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Pratt, Mary

By Sam Bernstein

Breaking barriers her entire life, Mary Pratt, an outstanding athlete from Eastern Massachusetts, pitched in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1943 to 1947. Following her professional baseball career, Ms. Pratt went on to become an educator, coach and a strong advocate for the advancement of girls and women in sports.

Ms. Pratt was born November 30, 1918 in Bridgeport, Connecticut where her father was employed as a draftsman working on the construction of submarines for the Lake Torpedo Company in Bridgeport, CT during World War I. In 1932, the family, including Mary and her two brothers, moved to her father’s hometown of Quincy, MA where he worked for Bethlehem Steel until his retirement in the 1950s. 
 
Mary Pratt couldn’t stay at home and do what other girls did in her Quincy neighborhood. Mary had to be on the playground. She had to be playing whatever sport the boys were playing: baseball, softball, and basketball. “There were no teams for girls and the boys would let me play with them,” recalled Mary during an interview. “The only opportunities I had to play were the opportunities I made for myself, and those opportunities were to play with the boys because at that time, competition and highly competitive sports for girls were kind of against the dictates of society.”
 
Ms. Pratt credits her passion for sports to her father who regularly took her to the Boston Garden and Fenway Park for sporting events. “My favorite players growing up were Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams,” she remembered. The life-long Quincy, MA resident still follows the Red Sox intensely. “I, like so many people, had been waiting so long for the Sox to win. We never thought it would happen. I used to go to Fenway and take my mother on Mother’s Day for 10 cents. Maybe some day they will win again.” The diminutive (5’1”) 89 year-old Pratt keeps physically active by supervising and participating in circuit training classes several times a week at Planet Fitness in nearby Weymouth, MA.
 
After graduating from North Quincy High School in 1936, Mary Pratt entered Boston University’s Sargent College, where she received her degree in Physical Education in 1940. Mary filled her college days participating in almost every sport the school had to offer. She played basketball, softball, volleyball, lacrosse, field hockey, tennis and archery. When the school offered sailing, Mary signed up for that program as well.
 
She began her teaching career at the Thayer Academy in Braintree. The following year she took a position with the Quincy School Department. Boston Herald writer Ralph Wheeler knew that there was a nation-wide effort to recruit women to play in a new Midwest professional softball/baseball league. Wheeler had covered Boston area high school sports, so he alerted Mary and other local women athletes about the All-American Girls Softball League tryouts. Three years later, the league became the All-American Girls Base Ball League. Since the organization of the Players’Association in 1987 and the movie, A League of Their Own premiered in 1992, the league is now popularly known as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League or AAGPBL. Mary’s teacher’s pay in those years was $1,100, so when the offer came to play professional ball in the spring and summer for $60 a week plus meal money, Mary jumped at the opportunity and reported to Rockford, Illinois after the school year ended in 1943.
 
Pratt was a left-handed pitcher for the Rockford Peaches and the Kenosha Comets from 1943 to 1947. Most people were unfamiliar with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League until Penny Marshall’s film, A League of Their Own, starring Geena Davis, Madonna, and Tom Hanks was released in 1992. The idea for the women’s professional league is credited to Chicago Cubs’ owner Phil Wrigley. By the fall of 1942, more than half of the players in the Major Leagues were in the service. As a result, Major League teams had to recruit older players and untried boys to fill out their rosters while their regulars were in wartime service. In addition, in late 1942, the Office of War Information advised Major League owners that a plan was underway for increased manpower mobilization for the summer of 1943, and it might necessitate postponing the 1943 baseball season. Wrigley saw a way of providing entertainment at Wrigley Field as well as taking advantage of the national boom in women’s softball that began in the 1930s. Pratt, in fact, was an outstanding softball player who played on the Boston Olympets (1939-40) in the Boston Garden for Celtic owner Walter Brown. Several other women from the Boston area became stars in the AAGPBL including Pat Brown of Winthrop and the late Maddy English who has a school named in her honor in her hometown of Everett.
 
In 24 games for the Peaches in 1943, Mary won 5 and lost 11. In 1944 she reported to Rockford, (thanks to an early Spring release by her school principal) but after a few games into the season, she was reassigned to the Kenosha, Wisconsin Comets. “There was a league rule, rather unique at the time,” recalled Mary, “In order to maintain a high level of competition within the structure of the league, players could be shifted or traded at the discretion of League officials.” Because of injuries to two Comet pitchers (Helen Nicol Fox and Elise “Lee” Harney), Mary, who by that time had earned the nickname “Prattie,” was sent to Kenosha. With Rockford being on the road at the time, Mary stated, “I recall it being an adjustment at the time because all of my clothes were back [in Rockford] where Dottie Green and I rented our room.”
 
