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Gendered Dreams: Women Ball Players

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1 Gendered Dreams: Women Ball Players
Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University

2 Introduction Women have been playing baseball alongside men since baseball’s earliest years. We will consider whether women ballplayers have played alongside men because they were good enough or because of the publicity they would generate for the business of baseball. And while women ballplayers have faced discrimination, both formal and informal, we will ask whether they must ultimately be judged purely on their own merits as athletes. Toward this end we will discuss the women who played alongside men as well as women playing in their own leagues and the future of women ball players in baseball.

3 The Laurels and Abenakis (1866)
In 1866, Vasser College student Annie Glidden wrote to her brother one of the earliest references to American women playing baseball: “They are getting up various clubs now for outdoor exercise. They have a floral society, boat clubs and baseball. I belong to one of the latter, and enjoy it hugely, I can assure you. We think after we have practiced a little, we will let the Atlantic Club play a match with us. Or, it may be, we will consent to play a match with the students from College Hill [a local boys' preparatory school], but we have not decided yet." Glidden was a member of either the Laurels or the Abenakis, Vassar's first baseball teams.

4 19th Century Women’s Leagues
In the 19th century baseball was being played by women at Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley colleges as well as Vasser. Organized women’s games were also being held outside of colleges. Young women were playing baseball in 1867 at Miss Porter’s boarding school in Farmington, CT, the stipulation being that they could not be seen from the road. Soon they were challenged to a game by the men’s team from Trinity College. When some of the parents found out, letter of protest were written and the team disbanded. The same year, members of a Ladies Club in Pensacola, FL, were playing in hooped skirts. There was a black professional women’s team: the Dolly Vardens. At the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, NY, you can buy a postcard of the Young Ladies Baseball Club #1 of 1890. The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1899 had numerous articles on the Chicago Bloomer Girls, a professional baseball team that competed against men’s teams throughout the Midwest.

5 Lizzie Arlington (1898) Elizabeth Stroud (later known as Lizzie Arlington) grew up playing ball with her brothers and father in Pennsylvania. Discovered by a promoter she began playing professionally in 1898 for $100 a week. She pitched and played infield for a number of teams including the reserve team of the Philadelphia Nationals and the New York Athletic Club. She appeared in an organized minor league game when she pitched for the Reading Coal Heavers of the Atlantic League in a game against the Allentown Peanuts. With her team ahead 5-0, she entered the game to pitch in the 9th inning. She allowed two hits and walked a batter to load the bases but retired the next three to preserve the victory.

6 Alta Weiss and Her All-Stars (1907)
In 1904, at the age of 14 Alta Weiss began pitching for boys’ baseball teams in Ohio. At 17, she joined a men’s semiprofessional team, the Vermilion Independents. 1,200 people turned out to see her make debut. She pitched five innings giving up only four hits and one run. Soon special trains were being run from nearby Cleveland whenever she pitched. She played in an exhibition game in League Park, Cleveland’s big league ball field, in 1907 in front of 3,000 fans. Weiss found it difficult to play in a baseball skirt and quickly discarded it: “I tried. I wore a skirt over my bloomers and nearly broke my neck. Finally, I was forced to discard it, and now I always wear bloomers.” Her father, a physician, purchased the Vermillion team and changed their name to the “Weiss All-Stars.” They barnstormed through Ohio and Kentucky to huge crowds. Each game, Alta pitched five innings and then moved to 1st base. She went on to Starling Medical School (now Ohio State Medical College) and was the only woman in the class of She became a physician but continued to play off-and-on into the 1920s.

7 Nebraska Bloomer Team (1910)

8 Early 20th-Century Women Ball Players
At the turn of the century, there were women professional players, umpires, and owners. “Bloomer Girls” teams – named for suffragette Adelaide Jenks Bloomer – became popular. These teams were composed mostly of women, although some men played on them including Hall of Famers Smoky Joe Wood and Rogers Hornsby who played with them as they worked their way to the major leagues. Maud Nelson started her playing career in 1897 at a pitcher for the Boston Bloomer Girls, went on to pitch for other teams, became a scout, manager, and owner through 1935. Lizzie “Spike” Murphy played 1B from In 1931 she played first base for the American League All-Stars in a game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

9 Jackie Mitchell ( ) Taught by her father and her neighbor Dazzy Vance (who showed her how to throw a “drop ball” before he went on to be a Hall-of-Fame pitcher), Mitchell was a left-handed pitcher who grew up playing for women’s teams in Chattanooga and Atlanta. In 1931, at the age of 17, she was signed by the Chattanooga Lookouts, the AA minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. In March, the Chattanooga News reported: “She uses an odd, side-armed delivery, and puts both speed and curve on the ball. Her greatest asset, however, is control. She can place the ball where she pleases, and her knack at guessing the weakness of a batter is uncanny…. She doesn’t hope to enter the big show this season, but she believes that with careful training she may soon be the first woman to pitch in the big leagues.”

