For a brief number of years in the 1940s and early 50s, women had a professional baseball league to call their own. Originally designed as a means to counteract the effects of World War II, the women’s pro league enjoyed a good deal of success for several years. The 1992 movie “A League of Their Own,” starring Tom Hanks and Geena Davis, was based on the league and some of its more colorful characters.
In 1942, as minor league baseball teams were disbanding because of World War II, Chicago Cubs owner and chewing gum mogul Philip Wrigley feared major league teams might do the same. He funded research to look for a solution, and the answer was to create an all-women’s professional league to keep baseball alive during the war. The major leagues did not shut down, but the All American Girls Softball League began in 1943 just the same.
The AAGSL would go through a series of name changes over the first few years as it got comfortable and gained a following. The word “Baseball” replaced “Softball” to help distinguish it from the many amateur softball leagues, then it was changed to “Ball” and eventually back to “Baseball.” Around 1950, the league abandoned the underhand softball way of pitching and started throwing overhand like the men.
Since the bulk of the players the league was drawing were from softball teams, it made sense to use a softball in the games. The executives wanted to keep the game lively, so they moved the pitching rubber back and used nine players on the field instead of 10. They also instituted men’s base running rules, allowing leadoffs and steals.
Getting Set Up
At the start, four non-major league cities were chosen to begin play: Rockford, Illinois; South Bend, Indiana; and Racine and Kenosha, Wisconsin were formed, each with 15 players, a manager, a business manager and a female chaperone. Male sports figures were used as managers to try to arouse public curiosity. Salaries for the players were between $45 and $85 per week, and all players were required to attend charm school every day after practice.
Beginning to End
The first women’s professional baseball game was played on May 30, 1943, and Racine won the first championship. The first season was successful, with league attendance of 176,612. The popularity of the league continued for a few years after the war, with attendance peaking in 1948 at 910,000, when there were 10 teams. The team directors took over ownership of the league after the 1950 season, and interest began to wane. The league ceased operations after the 1954 season.