Mary Pratt’s well-worn suitcase is on display at a special exhibition at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The display tells the story of women in baseball. On Mother’s Day 2006, Mary Pratt and 42 veterans of the AAGPBL attended the unveiling of an AAGPBL Statue and the opening of a new “Women in Baseball” exhibit entitled “Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball” at the Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame curator Ted Spencer, a native of Quincy, never knew that his physical education teacher played professional baseball until the much smaller “Women in Baseball”exhibit was first opened at the Hall of Fame November 5, 1988.
 
All six AAGPBL teams attended spring training together before the start of the 1944 season. While most of the AAGPBL players were recruited for their athletic talent, Mary fondly remembers that famed cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein gave beauty and posture tips to the players so that in addition to being outstanding ball players they could be “ladies” as well.
 
In 1944, Mary Pratt had her best year in the AAGPBL pitching for Kenosha, which was managed by former Red Sox skipper Marty Mc Manus. Mary won 21 games that season (including a no-hitter against Minneapolis) using her famous control pitching. Initially, the AAGPBL used modified softball rules, and Mary was very effective using a controlled slingshot or windmill wind-up to get hitters out. She led Kenosha to first place in the first half of the season, and at season’s end, met the second half winner Milwaukee Chicks in the league championship. Although Kenosha lost to Milwaukee, Mary’s contributions were an important part of Kenosha’s success and contributed to the over-all growing success of the league.
 
Mary again requested an early release from teaching in 1945 to attend the Comets’ spring training, but the school department refused to let her go. Mary loved AAGPBL life, so she decided to quit teaching and left for spring training. After one more season with Kenosha and two more with Rockford, Mary Pratt retired from the AAGPBL with a record of 28 wins and 51 losses. She posted 33 hits in 114 league games.
 
Eventually, Mary returned to the Quincy public schools in 1946 and taught physical education there for 42 years. Additionally, she spent three years as an instructor and coach at Salem State College (1965-68) and in the Braintree, MA public schools (1983-86). Mary retired in 1986 after teaching for 48 years. During her teaching career, she also  coached basketball, softball, and soccer in high school, and softball and tennis in college. Ms. Pratt coached ten championship softball teams in Massachusetts and spent her summers working with the Quincy Recreation Department where she coached and officiated at various boys and girls events. Ms. Pratt also played lacrosse for the United States national touring team that played international competition. (What year(s)?)
Mary Pratt also contributed significantly to the welfare of women athletes in the Boston area. In 1986, as co-founder of New Agenda-Northeast Project, Mary promoted the notion of equity for girls and women by creating “athletic opportunities” for them. These opportunities included a National Girls and Women in Sports Day that recognized and encouraged the accomplishments of schoolgirl athletes throughout Massachusetts. In 2006, each award winner received a copy of Mary Pratt’s memoir entitled Preserving Our Legacy: A Peach of a Game. The sponsor of the awards, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, thought that reading Mary’s book would inspire these schoolgirl athletes to emulate her “enthusiastic, infectious love of competition” and would challenge “young women to think about the struggles of those who went before.”
 
In 1999, as a member of the Board of the AAGPBL Players Association, Mary initiated the “Out and About” program by keeping in touch with former members of the AAGPBL and tracking their speaking engagements and other activities. Over the past several years, Mary has received hundreds of her “Out and About” questionnaires from former players and makes a detailed report to the AAGPBL Players Association. Mary states proudly that she has made “about 600 personal appearances on behalf of the All-American Association” proudly discussing its history and her personal experiences and recollections.
 
Throughout her professional career, Mary contributed her time and resources to several professional and community organizations such as the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the Massachusetts Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Sargent College Alumni. In 2003, Ms. Pratt was honored to be inducted into the New England Sports Museum, joining such notables as Red Auerback, Phil Esposito, Luis Tiant and other outstanding sports leaders. She is also enshrined in the Boston University Hall of Fame and the Boston Garden Hall of Fame.
 
In 2006, Mary Pratt became the eighth recipient of the prestigious “Heights Award” for her contributions to women’s athletics. Established by the Massachusetts Lottery Commission and Boston College Athletics, the “Heights Award” recognizes individuals “who work tirelessly to create opportunities and inspire others to become involved in women’s athletics.”
 
Always energetic and resourceful, Mary Pratt works tirelessly to preserve the legacy of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, to cultivate the friendships she gained by playing in the AAGPBL, to encourage the development of a “level playing field” for women athletes, and through her active participation in groups and associations, to stay dedicated to the pursuit of equality for women in sport. “Everything is possible if you persevere” is Mary Pratt’s outspoken philosophical approach to achieving this goal and to life in general.

Contributed by: Sam Bernstein
Submitted on: 11/06/2008

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