10 Jackie Meets the Babe On April 2, 1931 the Lookouts played an exhibition game against the New York Yankees in front of 4,000 fans. After the starting pitcher gave up a double and a single, Mitchell was brought in to pitch to Babe Ruth. After taking the first pitch for a ball, Ruth swung at and missed the next two pitches. Jackie’s fourth pitch was a called third strike. Lou Gehrig came up next. He too struck out, missing the first three pitches he saw: all drop balls. Ruth said: “I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.” When Commissioner Landis heard of Mitchell’s performance he immediately cancelled her contract remarking that baseball was “too strenuous for women.” Mitchell went on to pitch for the Israelite House of David commune. In 1933 she faced the St. Louis Cardinals in an exhibition and won. The next morning a St. Louis sportswriter reported: “Benton Harbor’s nomadic House of David ball team, beards, girl pitcher and all, came, saw and conquered the Cardinals, 8 to 6, last night at Sportsman’s Park.” Tired of the constant degrading jokes, she retired in 1936 at age 23. She died in 1987 at the age of 73.

11 Babe Didrikson (1934) Perhaps the greatest athlete of all time, she played every sport and excelled. Every American knew her name. In the 1932 Olympics she won gold medals and set world records in track and field. She founded the LPGA and won countless golf tournaments. She barnstormed in basketball and baseball. She pitched against Major League baseball teams in spring training and exhibition games.

12 All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1943-1954)
Semi-pro women’s softball was popular across the U.S. During WWII, baseball executive were concerned about generating revenue as most players and many fans were serving overseas. Minor league teams disbanded and major league attendance declined. In 1943 Cubs owner Phillip Wrigley started the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Women came from all over the country to try out at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Four teams were created including the South Bend Blue Sox and Rockford Peaches. At first the game resembled softball more than baseball (shorter distances, larger ball, underhand pitching). But over time, the women played baseball (overhand pitching, regulation-size ball, and similar distances). The players were required to wear short sleeves and skirts rather than the bloomers that women normally played it. Women were also expected to be “feminine” and were required to attend charm school classes and use a beauty kit. They were not permitted to have short hair, smoke or drink in public places, and were required to wear lipstick at all times. The first two offenses resulted in fines. The third: suspension. During the 1948 season the league attracted 910,000 paying fans. During the league’s history, over 600 women played ball. Beginning in 1982 the former players started a newsletter, attended reunions, and formed a Players Association. The 1992 film A League of Their Own covers the founding and play of this league.

13 AAGPL Players: Marion Boyson, Helene Machado, and Betty Terry
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player Dottie Schroeder on the cover of Parade Magazine in August 1948. AAGPL Players: Marion Boyson, Helene Machado, and Betty Terry

14 Eleanor Engle (1952) Given the success of women ballplayers before, during, and after the war many felt it was only a matter of time before women were playing with men in the major and minor leagues. In 1952 the Harrisburg Senators signed Eleanor Engle to a minor league contract. Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick called the transaction a travesty and declared women ineligible. The ban on women playing professional baseball at any level remained in place for 40 years. Still, women continued to play ball.

15 Toni Stone ( ) Growing up, Toni Stone played with boys’ and men’s teams in St. Paul, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Ineligible to play for the white-only All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, at age 32 Toni was signed by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues in 1953. She took over second base after the team sold Hank Aaron to the Boston (soon-to-be Milwaukee) Braves. She recalled that most of the players shunned her and gave her a hard time: “They didn’t mean any harm and in their way they liked me. Just that I wasn’t supposed to be there. They’d tell me to go home and fix my husband some biscuits or any damn thing. Just get the ‘hell away from here.’” She remembered stepping to the plate against Satchel Paige: “He was so good that he’d ask batters where they wanted it, just so they’d have a chance. He’s ask ‘You want it high? You want it low? You want it right in the middle? Just say.’ People still couldn’t get a hit against him. So I get up there and he say, ‘Hey, T, how do you like it?’ And I said, ‘It doesn’t matter just don’t hurt me.’ When he wound up—he had these big old feet—all you could see was his shoe. I stood there shaking, but I got a hit. Right out over second base. Happiest moment in my life.” She hit .243 for the season but was sold to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1954. Stone retired after the 1954 season, worked as a nurse, and died at age 75 in 1996.

