|Founder||Philip K. Wrigley|
|Ceased||September 5, 1954|
|Motto||Do or die!|
|No. of teams||15|
|Most titles||Rockford Peaches (4)|
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was a professional women's baseball league founded by Philip K. Wrigley which existed from 1943 to 1954. The AAGPBL is the forerunner of women's professional league sports in the United States. Over 600 women played in the league, which consisted of eventually 10 teams located in the American Midwest. In 1948, league attendance peaked at over 900,000 spectators. The most successful team, the Rockford Peaches, won a league-best four championships. The 1992 motion picture A League of Their Own is a mostly fictionalized account of the early days of the league and its stars.
With the entry of the United States into World War II, several major league baseball executives started a new professional league with women players in order to maintain baseball in the public eye while the majority of able men were away. The founders included Philip K. Wrigley, Branch Rickey, and Paul V. Harper. They feared that Major League Baseball might even temporarily cease due to the war because of the loss of talent, as well as restrictions on team travel due to gasoline rationing.
The women's initial tryouts were held at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Scouted from amateur softball games across the country, over 200 women were invited to try-out, and about 60 were selected for the league roster. Like the male major-league, the 'girls' league was also informally segregated, thus no African Americans were recruited or hired. Women were selected for their skilled play, but the player also needed to fit what was seen by marketers as a wholesome feminine ideal. The first league game was played on May 30, 1943.
Scouts for the Chicago-based All-American Girls Professional Baseball League initially sought and recruited talent from the Chicago softball Metropolitan League, among with several others. However, after seeing many of their players leave for the AAGPL, it was decided to then turn the amateur Metropolitan League to a professional league. The result was the creation of the six-team National Girls Baseball League, which began in 1944, composed entirely of Chicago-area teams. The National Girls baseball League was founded by Emery Parichy, Charles Bidwill, owner of the Chicago Cardinals football team and politician Ed Kolski. Pirachy operated the Metropolitan League. Football star Red Grange was hired to preside over the league. The NGBL was much less publicized than the AAGPL, but it paralleled the AAGPL, as it also lasted until 1954 and drew up to 500,000 fans per season. For a time, the two leagues were involved in a strong rivalry for players, before meeting and calling a poaching truce in 1946. Many players and several managers appeared in both leagues.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League went through three periods of ownership. It was owned by chewing gum mogul Wrigley from 1943 to 1945, wealthy publicist Arthur Meyerhoff from 1945 to 1951, and the teams were individually owned from 1951 to 1954. The teams generally played in Midwestern cities. The South Bend Blue Sox and the Rockford Peaches were the only two teams that stayed in their home cities for the full period of the AAGPBL's existence.
In the first season, the league played a game that was a hybrid of baseball and softball. The ball was 12 inches in circumference, the size of a regulation softball (regulation baseballs are 9 to 9 inches). The pitcher's mound was only forty feet from home plate, closer even than in regulation softball and much closer than the baseball distance of 60 feet, 6 inches. Pitchers threw underhand windmill, like in softball, and the distance between bases was 65 feet, five feet longer than in softball, but 25 feet shorter than in baseball. Major similarities between the AAGPBL and baseball included nine player teams and the use of a pitcher's mound (softball pitchers throw from flat ground). By 1948, the ball had shrunk to 10 inches, overhand pitching was allowed, and the mound was moved back to 50 feet. Over the history of the league, the rules continued to gradually approach those of baseball. By the final season in 1954, the ball was regulation baseball size, the mound was moved back to 60 feet, and the basepaths were extended to 85 feet (still five feet shorter than in regulation baseball). Teams were generally managed by men who knew competitive athletics and were former major league players, in part to demonstrate to fans that the league was serious.
Salaries were above average for women and ranged from $45-$85 (or $665-$1256 in 2019 dollars) a week during the first years of play to about $125 (or $1231 in 2019 dollars) per week in later years. The women's league generally went along with the men's late spring to early autumn season.
The uniforms worn by the female ballplayers consisted of a belted, short-sleeved tunic dress with a slight flare of the skirt. Rules stated that skirts were to be worn no more than six inches above the knee, but the regulation was most often ignored in order to facilitate running and fielding. A circular team logo was sewn on the front of each dress, and baseball caps featured elastic bands in the back so that they were one-size-fits-all.
During spring training, the girls were required to attend Helena Rubinstein's evening charm school classes. The proper etiquette for every situation was taught, and every aspect of personal hygiene, mannerisms, and dress code was presented to all the players. In an effort to make each player as physically attractive as possible, each received a beauty kit and instructions on how to use it. As a part of the league's 'Rules of Conduct', the 'girls' were not permitted to have short hair, they could not smoke or drink in public places, and they were required to wear lipstick at all times. Fines for not following the league's rules of conduct were five dollars for the first offense, ten for the second, and suspension for the third. In 1944, Josephine "JoJo" D'Angelo was fired for cutting her hair short. The women's contracts were much stricter about behavior than in the men's league, and each team was also assigned its own chaperone by the league.
The AAGPBL received extensive publicity from its inception throughout the 1940s. The league was featured in both national periodicals such as Time, Life, Seventeen, Newsweek, and American Magazine, as well as in local city newspapers. Philip Wrigley, the league's founder, believed in the value of advertising, which may have attributed to the league's extensive exposure and marketing focus. Wrigley learned to appreciate advertising from his father, William Wrigley, who had success with his chewing gum company in large part due to marketing methods. The league remained under Wrigley's advertising influence until 1951, when individual team directors took over the publicity.
