Seventy-five years ago, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) came to life with Philip K. Wrigley at the helm of the sports organization. Although it was only active during a short span of a little more than a decade, the women’s legacy had remained in the hearts of fans and athletes for almost a century.
In 1942, many league teams were disbanded because of the war as young men 18 and above were conscripted, and so, the fear of Major League Baseball Parks disappearing prompted Wrigley, the chewing gum mogul and who inherited the franchise from his father, to put up the AAGPBL. Even though its inception was in 1943, it reached its peak five years later, when ticket sales and attendance soared.
The legacy of AAGPBL
The AAGPBL was such a hit that reports say it recruited about 400 to 600 women from 14 different regions who played baseball for various teams. However, six years after the success of the organization, the group disbanded in 1954, but the iconic association’s contribution had never really vanished from the sports industry.
The AAGPBL was so influential that a fictionalized film based on the lives of the women of the team was released in 1992. Titled “A League of Their Own,” the comedy sports movie starred Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and Tom Hanks. Although the film was acclaimed and recognized, its plot was highly dramatized and far from the actual reality.
Last year, the AAGPBL celebrated its 75th founding anniversary, with the members reminiscing was it like back in the day away from the film and what was reported. Others note that the movie was far too different from what had happened.
One thing is for sure: The AAGPBL served as an effective platform for the women to play their hearts out — to do what they love and to had given opportunities to them. As much as this was the case, the women had told grueling conditions and claimed no independence over their lives during the time, but most of them just shrugged these disadvantages off basically because they are doing what they want: playing.
The AAGPBL was the ultimate group to join if you’re into the sport. However, the league proved not to be of their own, rather, the league owned the women. Arthur Meyerhoff, Chicago ad executive and was also one of the owners of the organization, took over the league from 1945 to 1951, where players could be easily traded with other teams because women had contracts under the league and not with the teams.
The late Viola Thompson Griffin, who played for the AAGPBL from 1944 to 1947, revealed that the members had no say whatsoever and had to be tough to swallow what the bosses were saying. She further narrated that the managers, who were former Hall of Famers, handled all the business and said that you wouldn’t last long if you let what they said affect you.
It is best to acknowledge that the women earned more than other day-jobs at the time, but this is because they worked hard for it. However, Joyce Hill Westerman, a player from 1945 to 1952, revealed that during the later seasons, there were other times when players were not sure if they were going to get money or not.
Westerman, one who stayed too long with the AAGPBL as compared with other members, had a rough childhood. Her family had to live in a dilapidated house belonging to her uncle after they lost their home to the Great Depression – there was no heat or electricity. To sum it up, she was used to hard work, which would have prepared her for the arduous work in the league.
However, she said that working with the league was very demanding, with games being held for six or seven days a week, a sentiment echoed by most other members. Their situation was worse during the games, as they traveled overnight to other places or continued playing even with an injury that wasn’t checked by a team doctor, all while the women were forced to put on a poker-face throughout with their makeup on.
Yup, as much as their hectic schedule was burdensome, they had to look perfect for the camera. Even with their tiring days, the players didn’t back down, the mere evidence of their dedication to the sport. However, in the years leading to the demise of the AAGPBL, it was more than obvious that the fate of the group was slowly coming to an end.
Constant trading and shuffling among the teams as well as the Americans’ love for cars and television signaled that the AAGPBL was no longer as popular. Not only did the trailblazers of pro baseball league show their love for the game, but they also opened doors for women to enter various sports today.