16 Mamie “Peanut” Johnson (1953-1955)
Mamie grew up playing ball with her uncle and strengthened her arm by throwing rocks at crows on the fence of her grandmother’s farm. As a young girl she played for an all-white boys’ team, the Long Branch Police Athletic Club in New Jersey, and helped them win two division championships. During her High-School years she played semipro-ball for two black male teams in Washington, DC. After she graduated she attempted to try out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League but was denied because she was black. But a scout for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League signed her and she pitched for the team from She had a 33-8 won-loss record and hit .273. She graduated from college, became a licensed nurse practitioner, and coached youth baseball teams. Video clips:

17 Connie Morgan ( ) Connie Morgan was an accomplished all-around athlete as a child. She played basketball and baseball, frequently on boys teams. From she played on the North Philadelphia Honey Dippers women’s baseball team, playing nearly all the positions but primarily catcher. In her final year she batted .368. She read a newspaper article about Stone and Johnson playing for the Clowns and wrote the owner to ask for a tryout. She got it, impressed, and was signed to a two-year contract. When Toni Stone was traded, Morgan took over at 2B. She hit third in the batting order, had a .300 average, and Clowns’ manager Oscar Charleston called her “one of the most sensational” female players he had ever seen. She said of her male teammates: “They treated me well. They treated me like a sister.” She returned home after two years, worked for the AFL-CIO and drove a bus for the Philadelphia schools.

18 Girls Banned from Little League (1951)
Little League Baseball was founded in 1939 for ages 5-18. In 1950, Kathryn Johnston tucked her hair under her cap, used the nickname “Tubby” and posed as a boy. Once she made the team, she revealed her gender and her local league allowed her to play. In 1951, Little League regulations were changed to read: “Girls are not eligible under any conditions.” Still, several girls played on Little League teams in the next two decades. In 1972, Congress passed and President Richard Nixon signed into law Title IX which states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” This legislation protects a girl’s legal right to play baseball wherever it is available in her community – regardless of whether alternative sports (such as softball) are available. This includes middle schools, high schools, and colleges, but also youth baseball organizations.

19 Girls Play Little League (1974)
In 1972, 12-year-old Maria Pepe was taken off a team after playing in three games. With the help of the National Organization for Women, she sued. On Nov. 7, 1973 Sylvia Pressler, a hearing examiner for the New Jersey Civil Rights Division ruled that Little League Baseball must admit girls: “The institution of Little League is as American as the hotdog and apple pie. There is no reason why that part of Americana should be withheld from girls.” The decision was upheld by the Superior Court in 1974. Little League responded by allowing girls to play baseball and also by creating Little League Softball for girls. Why? Today, about 100,000 girls are playing Little League Baseball (about 1 in 7 baseball players). At the same time, nearly 400,000 girls play in girls softball leagues.

20 Julie Croteau (1989) One of the first beneficiaries of the court decision allowing girls to play Little League, starting at age 8 Julie grew up playing baseball every year. In High School she made the JV team but was cut and didn’t make varsity in her senior year. She sued but lost despite the fact that Ross Natolli, the baseball coach at Catholic University, where Julie had taken a series of clinics, testified: “She has average high school ability for boys. She’s a line drive hitter, and she makes good contact. I’m seeing seventy to eighty high school games a year, and she has enough ability to make most high school teams.” In 1989, as an 18-year-old, she made the men’s baseball team as a freshman walk on at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (NCAA Division III). She hit .222 her first season as the backup at first base. After playing in college, she coached a men’s team at Western New England University and men’s NCAA Division I baseball at the University of Massachusetts. In 1992 she handled the baseball playing for actress Anne Ramsey who portrayed Rockford Peach first basewoman Helen Haley in A League of Their Own.

21 Ila Borders (1994) At the age of 19 Ila Borders began pitching in men’s college baseball games. She played for Southern California College from and Whittier College in 1997. She said: “I don’t want to live my life as someone’s idea of a stunt. I’m here on my road to the major leagues.” After college she signed with the St. Paul Saints of the Independent Northern League. From she pitched for four different independent teams before retiring. She was a left-handed control pitcher with a fastball that reached 82 mph, a curveball, and a screwball. As both a starter and a reliever in 52 games and 101 innings pitched, she finished with a record of 2 wins and 4 losses, a 6.75 ERA, a 1.85 WHIP, and 36 strikeouts.

