Rita Meyer Moellering . . .
. . . Each season brings a different experience to the visitors of Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery.
In the spring, cool winds whistle across hallowed ground; in summer the midwestern humidity is unbearable; in the fall, leaves crackle with each footstep and in the winter the snow crunches as those decorating the final resting place for their loved ones at Christmas are faced with the bitter cold.
Each person laid to rest on this land has a story to tell in some form, but no one’s story is as unique as Rita Meyer Moellering’s — whose grave is marked by an immense, ornate marker.
Moellering’s life, like many of the others around her, begins and ends in Florissant, Missouri. A quaint community tucked into the valley of the rolling hills of North St. Louis County — a short distance from the city that hosted the 1904 World’s Fair.
It’s hard to imagine how many times Margaret Meyer saw her breath as she was taken to the hospital by horse and buggy when Rita was born. A frigid Missouri February is hard to handle in today’s modern vehicles equipped with heating systems, but Margaret braved it all with grace as she welcomed her new daughter into the world in 1927.
Rita lived the simple life with her siblings and family in Florissant. “We were just country bumpkins,” Rita’s sister, Elsie Pondrom, said. At one time before the expansion of big city suburbia, Florissant was considered an escape to the farmlands away from the hustle and bustle. It was never extremely busy and everyone pretty much knew everyone else.
When it came to recreation there was plenty to do, but the most popular is a trait the St. Louis region boasts today — the love for baseball.
Young Rita Meyer wasn’t just good at baseball, she was great at it. From pick-up baseball games to softball leagues, it was very much a guarantee that Rita was going to be the site to see.
She was well on her way to becoming a sweet little lady around America’s entry into World War II. The attack on Pearl Harbor forced many men, even baseball players, to head out and serve their country. And that led to the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Just as the women subbed for the men in factories, the same can be said about the baseball diamond. Organizers looked at professional and area softball players in many communities to eventually form the women’s baseball league, and in doing so, they came across Rita showing off her skills at shortstop.
It was a fateful night in the neighborhoods of North St. Louis City that Rita was playing softball — not far from Sportsman’s Park where the St. Louis Cardinals and Rita’s eventual nickname-sake battled for World Series glory. There, a scout noticed Rita’s skills at shortstop and invited her to a tryout/spring training in Mississippi for the new league that no one really knew would be a success or not.
Rita earned the nickname “Slats” amongst her teammates. It was the same moniker shared by Cardinals’ shortstop Marty Marion because of the way he laid out to snag balls and fire over to first to get runners out. Rita did the same and the shared “Slats” nickname would stay with her the rest of her life.
She was assigned to the Peoria Redwings, a team located not too far from her family home, in Peoria, Illinois. The city had a minor league baseball stadium that drew its fair share of crowds, but for reasons unknown, a baseball diamond was cut into the Peoria Public School Stadium football field for the Redwings to play ball.
Rita found herself batting in key places in the lineup, both at the top and the bottom, because of her ability to drive in runs. At one point during her time in the league, four seasons from 1946 to 1949, Rita excelled so well at shortstop with her hard, bullet throws that she became a pitcher.
She only pitched during the 1947, and there was no special motion to her form. She just threw as she did when she threw runners out — the hard throws struck batters out in the box just as much as they put them out on the base paths.
Rita is often credited for pitching a no-hitter and losing, but known box scores of the time show Rita went 7 innings and after walking a few batters was taken out. The relief secured what’s known as today as a combined no-hitter.
Rita struck out 56 batters in 1947 and accumulated a 3.12 ERA in 75 innings pitched.
But 1948 would prove to be the best year of her career. Rita lead the league in RBIs with 68, racking up 12 doubles and 106 hits with a .232 batting average in 122 games. A struggling feat for today’s male ballplayers playing a completely different mindset of baseball.
Something that a lot of players were prone to in the AAGPBL was never a hurdle Rita had to face — getting traded. Many of the ladies of the league, including some of the very best, were traded at least once to other teams in Rockford, Kenosha, Racine and other midwestern cities, but Rita stayed with the Redwings her entire career.
