AAGPBL launched with great fanfare in 1943

Written by: Isabelle Minasian

With $10 and a dream, Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley traveled to Springfield, Ill., to charter what would become the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League on Feb. 20, 1943.

Originally recognized as a nonprofit affiliated with the Cubs, the AAGPBL would flourish for over a decade from 1943-1954.

Wrigley wasn’t alone in this endeavor, with Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Paul V. Harper, an attorney for the Wrigleys, joining him as co-founders. Many newspapers called the league a publicity stunt, but in the midst of World War II, Wrigley, Rickey and Harper wanted to find a way to continue generating attention for the game of baseball.

In a statement issued by the founders, they explained that “the aim of the all-American girls softball league would be to follow the recognized professional sports principle of getting the very best obtainable players thruout [sic] the country and to stage the game in the best possible manner.”

With many male ballplayers leaving to serve their country, including future Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, it was the women’s chance to shine.

“Professional women’s softball can and will stand squarely on its own feet,” said the founders, in a statement in February of 1943. The league held tryouts in May 1943, just a few months after it was founded.

After distributing scouts and organizing tryouts across North America, 280 ballplayers were invited to attend the final tryouts in Chicago. Of that group, 60 were selected to become the first women to play professional baseball.

Talent was, of course, of paramount importance, but there was also an emphasis on “ladylike” behavior. “Femininity is the keynote of our league,” League President Ken Sells told United Press Sports. “No pants-wearing, tough-talking female softballer will play on any of our teams.”

Indeed, throughout its existence the AAGPBL maintained strict Rules of Conduct for all its players, which required women to “always appear in feminine attire when not actively engaged in practice or playing ball,” and a suggested beauty routine.

Four teams competed in that inaugural season: the Racine Belles, South Bend Blue Sox, Kenosha Comets and Rockford Peaches.

Over the years the league doubled in size, with more than 600 women competing during the AAGPBL’s 12 seasons.

Though there were only women on the field, men made up the entirety of the managerial staff, with a number of former big leaguers, including future Hall of Famers Max Carey and Jimmie Foxx, leading the teams.

The league experienced tremendous success during the war, and in the years immediately following, but eventually decreasing attendance and revenues forced the AAGPBL to fold in 1954. Its legacy continues to this day, however, with numerous books and films produced on the subject, including, most famously, the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, which starred Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Diamond Dreams exhibit features many artifacts from the AAGPBL, including uniforms and equipment.

Isabelle Minasian was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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