22 Kendra Hanes (1994) As a standout softball player at Oklahoma State, she was known for her power hitting. At age 24 she played leftfield for the Kentucky Rifles of the independent Frontier League in 1994. As she prepared for the her 50th game with the team she said that while she realized that she would never make the Major Leagues and that there were other women who might hit with more power, run faster, or “throw BB’s,” she explained: “I’m here and they’re not. I’m opening doors.” She had 11 plate appearances in 10 games with 8 strike outs and 1 walk. In the field she did not make an error. She explained that while she would love to continue playing men’s baseball and become a good hitter, she also wanted to stay in the game to make other changes. She said that if women are to enter the ranks of scouts, coaches, managers, and general managers, they will first need field experience. And she was gaining that experience.

23 Colorado Silver Bullets (1994)
The Coors Brewing Co. sponsored the team and hired former major league pitcher Phil Niekro to be the manager. 2,000 women tried out for 24 spots. Players were paid $20,000 for the 4-month season. The team barnstormed the U.S. and Canada playing 50 games in Major League stadiums against men’s minor league, semipro, and college all-star teams. Though they lost a lot of games, many of them badly, they also had some success. For example, they beat an over-35 men’s team in St. Paul 7-2. Pitcher Lee Anne Ketchum struck out 14. Julie Cotreau was also on the team. They drew over 8,000 in their opening game and regularly drew 4,000-5,000 fans. Elaine Amundsen, a 25-year-old pitcher, remarked on the women’s future: “It’s a great opportunity to play against men, but I think everyone knows most men are bigger and stronger. And guys who make it to the minor leagues are really good players. It’s very hard to even get that far. I think it might be better to form a women’s league. A lot of people would come out to see the teams play.” In 1996 the management of the team arranged for Pamela Davis to pitch for the AA Jackson minor league men’s team in an exhibition game against the Australian Olympic team. The gimmick of the “battle of the sexes” proved outdated in the 1990s and the team folded for financial reasons after four seasons of play ( ). Ketchum and Cotreau went on to play for the Maui Stingrays of the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League.

24 Ladies League Baseball (1997)
One of several women’s professional baseball leagues attempted following the release of the film A League of Their Own. In 1997 the league started with 4 teams in San Jose, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. The next year they changed their name to the Ladies Professional Baseball League. They expanded adding teams in Buffalo, NY and Augusta, NJ while the Los Angeles team moved to Homstead, FL and the Long Beach team folded. But 12 games into the second season the league folded citing low fan turnout. The average attendance was less than 500 per game.

25 Kendall Burnham (2003) As a kid, Kendall Richards played baseball with the boys and soon became a standout softball player. She was a four-time all-state shortstop in high school, won a scholarship to national powerhouse UC-Berkeley, and was named to the All-Pac 10 team in both of her first two seasons. She transferred to Texas A&M and was names All-Big 12 for her two seasons with that team including an All-American honor as a senior after hitting .468 with 10 HRs and 56 RBIs. Kendall joined the Georgia Pride of the now-defunct Women’s Professional Fastpitch league in the summer of The following season, the Pride became the Florida Wahoos, and Burnham helped to lead the team to the WPF championship. She spent three years as the assistant coach of the softball program at UNLV.

26 Kendall Burnham (2003) In 2003 Kendall joined the San Angelo Colts of the independent Central League and played alongside her husband who was the team’s third baseman. San Angelo manager Steve Maddock said: “I know her athletic background and her abilities, and I watched her take batting practice. If anyone can do this, she can.” Before her debut, she said: “I played baseball until I was 11, I think, 11 or 12 years old. And then I started playing competitive softball. And I actually haven’t played baseball since I was 11…. It is actually quite a challenge. [I] wasn’t really expecting to be playing ball at all, softball or baseball this summer. So there is going to be a little bit of an adjustment. But it’s something that I’m looking forward to.” In 7 plate appearances in 4 games she did not get a hit and struck out three times. At 2B she had 5 chances but made two errors.

