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Sheriffs, Vivian (4/21/1921 - 12/21/2012)
By Jan Uebelherr
Vivian "Andy" Sheriffs learned how to walk like a lady and how to behave in public, crossing her legs in the proper way. She already knew how to play baseball, and that's why she made it onto the 1944 Milwaukee Chicks baseball team, part of the All-American Girls Baseball League.
She was only on the team for a year - she's described at the league's website as "a vivacious third sacker" - but what a year it was. They won the championship - wearing the skimpy skirts that the girls' teams wore then, having already completed the league's version of charm school. All of it was so much like the movie "A League of Their Own" - Sheriffs was drafted, went to training camp in Illinois after playing locally and found her name on the roster.can Girls Professional Baseball League.
A self-described tomboy who "busted up her hand" while playing for the Milwaukee Chicks, Sheriffs died Dec. 21  at a Brookfield nursing home of a respiratory illness. She was 91.
Sheriffs played sports all through her years at West Division High School - baseball, basketball, hockey and football - until her mother told her football was out for a girl, Sheriffs recounted in a 1995 interview with Michael E. Telzrow for an oral history project by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee called "The Forgotten Champs: The Milwaukee Chicks of 1944."
She had no further schooling after high school, she said in the interview. "None. Street smarts is about it."
Two days after high school graduation she took a job at Gimbels, where her mother worked as head of the fur storage and alteration department. She quit the job at Gimbels in protest after they gave Sheriffs a raise but not her boss.
"I didn't think that was nice," she said.
She worked office jobs after that and played baseball with teams sponsored by local businesses in West Allis - jewelers, a sausage maker. Some of her teammates went on to play for the Rockford Peaches, another women's baseball team.
Sheriffs was married at the time to Daniel Anderson. The marriage lasted four years. He was in the Army when she got the letter about trying out. She played under the name Vivian "Andy" Anderson.
Asked how she ended up on the team, she was typically brief in her reply: "My love of baseball. Some people just fall into something."
She added, "I was never a star. I did the best I could."
She played third base. Her salary was $50 a week. "To me it wasn't a matter of the money at all. It was just I loved the game, I wanted to play, I wanted to make something of myself, hopefully," she said.
Another part of the deal was charm school, which she remembered well. She listed the tasks and the rules: "Learning how to walk downstairs properly, and like a lady. Walk down stairs with books on your head. You could not wear shorts or slacks in public. How to properly sit and do this, that, and the other thing."
It was all about one thing, she said: "The way you should behave and react as a representative of girls' baseball. Most of the people looked at girls playing baseball - you were kind of a tomboy and probably didn't have many brains to go along with it."
That didn't matter to her. "I ignored it. I knew who I was and what I wanted to do," she said in the oral history.
Despite the instructions on how to act like a lady, the players received uniforms that were hardly modest. Skimpy skirts they were - and the players were used to playing in long pants.
"They were attractive," she said, though not the best fashion statement for her. "I've always been a short, stubby, pudgy person, and I didn't really feel that this was something I was going to go on display about, but it was there, you had to do it. I was a little petrified when I saw the shorts and realized I was going to be sliding. I think I still have a few scars to prove that point."
There were chaperones, too, and the players eluded them for nights out. "Getting together, sneaking out, we all did it," she said. "They're kind of like little mother hens to us. Just kind of hovered over us, I guess. They set an example for us. They were well-groomed, well-spoken people." Dottie Hunter was her chaperone.
After her brief career - she later played for the Chicago Bluebirds - Sheriffs played field hockey and more baseball. She's part of the "Women in Baseball" permanent exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., according to her death notice. Her name is displayed on the Wall of Honor at Miller Park.
She worked for decades as a dispatcher for a Waukesha moving company, according to Thomas Vanderhoeff, a family friend who knew her from the time he was about 4 years old. She lived at her Wauwatosa home until the last three days before she died.
"She shoveled her own sidewalk until last year," he said. "She was a very spicy, determined lady."
But Sheriffs didn't like to talk about her time in the girls' league, even though it was a good experience.
"She didn't like all the hoopla. She felt embarrassed at all that attention about her, not realizing how important it was to history," Vanderhoeff said.
Though her brief stint with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League resembled "A League of Their Own" in many ways, it was different in one important way - the hard-drinking manager, played by Tom Hanks. Max Carey, former star player with the Pittsburgh Pirates and later a Hall of Famer, wasn't like that.
"He loved the game and he tried to teach the fine points," she said.
The drinking and carousing of the Hanks character? "Max Carey would never, ever have behaved like that," she said.
No services or memorials [were] planned at her request. [A private burial was held].
Contributed by: Carol Sheldon
Submitted on: 01/03/2013
Copyright: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 12/31/2012