Latin League of Their Own
Latina women made mark in All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
By Laurel Camean
In the 1940s, World War II caused major league ball players to hang up their cleats and enter military service. Legendary Chicago Cubs owner Phillip Wrigley sought to fill this void in American culture, by establishing the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in 1943 with teams from Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
Historically, baseball had mostly been a white gentleman’s game, but the AAGPBL fostered diversity and acceptance of Latino culture into the United States.
AAGPBL attendance and popularity soared. During a 1947 spring training trip to Havana, Cuba, scouts recognized remarkable local talent and recruited Cuban women. A total of seven young Cuban-born women played throughout the AAGPBL’s 12-year existence. Isora Del Castillo, age 17, among the youngest and smallest at just over 5-foot and 117 pounds, played infield for the Chicago Colleens; Isabel “Lefty” Alvarez would be the youngest to join the league at age 15 in 1949.
Cuban players also included Luisa Gallegos, Migdalia Pérez, Mirtha Marrero and Zonia Vialat – all of whom left home, encouraged by their families to pursue baseball in the United States. Often weak in English, the girls faced adversity not only as women, but as Latinas in a new country. Language proved initially difficult, but players would find their own ways to communicate as the season went on.
At war’s end, Major League Baseball returned in full swing. AAGPBL attendance dwindled, and team owners made 1954 the final season for the five remaining teams. Latina players had forged the way for diversity in recruiting of Major League Baseball players. After the war, scouts and managers continued to recruit in Cuba, appreciating the country’s love of the game. By 1948, an influx of Latino players would begin, and though not the first Latinos to be part of Major League Baseball, they were the first players widely accepted and acknowledged.
Laurel L. Camean was a 2012 education-public programs intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development.
For information on how to apply for the Class of 2013 Steele Internship Program, click here