27 USA Baseball Women’s National Team (2004)
Since 1978, USA Baseball has been the National Governing Body for amateur baseball. It represents the sport in the U.S. as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and internationally as a member federation of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF). USA Baseball governs more than 12 million amateur players in the U.S. Since 1999, USA Baseball has been selecting teams of professional-level minor and major league players to represent the U.S. in various international competitions including the World Baseball Classic and IBAF World Cup. There are also national teams of collegiate and junior players. The USA Baseball Women’s National Team was established in 2004. An 18-player team was selected following open tryouts across the nation. Julie Cotreau was the third-base coach and then manager of the 2004 and 2006 gold medal winning teams at the IBAF Women’s Baseball World Cup. Lee Anne Ketcham was a coach and Pamela Davis pitched for the team. When not competing in the World Cup, the team competes in international friendship series, leads youth clinics, and works to grow the game of baseball among women in the U.S. In 2006, Major League Baseball acquired all USA Baseball commercial rights including sponsorship, licensing, internet, and other business rights. In return, MLB provides a guaranteed level of funding for amateur baseball programs. What will this mean for the future of women ball players?

28 American Women’s Baseball Federation
There are a number of regional women’s baseball teams and organizations in the U.S. that comprise the American Women’s Baseball Federation. For example, the Chicago Pioneers, an all-girls baseball program, was founded in 2006 and fields teams for girls 15 and under and 16 and over. Through Pioneers had played for their high school’s baseball teams, 9 have been National Team selections, and one received an NCAA Division II scholarship for baseball. The Pioneers and other women’s programs are working with Little League Baseball in the hopes of starting a girls baseball pilot program across the U.S. The IBAF is moving to form grass-roots baseball programs for girls in countries around the world. The IBAF is also embracing women’s baseball as a partner in their bid to have the International Olympic Committee restore baseball as a program sport in 2020.

29 Tiffany Brooks Tiffany Brooks is a right-handed pitcher and plays first base. She joined the previously male-only Big Bend Cowboys of the Continental Baseball League on March 4, She was with team through spring training and made the opening day roster. But she asked for her release before appearing in any games. She has played in the California Winter League, Arizona Summer League, and Arizona Winter League. She tried out for the Rio Grande Valley White Wings in 2010 but was not offered a contract.

30 Eri Yoshida: The “Knuckle Princess”
Eri Yoshida is a 5’1” right-handed, sidearm, kunckleball pitcher. Her fastball reaches 63 mph while her knuckler measures around 50 mph. At the age of 16, Eri was drafted by a Japanese professional baseball team, the Kobe 9 Cruise of Kansai Independent Baseball League. In 2009, she appeared in 11 games before moving to the U.S. She pitched in the Arizona winter league and was signed by the Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League for the 2010 season. In 2011 she earned her first win pitching for the North American Baseball League’s Maui Na Koa Ikaika. She beat the Edmonton Capitals 4-1, throwing five innings, allowing one run on five hits, walking one and striking out one.

31 Conclusion Women have played organized baseball since the earliest days of the game. The women of Vasser College and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League showed that women could have leagues of their own. Individual players from Alta Wiess and Jackie Mitchell to Ila Borders and Eri Yoshida make plain that women can play competitively alongside men. While Major League Baseball’s long-time ban on female players in both the major and affiliated minor leagues surely stunted the progress of female ballplayers, some argue that it is only a matter of time before the first female player debuts in the Major Leagues. And while other sports like golf, tennis, basketball, and soccer have enjoyed success with female-only leagues, a women’s baseball league has yet to take hold. Why not? The main impediment to the formation of a competitive women’s baseball league at the professional level is the prevalence of softball. Girls are channeled in to softball at young ages. It is the established sport for girls at the high school, college, and Olympic levels. Ultimately, for women ball players to be taken seriously, they must be judged by the same standards as other players – solely on their skills and not on their gender.

32 References Berlage, Gai Ingham Women in Baseball: The Forgotten History. Praeger. Elias, Robert. Baseball and the American Dream: Race, Class, Gender, and the National Pastime. Gregorich, Barbara Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. Harcourt Brace & Co. Lanctot, Neil Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution. University Press of Philadelphia. Reinke, Ed “The Cycle Starts Here: Pro Baseball’s Only Woman Lives a Dream,” The Spokesman-Review. August 11. Shattuck, Debra A Bats, Balls and Books: Baseball and Higher Education for Women at Three Eastern Women's Colleges, Journal of Sport History. Shea, Jim “An Ever-Expanding Field: Bullets Provide Women with a Place in Baseball.” Hartford Courant, June 5.

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