#Shortstops: Picture the Future
But long before Title IX or any of the subsequent pioneers, women were breaking ground in professional baseball. During World War II and well into the 1950s, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League proved that women belonged.
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“I think there’s a definite place in sports for women, and we opened the gate for that.”
When Alma Ziegler, a former standout AAGPBL infielder and pitcher, spoke those words in a 1995 interview with a University of Wisconsin student, she understood the magnitude of her league, the path it had paved for female athletes.
In stepped Philip K. Wrigley, determined to keep baseball in the public eye. The chewing gum mogul and several other baseball executives, including Branch Rickey, began the league in 1943. Tryouts for the All-American Girls Softball League – ‘softball’ would be changed to ‘baseball’ midway through the inaugural season, the first of several rule-clarifying name changes – took place at Wrigley Field in Chicago, with more than 200 women invited to try out. Sixty were selected for the league roster.
While it provided a unique opportunity for female athletes, the AAGPBL was far from perfect. Women were selected not only based on skill, but also by their femininity. Players had to wear skirts as uniforms, and hair and makeup were to be perfected before games. The league was segregated, and African-American women were excluded from trying out.
Still, the league was popular among fans, especially in its early years. Attendance peaked in 1948, when the league’s 10 teams drew 910,000 paid fans in a season. In the years immediately following World War II, teams often drew more than 2,000 fans per game, and 10,000 people reportedly turned up to watch a July 4, 1946 doubleheader in South Bend, Ind.
After her playing days came to a close, Ziegler began a career as a court clerk, retiring in Los Osos, Calif. She remained an avid golfer and was an active participant in Meals on Wheels, helping elderly citizens in her community. She died on May 30, 2005.
By then, the league finally had its story told. The 1992 film A League of Their Own revitalized the AAGPBL in the public eye and brought much-deserved recognition to the women who paved the way for so many, both on and off the field.
“I did not think I was pioneering because I always [played baseball],” former AAGPBL player Toni Palermo said in 2009. “But as I look back now, it absolutely opened doors.”
Kristen Gowdy was the 2014 public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum