Hear about Helen's experience in her own words through the Grand Valley State Oral history project.
Helen "Gig" Smith
Excerpts from Article: "Remembering the All Americans..." by Jim Sargent
Upon graduation from Richmond's John Marshall High in 1940, Smith was voted the school's outstanding girl athlete. She lettered in all four sports available to females: field hockey, basketball (she stood 5'5"), track, and tennis--and she won the city's doubles tennis championship. A right-handed batting third baseman who had power, Smith starred on five amateur clubs which won the state championship. Her 1940 team became the first from Richmond to make it to the national finals. Usually her team's clean-up hitter, she averaged a home run per game during her last two seasons.As a result of her outstanding record, Smith was inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame in 1975.
In early 1943, when the All-American League was organized, Smith was offered a contract to go to the league's spring training in Chicago. "I turned down the offer," she recalled. "I figured, `I'm getting too old for professional ball.' That made my mother happy, because she didn't want me to play. But it made my father unhappy, because he wanted me to keep playing." Following the example of her brother, who had joined the Navy, Helen joined the Women's Army Corps (WAC). She was dubbed "Gig" (government-issued-gripe) the first day, and her nickname stuck. After being mustered out of the WACs in the fall of 1945, Smith moved to New York City and attended classes at the Pratt Institute of Art.
By the spring of 1947, however, Smith was running out of money. Thinking over her softball experiences, she called the scout whom she had met in 1943 and asked if the contract was still available. He sent one, and she signed up.
The All-American flew her to Chicago to meet Max Carey, the league's president. Later, she flew to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and spent the remainder of the summer with the Comets. In 1947 the league allowed pitchers to use a sidearm or underhand delivery, a shift which began in the 1946 season. But in 1948 the AAGPBL switched to overhand pitching, which made the game close to regulation baseball.
Gig arrived at the peak of the AAGPBL's life. In 1948 a record ten teams competed in a 120-game regular season. Teams in the West Division finished in this order: the Racine Belles, the Rockford Peaches, the Peoria Redwings, the Kenosha Comets, and the Chicago Colleens.
The complete article is attached.
Author: Jim Sargemt
Contributed By: Jim Sargent
Copyright: Jim Sargent
SMITH, HELEN LUCILLE “GIG”, of Richmond, VA, passed away Thursday January 17. Born in Richmond, she was the daughter of Walter and Mary Smith. Helen was born in 1922 and she enjoyed 97 years of great adventures and memorable accomplishments.
A gifted artist, Helen attended the Pratt Institute in New York, but had to return to Richmond to care for her family and ultimately graduated from the Richmond Professional Institute. Eventually, she would become one of the first female industrial arts teachers in Virginia, spending her teaching career in the Richmond Public Schools.
As gifted as Helen was as an artist, she was equally gifted as an athlete. Helen was a player in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League immortalized in the 1992 film “A League of Their Own.” Initially presented with the opportunity to play in the AAGPBL’s 1943 inaugural season, Helen instead followed her patriotic inclination and enlisted in the U S Army Women Army Corps to serve her country in the time of war. It was there she earned her lifelong nickname, “GIG,” which she explained later meant “Government Issue Gripe.” It seems that some of the provisions and equipment issued to her fell short of her expectations, and, in her own less than subtle way, she made her feelings known to her Army mates who immediately nicknamed her “GIG.”
After her military service, Helen reached out to the AAGPBL scouts and she was signed to play the 1947 season for the Kenosha Comets, and she then played for the Grand Rapids Chicks in the 1948 season. In retirement, Helen often was asked to speak on her time with the AAGPBL, and she attended many of the AAGPBL Players Association reunions where she cherished reminiscing with other former players and friends. Helen was most proud when she and the other AAGPBL players were honored in 1988 with a permanent display in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. In 1975, Helen was inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame.
Helen loved God, her country, her family and loyal friends. She was one of a kind and she will be missed by all of those who loved her. She is survived by numerous cousins, nieces, nephews and many great friends.
A memorial service will be held at 11:00 am on February 5, 2019 in the Montague Chapel at Westminster Canterbury, 1600 Westbrook Ave., Richmond, VA 23227. Helen will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on a date to be announced. Helen’s family and friends would like to express their sincere thanks and appreciation to Helen’s extremely devoted caregivers at Westminster Canterbury. Donations made in Helen’s memory to the charity of your choice are sincerely appreciated.
Author: Larry Smith
Contributed By: Larry Smith
Copyright: Dignity Memorial Obituaries Richmond, VA