Quite a Pitch

Alta Weiss became a mound sensation in the early 20th Century

February 28, 2013
Alta Weiss (NBHOF Library)

In March, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates Women's History Month with a look at women who changed baseball history.

Born Feb. 9, 1890, Alta Weiss was a pitching legend in her hometown of Ragersville, Ohio by the time she was three years old.

Her father, Dr. George Weiss, swore that she could throw a corncob at a cat with all the skill and precision of a big league pitcher. As Alta grew up, her father encouraged her to play ball, and even established a local high school so that Alta could play on its baseball team.

Alta’s baseball career took off in 1907. That summer, as the Weiss family vacationed in Vermilion, Ohio, Alta played catch with a few local boys. She amazed them with her pitching and word about her prodigious skills spread quickly. After watching Alta strike out 15 men, the manager of the semi-professional Vermilion Independents offered her a contract.

Each weekend, Alta traveled the 127 miles to Vermilion to pitch. Her outings caused quite a sensation. Special trains brought fans to her games, and newspapers picked up the story of the “Girl Wonder.” In her biggest game that season, Alta led the Independents to a 7-6 win against the Vacha All-Stars at League Park in Cleveland.

Aware of Alta’s potential, Dr. Weiss built his daughter a gym where she could train during the off-season. In 1908, he purchased the Vermilion team and renamed it the Weiss All-Stars. The team barnstormed throughout Ohio as well as Indiana, Kentucky, and Michigan. As the draw, Alta usually pitched the first five innings before moving to first base.

Alta brought a competitive nature and a great deal of talent to the game. She had a variety of pitches in her arsenal including a fastball, knuckleball, and spitball. She also modified her uniform from a long skirt to bloomers in order to improve her range of motion. In a 1908 article, she admitted “I found out you can’t play ball in skirts. I tried. I wore a skirt over my bloomers and nearly broke my neck.”

Earnings from Alta’s baseball career helped finance her education. After the 1908 season, she attended the Wooster Academy in Ohio followed by the Starling College of Medicine (now Ohio State University Medical College). Though she pitched infrequently, she found that baseball helped relieve the stress of medical school. In 1914 she graduated as a Doctor of Medicine, the only female in her class.

In 1922, she played her last game in uniform. Her influence on women’s baseball, however, continued. Another Ragersville native, Lois Youngen, met Alta Weiss when she was a child. Youngen would go on to catch in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1950s.

Celebrate Women's History Month with the Museum's Girls Got Game features. Subjects include Alta Weiss, Ila Borders, Mamie Johnson, Nicole McFadyen, Eliza Green, Kim Ng, Nancy Faust and Penny Marshall.

Emily Voss is the Manager of On-Site Learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum