“We Are Members of the All-American League, We come from Cities, near and far…We are Canadians, Irishmen and Swedes, We’re One for All, We’re All for One, We’re All-American!”
Cleveland Indians’ legend Bob Feller was “over there.” So was the Yankees’ “Joltin Joe” DiMaggio. And Boston’s Ted Willams.
If Babe Ruth had been young enough, he would have gone, too.
In the first half of the 20th Century, baseball ruled the United States. It was “America’s Sport.”
But with America’s entry into World War II, the majority of able men, and most of the Major League Baseball stars were “over there,” several baseball executives,including chewing gum mogul and Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley, who had foregone lights at Wrigley Field because of the war, started a new professional league with women players to maintain baseball in the public eye.
Wrigley offered up his best, with tryouts held at Wrigley Field. And it seems fitting that Chicago-born Ann Harnett became the first girl to sign with the league, followed by Shirley Jameson, Edythe Perlick and Claire Schillace. Sixty-four girls made up the original teams, including the Kenosha Comets (1943–1951), Racine Belles (1943–1950), Rockford Peaches (1943–1954), and the South Bend Blue Sox (1943–1954). In its 12-year history, 14 cities served as host to an AAGBPL team, keeping baseball’s name alive.
Chicago made its mark as well, with the Chicago Colleens (1948). From 1949 through 1950, the Colleens and the Springfield Sallies became rookie development teams that played exclusively exhibition games. Their tours included contests at Griffith Stadium and Yankee Stadium, then dissolved entirely by 1951.
The women may have “played like Gehrig, looked like Garbo,” but they weren’t paid like either one. Salaries, according to Wikipedia sources, ranged from $45–$85 (or $597.00–$1.13 thousand in 2013 dollars a week during the first years of play to as much as $125 (or $1.11 thousand in 2013 dollars per week in later years.
Wrigley sold the league to Arthur Meyerhoff from 1945 to 1951, and the teams were individually owned from 1951 to 1954. In 1947 and 1948, spring training exhibition games were held at the Gran Stadium in Havana, Cuba.
Having met some of the women who played in this league recently, at the Ballpark on Rosemont and at the recent 20th Anniversary screening of “A League of Their Own” at the Music Box Theatre, I hope everyone will attend the 70th Anniversary of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, at the Oak Brook Heritage Center, 1112 Oak Brook Road. They host an exhibit and reception from 2:30-5:30 pm this Saturday, September 7. of the surviving players from the made famous in the film, “A League of Their Own.”
One of the Muskegon Lassies (1946–1949) Therese McKinley, who played on the playoff-bound 1949 team, attended the 20th Anniversary screening of “A League of Their Own.” She set a few things straight, not the least of which was that “There would be no no Jimmy Dugan who came in their locker room. dressed or not.”
Now the mother of four daughters, Terry McKinley Uselman remembered her time in the AAGBL fondly, despite a record of 46-66 in 1949, but still managed to reach the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
About 40 of the former players from the league, which operated from 1943-1954, are expected to attend the reception, which is free and open to the public.
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