The league's principle advertising agent was Arthur E. Meyerhoff who handled the league's publicity from 1943 through 1950. Meyerhoff's promotional efforts focused on the value of national exposure in popular periodicals. These magazine articles attracted new fans and new players to the AAGPBL. The major publicity themes that characterized the league were "Recreation for War Workers," "Femininity," "Community Welfare," and "Family Entertainment."
The league shifted to decentralized league administration from 1951 to 1954. Thus, the responsibility was on individual team management to publicize and promote the teams. However, local managers were not always effective due to their lack of expertise in advertising. In the 1951 season, the league president Fred Leo asked all team presidents to provide publicity on games and training events. Only one team complied with Fred Leo's request, which led to an early 1952 preseason board meeting to discuss inadequate promotion.
Due to the decentralized league administration, many of the promotion efforts from team management were aimed exclusively at local populaces. There were many promotional events with players, children's benefits, civic groups, and holiday celebrations. Along with daily newspaper reports, the primary advertising strategy was radio broadcasts.
The AAGPBL peaked in attendance during the 1948 season, when 10 teams attracted 910,000 paid fans. The Rockford Peaches won the most league championships with four (1945, 1948, 1949, 1950). The Milwaukee/Grand Rapids Chicks were second with three (1944 in Milwaukee, 1947 and 1953 in Grand Rapids). The Racine Belles (1943 and 1946) and the South Bend Blue Sox (1951 and 1952) each won two, and the Kalamazoo Lassies won in the league's final season (1954).
The 1992 film A League of Their Own, although fictionalized, covers the founding and play of this league. Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O'Donnell, Madonna, and Tom Hanks were the stars of the film, which was directed by Penny Marshall. The league is the forerunner of later-day professional league sports played by women.
Lois Siegel documented the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in her film Baseball Girls, which was produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Olive Little threw the first no-hitter in team and league history.
Although the AAGPBL was the first recorded professional women's baseball league, women had played baseball since the nineteenth century. The first known women's baseball team played at Vassar College in 1866, while barnstorming Bloomer Girls teams. (sometimes including men)
Baseball Hall of Fame members Max Carey and Jimmie Foxx managed teams in the AAGPBL. The character of Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, was loosely based on Foxx's tenure in the league. However, several of his former AAGPBL players said that, unlike Hanks' character in the movie, Foxx was always gentlemanly around them.
The league went through a series of name changes during its history. It was founded as the All-American Girls Softball League, but midway through its first season of 1943, the name was changed to the All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBBL). After the 1943 season, the official League name was again changed, to the All-American Girls Professional Ball League (AAGPBL), reflecting that players were paid from the start and further separating it from existing amateur leagues. This name was used until the end of the 1945 season, when the league reverted to All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBBL), which it would use through 1950. When teams were sold to independent owners at the end of the 1950 season, the official League name was changed to the American Girls Baseball League (AGBL), although it continued to be popularly identified as the All-American League or the All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBBL). When the Players' Association organized in 1986, and gained recognition by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988, it was finally named All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).
The uniform was a one-piece short-skirted flared tunic with a team patch in the center of the chest. The base uniform was designed by Wrigley Company art director Otis Shepard, assisted by Wrigley's wife Helen and Chicago softball player Ann Harnett, the first player signed by the league. Shepard was also the longtime art director for the Chicago Cubs and spearheaded a series of innovative uniforms beginning in 1937. Shepard designed all visual elements of the league, including game scorecards and promotional materials. For his work on the AAGPBL and the Cubs, Shepard was called the "chief visualizer of mid-century baseball."
Shepard modeled the uniform after the figure skating, field hockey, and tennis outfits of the period. The uniforms included satin shorts, knee-high baseball socks, and a baseball cap. The team patches were modeled after each respective city's seal.
In the beginning, each team was issued one uniform style, to be worn in all games. Shepard unveiled the inaugural uniforms in a palette of pastel colors: green for Kenosha; yellow for Racine; blue for South Bend; and peach for Rockford. The accessories (cap, belt, stirrups) were bold darker shades of the team color. As new teams were added, they were given a new distinctive team color (gray for Milwaukee, pink for Minneapolis). Road uniforms were introduced to the league starting with the 1948 season.
The theme song made famous in the 1992 film A League of Their Own was the official song of the All-American Girls Baseball League, co-written by Pepper Paire and Nalda Bird (although in the movie, the word "Irishmen" was changed to "Irish ones"). In their annual reunions since 1998, it is usual to hear the original AAGPBL players singing the song.
When the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was unable to continue in 1955, its history and its significance were forgotten by baseball historians. Many people in the 1950s thought that women were not supposed to play baseball, so most female athletes competed on other fields of endeavor. Finally, in 1980, former pitcher June Peppas launched a newsletter project to get in touch with friends, teammates, and opponents that resulted in the league's first reunion in Chicago, Illinois in 1982. The Players Association was formed after a 1986 Reunion held in Fort Wayne as part of Run, Jane, Run, a local Women's Bureau event. Historian and Baseball card publisher Sharon Roepke (author of Diamond Gals) who was circulating a petition to get the Baseball Hall of Fame to recognize the All American Girls Baseball League asked the players at the Reunion to organize to help the effort. A meeting was held at the South Bend home of Fran Janssen, and the Player's Association was born. June Peppas was nominated President.