In my opinion, the best book on women’s baseball is Barbara Gregorich’s 1993 book “Women at Play”. Her book is a complete history of women in baseball, of which the AAGPBL is just a small part. Sue Macy wrote a book in 1995 called “A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.” Although her book is aimed at a younger audience, Macy’s books holds its own as one of the best sources for information on the AAGPBL. A third book which I have found to be helpful and informative is “Girls of Summer: In Their Own League” by Lois Browne (1992). There are of course many significant writings on the AAGPBL contained within other reference sources, such as “Total Baseball”.
Penny Marshall’s 1992 film “A League of Their Own” was a huge box-office success, and there has been a permanent display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum called “Women in Baseball” since 1988.
The following is a very brief overview of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League based on my readings from these and other sources.
With so many young American men serving in the armed forces during the second world war, the major and minor leagues were struggling. During the early months of 1943, Chicago Cubs owner Phillip Wrigley pitched his idea for a professional women’s softball league to major league owners. His plan was to play in large cities like Philadelphia, Chicago and St Louis using the existing major-league ballparks. They said no. Owners were concerned that fans did not have the time or money to support both a men’s and a women’s team.
So Wrigley decided to start closer to home, in midwestern cities near Chicago that were becomming wartime industrial centers. The All American Girls Softball League was born in 1943, with four teams that played eight games a week. The Kenosha Comets and Racine Belles in Wisconsin, the Rockford Peaches in Illinois, and the South Bend Blue Sox in Indiana. The traditional softball rules were modified to make the game more like baseball;
runners were allowed to lead off from their bases and the pitchers mound was moved back. Young women from all over the United States and Canada competed for the few jobs available, and the league was a quick success. By mid-season, Wrigley changed the name to the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Initially, it was felt that one of the things that would draw fans would be famous managers. Hall of Fame players Max Carey, Jimmie Foxx, and Dave Bancroft were among the names that managed AAGPBL teams. But it quickly became apparent that the high quality of play itself was drawing the fans.
Spurred by this success, the league expanded with a new team in 1944 (the Milwaukee Chicks) and another in 1945 (the Fort Wayne Daisies). Many people feared the league would fold after the men returned from World War II and the major leagues were revitalized, but they were wrong. In 1946, the league added two new teams (Muskegon (Michigan) Lassies and Peoria (Illinois) Red Wings). Total attendance topped 750,000. When compared with major league attendance figures in much larger cities, the AAGPBL was
drawing a significantly larger numberof people per capita.
The league reached its peak in 1948, expanding to ten teams with two new teams in Illinois (Chicago Colleens and Springfield Sallies). League attendance was just less than one million fans.
In 1949, the league had eight home teams and two touring teams of rookie players.
By 1950, the league was starting to show signs of trouble. Television was entering American households and giving families the ability to stay home for their entertainment. Major league baseball games began to be televised, and AAGPBL attendance was dropping. The minor leagues began to become strong again, and major league teams, once present only in the East, began to move west to cities like Milwaukee and Kansas City. In 1952, the Peoria Red Wings and Rockford Peaches folded, leaving the league with just six teams. After very low attendance for the 1954 season, the league folded.
Fort Wayne manager Bill Allington convinced about a dozen of the league’s players to continue playing as barnstormers.
Borrowing the name “the All American Girls Baseball Team”, the group played against men’s teams across the country until 1958.
The top two teams at the end of each season met for a best-of-seven playoff series to determine a league champion.
Year Pennant Winner Playoff Winner 1943 Racine Belles Racine Belles 1944 Milwaukee Chicks Milwaukee Chicks 1945 Rockford Peaches Rockford Peaches 1946 Racine Belles Racine Belles 1947 Muskegon Lassies Racine Belles 1948 Grand Rapids Chicks Rockford Peaches 1949 Rockford Peaches Rockford Peaches 1950 Rockford Peaches Rockford Peaches 1951 South Bend Blue Sox South Bend Blue Sox 1952 Fort Wayne Daisies South Bend Blue Sox 1953 Fort Wayne Daisies Grand Rapids Chicks 1954 Fort Wayne Daisies Kalamazoo Lassies
1943 - League begins with four inaugural teams KENOSHA COMETS (Kenosha, Wisconsin) RACINE BELLES (Racine, Wisconsin) ROCKFORD PEACHES (Rockford, Illinois) SOUTH BEND BLUE SOX (South Bend, Indiana) 1944 - League expands to five teams New Teams: MILWAUKEE CHICKS (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) 1945 - League expands to six teams New Teams: FORT WAYNE DAISIES (Fort Wayne, Indiana) Relocated Teams: GRAND RAPIDS CHICKS (Grand Rapids, Michigan) from Milwaukee 1946 - League expands to eight teams New Teams: MUSKEGON LASSIES (Muskegon, Michigan) PEORIA REDWINGS (Peoria, Illinois) 1947 - no changes 1948 - League expands to ten teams New Teams: CHICAGO COLLEENS (Chicago, Illinois) SPRINGFIELD SALLIES (Springfield, Illinois) 1949 - no changes 1950 Relocated Teams: KALAMAZOO LASSIES (Kalamazoo, Michigan) from Muskegon 1951 Relocated Teams: BATTLE CREEK BELLES (Battle Creek, Michigan) from Racine 1952 - no changes 1953 Relocated Teams: MUSKEGON BELLES (Muskegon, Michigan) from Battle Creek 1954 - League folds at end of season