Behind the fine pitching of Mildred Earp, Grand Rapids won again, 3-0, and needed only one more victory for the championship.
But in that fifth game Perlick connected for one of her greatest hits, slugging a three-run home run in the first inning. Behind Anna May Hutchison's pitching and the Belles' fine defense, the lead lasted for a 3-2 victory. Then Racine won game six, 4-3, breaking a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth. But in game seven, Earp beat Hutchison in a tough pitcher's duel, 1-0.
The league's history of the playoffs recorded this praise for the Racine club:
"The work of pitcher Anna May Hutchison for the Belles was exceptional, and it is hard to conceive that Racine could have made any progress without her strong right arm. Edie Perlick, hustling left fielder, led her team at bat and helped to keep them in the series with her stick work and fine defensive play. And especially worthy of mention was the heroic work of Irene Hickson, peppery [catcher] of the Belles, who played throughout the 12-game series with a broken finger on her throwing hand, to give stirring and convincing demonstration of why girls baseball as played in the All-American Girls Baseball League has earned itself a place among the top attractions of the nation."
Edie returned and played three more seasons for Racine, hitting .243 (17th in the league), .255 (seventh), and .247 (29th) in 1948-50. In 1949 she was leading the league with a .344 mark by June 10. Doris Sams of the Muskegon Lassies later won the batting title for regulars with a .279 average, but Jean Faut produced the league's best average, hitting .291 in 117 at-bats. Perlick tied for fifth with Rockford's Dorothy Kamenshek, both averaging .255.
The Belles won no more championships, but Edie usually led the club in RBI. She batted in 51, 41, and 59 runs from 1948 through 1950, while continuing to sparkle in the outfield.
Perlick's defensive prowess was again illustrated on July 18, 1948, at South Bend's Playland Park, when the Blue Sox blanked the Belles, 5-0. Jean Faut, the greatest overhand pitcher in AAGPBL history, shut out Racine by scattering five hits.
According to sports editor Jim Costin of the South Bend Tribune, the game showed the quality of women's baseball:
"Last night's game was another beautifully played contest, fielding gems again abounding on both sides. Edythe Perlick, Racine's left fielder, was the principal thorn in the side of the Blue Sox, making two great catches and each was at the expense of Betty Wagoner. In the seventh, Perlick raced far to her right for a one-handed catch of Wagoner's bid for a triple, and in the eighth she raced in, made a diving one-handed catch of Wagoner's low liner, and doubled Jean Faut off third."
After the 1950 season, however, Racine lacked the financial resources to keep the club in town. The Belles moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where the franchise remained for two seasons.
Perlick returned to Chicago and played fast-pitch softball for two years with the Admiral Music Maids. In September of 1952, at age 30, she left the game, got married, and raised her daughter, Susan. Later, she moved to Pompano Beach to work for the Harris Corporation. Today Edie is particularly proud of her daughter and two grandsons, Danny and Jeff.
Once her pro career was over, Edie explained, women in baseball during the 1940s was so unusual that she had nobody to talk with about her AAGPBL experiences. As a result, those memorable times were pushed into the background of her life.
"Edie was a very good ballplayer," former Daisy ace right-hander Dottie Wiltse Collins recalled. "She was always in the background and never got much credit, because Racine had stars like Sophie Kurys and `Maddy' English. But Edie was a good one."
Edythe Perlick Keating was one of those first-class, independent-minded women who typified the high caliber of play of the All-American League. An outstanding all-around athlete who could swing a big bat and really play the field, Edie--like her teammates and opponents--deserves recognition for her many achievements in baseball.
Acknowledgment: A different version of this article was published in Autograph Times in 1997.
Contributed by: Jim Sargent
Submitted on: 05/25/1998