Photo Courtesy of Baseball Hall of Fame
I have to preface this article by saying the idea came from my daughter Marlee Glenn. She read some of my past articles and said that I should write about the Women's league. I will say I found out some things I didn't know and was surprised by. I hope you enjoy it.
July 1, 1992, the movie A League of Their Own opened in movie theaters across the country. A light-hearted comedy about the women's professional baseball league of the 1940s and 1950s. Director Penny Marshall brought to life what the casual baseball fan didn't know existed. The movie was a fictional look at the league, but it was also based on facts. So what was the Women's professional baseball League?
How it got started
In 1942, Chicago Cubs Owner Phillip K Wrigley had concerns about Major League Baseball, and it's survival. He had Ken Sells, Assistant General Manager of the Chicago Cubs, form a committee to look for a way to increase revenue. WWII had taken many young players out of the minor leagues and major stars such as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Bob Feller. There was also the fear that Baseball may have to be canceled because of rationing due to the war effort, as well as the ever-shrinking player pool.
Enter the Women
Women were becoming an increasingly vital part of the workforce. Women were filling in for men in the factories and shipyards. Many had to because their husbands were off fighting for Uncle Sam. Others felt it WAS their duty to step up. So Why not look to women to fill the void in baseball? Sells envisioned using women's sports as an option. Women's organized Softball was becoming popular, particularly in the Midwest. The idea to set up a softball league that would play in Wrigley Field on off days. Wrigley was looking at the bigger picture. He wanted to bring the women's game to other major league ballparks. However, other teams were not as keen on the idea as Wrigley would have hoped.
So after getting backing from Midwestern Business types, Wrigley pushed on, and the All-American Girls Softball League was born. Wrigley then formed a board of directors, including Branch Rickey, President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Chicago Attorney Paul V. Harmon. They then named Ken Sells the league President (I mean, it was his idea).
Wrigley turned to several Cubs, and Wrigley's staff that he had such was the case when it came to the rules of the game. Chicago Cubs' scout, Jack Sheehan, Vern Hernlund, Supervisor of Recreation for the Chicago Parks Department, and Ken Sells worked together to write the new rules. The committee's outcome was a merged game between Baseball and Softball, taking parts from both games. From Softball, pitching was underhand windmill style (fast-Pitch), and the ball was the standard 12-inch softball. (In 1948, pitching would evolve to overhand, and the ball would be reduced to a standard baseball in 1954).
From Baseball 9 players to a lineup, Lead-offs and stealing were allowed.
Distances were a compromise of sorts.