If you’ve seen the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, then you’re well-aware of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL https://www.aagpbl.org/). What you might not be aware of is that it was the first women's professional sports league in the United States, which ran from 1943 to 1954.
The idea for the league started in autumn 1942 when a large portion of major and minor league baseball players were drafted to serve in World War II. Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley formed a committee to determine what needed to be done, and it recommended a that a girls' softball league be established and its teams to play in Major League parks, since attendance would fall due to teams losing too many star players.
Once the AAGPBL began playing ball, more than 600 women took part in the league, which had 10 original teams located in the Midwest. The movie shows that the league started to gain popularity in its first year, which is true, with 176,612 fans, but attendance reached a high point in 1948 with 900,000 fans. Its popularity declined until the league folded in 1954 due to a variety of reasons.
A League of Their Own is a fictionalized account of the league’s early days, and the women who played have positive memories of their time in the AAGPBL. During the league’s 75th anniversary celebration at Yankee Stadium in 2018, Toni Palermo, a Chicago Colleens shortstop from 1949-50, recalled, “We played in all different states, and people were so kind to us. I played in Yankee Stadium in 1950, and [Phil] ‘Scooter’ Rizzuto loaned me his glove, and I used it the whole game.”
Catherine Horstman, who played for the Fort Fort Wayne Daisies from 1951-54, said, “It was my dream come true. They had [MLB Hall of Famer] Jimmie Foxx [coaching], and I thought, “Wow!’ he was super.”
Marilyn Jenkins, a Grand Rapids Chicks catcher from 1946-54, recalled, “That period when our league existed was unique in the total history of our country. I think I was 17 when I started, and to be a part of a professional baseball team and being remembered as we were is a pretty special thing.”
The league is also remembered―and honored―with a permanent exhibition in The National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The AAGPBL’s most successful team, the Rockford Peaches, won a league-best four championships. The Racine Belles were the league’s first champions, and the Kalamazoo Lassies were its last champions in 1954.
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