Eventually, her playing days came to an end. She returned to Florissant to be a wife and mother, forming a special bond with each one of her children. Just as she persevered as a woman playing a man’s sport, she did the same when her marriage to Bob Moellering ended in divorce. It was hard for Rita to have a bad day and she gave her time in service to the people of her community.
The love of baseball is visible in almost every St. Louis household, but Rita’s kids had a heightened affection for the game thanks to their mother’s accomplishments. She would later find success and love for art. Her brother, Mel Meyer, was very well-known in the field and she became a fixture in his studio creating beautiful pieces admired by art enthusiasts from all over the area.
Many of the players from the AAGPBL went back to normal, and some may say in stereotypical roles, just knowing that at one time they thrilled the crowds of America’s heartland during a trying time in our country’s history, but then, Hollywood came calling.
“A League Of Their Own,” starring Tom Hanks, Gina Davis, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna brought the women’s league to light, unearthing a piece of baseball history that had gone quiet. And just as she starred on the field, Rita got her chance to shine on the silver screen. She was part of the ensemble of former players in Cooperstown for the unveiling of the league’s display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
At the film’s end credits, fans of a new era get to see Rita’s sweet swing that allows her to capture a base hit. Her daughter Laura also got a spot as an extra in the movie, the two were inseparable as they traveled to upstate New York to film the scenes.
Sadly, Rita didn’t get to see the completed project. She died in June of 1992 before the film’s release. She was one of God’s chosen few to go peacefully in her sleep.
But Rita’s memory lives on through Laura who now calls Cooperstown her home. She donated many pictures and artifacts of her mother’s to the Baseball Hall of Fame, including her Peoria Redwings tunic uniform. Those who visit Cooperstown and meet Laura learn about one of the greatest shortstops of the greatest generation.
Author: Laura Moellering
Contributed By: Laura Moellering
Copyright: Laura Moellering
Rita Meyer Moellering, 65; Played Professional Baseball:
Rita Meyer Moellering, a professional baseball player in the 1940s, died from apparent heart failure Tuesday (June 16, 1992) at her home. She was 65.
Mrs. Moellering, of Florissant, played shortstop from 1946 to 1949 with the Peoria Red Wings of the All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League. She was scouted while playing softball for the old Weik Funeral Home in Florissant. A teammate nicknamed her "Slats" because her style of play at shortstop was similar to the Cardinals great, Marty "Slats" Marion.
She was an extra in the filming of "A League of Their Own, " a soon-to-be released movie about a women's baseball team during World War II. The movie is directed by Penny Marshall and stars Geena Davis, Tom Hanks and Madonna.
In 1988, Mrs. Moellering and other league members were recognized in an exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Mrs. Moellering was born in St. Louis, MO. (February 12, 1927) She was active with her brother in the Marianist Art Gallery at Vianney High School from 1976 until she retired last year.
In the past month, she was a supporter of "run jane run, " a fund-raising multievent athletic competition of the Women's Self Help Center. A funeral Mass was celebrated at 10 a.m. June 19, 1992 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 751 North Jefferson Street. Burial was in Sacred Heart Cemetery.
Among the survivors are two daughters, Mary Moellering and Laura Menke, both of Florissant; two sons, Daniel Moellering of Elsberry, Mo., and David Moellering of Troy, Mo.; her mother, Margaret Meyer of Florissant; three sisters, Elsie Pondrom, Joan Hickman and Audi Barthels, all of Florissant; three brothers, Melvin Meyer of Kirkwood, Gilbert Meyer of Lake Saint Louis and Irvin Meyer of Florissant; and nine grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made the Women's Self Help Center, 2838 Olive Street, St. Louis Mo. 63103.
Author: Find A Grave Memorial
Contributed By: Helen Nordquist
Copyright: Find A Grave Memorial