Prelude to Women's Baseball, WWII

The year was 1942 and America was at war on two fronts. A battle without violence was being waged by American society as it tried to keep up the production of wartime goods needed to fight the war overseas. The war brought upon America a shortage of young men across the country as they were being drawn into the war by the draft. The responsibility was placed upon the women on the home front to produce the goods needed to fight the war as well as to take over other aspects of the dwindling male society.

A popular icon appeared in mainline society in the early 1940’s, Rosie the Riveter. The icon was a production of the War-Production Coordinating Committee in an effort to entice women into the factories to assist in goods production. The icon consisted of a young woman in work clothes flexing her muscles with the quote ‘We can do it!’. The effort was largely successful and instrumental in making women feel comfortable in taking jobs that were once traditionally held by the male society.

The war did not only reduce the number of factory workers but it also reduced the number of baseball players. With many of the big stars such as Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams fighting in the war, the baseball owners saw a reduction in attendance at the ballpark. President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed his concern at the dwindling number of players to Philip K. Wrigley, the General Manager of the Chicago Cubs.

Following the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wrigley instigated a committee that would research the possible solutions if Major League Baseball teams were to disband because of lack of players. The Chicago Cubs general manager, Ken Sells, headed the committee. Also included on the committee was Wrigley himself, and Brooklyn Dodgers manager, Paul Harper. The committee resolved that a women’s softball league should be established to keep the crowd coming to the ballparks in case the Major Leagues was stopped due to lack of players.

Women's Baseball League

With financial backing from Wrigley, the All American Girls Softball League was formed. Near the beginning of the first season, the name of the league was changed to the All American Girls Baseball League or AAGBL for short. Thirty scouts were hired to look for new talent across the United States and Canada to fill the position on the four new teams in the league: the Racine Belles in Wisconsin; the Rockford Peaches in Illinois; the Kenosha Comets in Wisconsin; and the South Bend Blue Sox in Indiana. Each team was to have a total of fifteen players: a coach; a business manager; a chaperone; and twelve players.

Since getting the crowds back to the ballparks was the main objective in the creation of the league, the league chose mangers for the teams that were already had fan appeal such a previous Major League ball players. The distance between the bases were increased from those used in softball as well as the distance form the pitching mound to the catcher. Another rule change from regular softball was to allow the women to steal bases. The added distances and base stealing rules were added to liven up the game and make it more exciting for the fans. Also directed at getting the fan’s attention was to have all of the players wear skirts during season play.

The first tryouts for the first all-professional women’s league were held on May 17, 1943 in Chicago’s Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs. The potential recruits were required to demonstrate above average batting, fielding, and all around ball play to become one of the first 48 players. Since the spotlight was being cast upon the first ladies of baseball, charm school was added so that the women would retain womanly qualities during play. While it was the intent of the league to present an appearance of femininity, the skirts made it difficult to slide while stealing bases. The women expressed their objections to the wearing of the skirts without any results.

In 1943, the first year of the AAGBL, there was a crowd draw of 176,612 in the original four charter cities. The following year saw the addition of two additional teams, the Milwaukee Chicks and the Minneapolis Millerettes. Milwaukee and Minneapolis were chosen to host the new teams because the cities had an established Major League fanfare. With the addition of two cities in 1944, the attendance rose to 259,000. The six team roster of the AAGBL saw increased popularity in 1945 with 450,000 paying patrons. In 1946, two more cities were added to the league, the Peoria Redwings and the Muskegon Lassies to bring the total number of teams in the league to eight. Attendance that year rose to 754,000. In 1948, peak attendance was reached at 910,00 fans with an expansion to ten teams.

The first AAGBL World Series was held during the first year in 1943. Like their male counterpart league, Major League Baseball, the teams that won the most games was crowned the pennant champion. The two pennant champions, the Kenosha Comets and the Racine Belles competed in the World Series. The Racine Belles took the best of five games from Comets and was honored with being the first World Series Champion of the AAGBL.

Due to dwindling attendance, the AAGBL was disbanded in 1954 after twelve years of league play.


Hall of Fame Exhibit

In October of 1988, the first women of the AAGBL was honored in the Baseball Hall of Fame with an exhibit that distinguished their efforts in pioneering the sport of the first professional women's league.


Post AAGBL

Before WWII and the campaign of Rosie the Riveter, the acceptance of women involved in any activity that required physical exertion was discouraged. With the inception of the AAGBL in 1943, the stereotype of the homely housewife waiting with slippers by the door has changed for the betterment of women.

Since the AAGBL was abandoned in 1954, there has been only one professional women’s baseball team. The 1994 Colorado Silver Bullets was formed and sponsored by Coors Beer. Although not in a league of their own, the all-woman team was paid to tour the country and play men’s college and professional teams throughout the states. Just like the AAGBL, a former Major League Baseball player was hired as the Coach. Phil Neikro, famed knuckleball pitcher for the Atlanta Braves coached the team until 1997 when the team found themselves without a sponsor.