Edythe Perlick (later Keating), the star left fielder for the Racine, Wisconsin, Belles from 1943 through the 1950 season, exemplified the kind of women who played hardball in the All-American Girls Base Ball League, today called the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. A steady and productive hitter, a speedy defensive outfielder with a strong and accurate arm, and a good team player, “Edie” Perlick batted .240 lifetime for 851 games over eight seasons. For players who batted 100 or more times in a season, her batting average often appeared among the league’s top twenty regulars. Edie also drove home 392 runs, a mark that ranks sixth all-time on the AAGPBL list.
Perlick’s accomplishments also included making the league’s All-Star team in 1943, 1947, and 1948. In addition to 481 career stolen bases, she set Racine’s RBI record with 63 in 1944. That summer Edie appeared on the cover of the magazine All Sports. She was best known for her clutch hitting and fine defensive play. Perhaps her skill as a flychaser was best illustrated by her leaping catch to prevent a home run in the Shaughnessy Playoff Championship game of September 16, 1946, a contest that Racine won, 1-0, over the Rockford Peaches.
Further, Perlick was famous due to her baseball picture. Starting in 1943, the league used a silhouette of a posed picture showing Edie getting ready to swing, her left leg lifted off the ground and her bat cocked. The anonymous silhouette served in effect as the All-American League’s logo during the war years, because her image appeared as the backdrop for advertisements about the next day’s game in the newspapers of each league city.
Along with infielder Ann “Toots” Harnett, who was allocated to the Kenosha Comets, and outfielders Clara Schillace, sent to the Belles, and Shirley Jameson, assigned to the Comets, Perlick became one of the first four girls to sign with the All-American League. Born on December 12, 1922, in Chicago, she grew up in a sports-oriented family. Like many All-Americans, Edie began playing fast-pitch softball before she was a teenager.
“Most of us did play in the Chicago Fast-Pitch League,” Perlick remembered in a 1997 interview. “Our team had won the Chicago Championship one year, and we went to Detroit for Nationals. These fast-pitch teams were considered some of the best in the country. Unlike today, in those days we had no television. So ballplaying was all over Chicago during the summer. Every empty lot or school playground had a ball game going on.
“In fact, down the alley from our house was a large empty lot. It had lights and benches. Every night there was a men’s slow pitch 16-inch game, starting around 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. That game was followed by a girls’ game around 7:30 p.m. under the lights. The Lund Coal and Oil Company sponsored a team. My Dad worked for the Lund Company. At any rate, the girls played with a 14-inch ball, using no gloves. Actually, the ball field really wasn’t large enough for a 12-inch ball game.
“These women’s teams and men’s teams were terrific. People from blocks and miles around would come to see the games every night. During the game, the manager’s wife and some of the girls on the bench would go around taking up a collection for the game. It not only helped pay for lights and equipment, but the manager and the girls also made some money for playing ball.
“When I was a twelve-year-old, I played on the Collins Coal team. I made fifty cents a game. Our manager was Mr. Collins, a wonderful guy who just loved kids. If we didn’t get enough money in the collection, he’d pay us kids out of his own pocket. Jo Hageman, formerly of the Kenosha Comets and later a chaperon, was also on that team. I was twelve and she was fourteen, and we became best friends through all the years.
“After these ball games, people just didn’t go home. They would stay around and socialize. Also, Joe Louis was so popular at that time. When he was fighting, they would broadcast the fight on the P. A. system. And we had two families in our neighborhood, the Kerrigans and the Shuthes. Each family had nineteen kids. Mr. Shuthe used to have a hot dog stand. He sold hot dogs and tamales, which we always looked forward to having after the games!”
Edie grew up in a working class family of German immigrants. Along with Allan, her older brother, and Jean, her younger sister, she acquired a strong work ethic and a love for sports. As was often true on open lots and playgrounds in cities and towns, kids played sandlot ball with friends and neighbors. In high school, Edie played the intramural sports open to girls, including softball, her favorite. Blessed with all-around athletic ability, she displayed unusual speed, quick reflexes, and a smooth swing. Reflecting on her athletic experiences, she explained, “Although I didn’t compete in AAU, when I was about thirteen I competed against one of the girls on the fast-pitch teams who was known to be a strong baseball thrower. I out-threw her, but she was more accurate.”
Perlick easily made the transition to the Chicago Fast-Pitch League and later to the AAGPBL. The first girl selected to sign with the All-American was Ann Harnett, an excellent third baseman with Chicago’s Rheingold Brew Maids. Once signed, Harnett, working from Philip K. Wrigley’s Chicago Cub headquarters, contacted many other prospects in Chicago, across America, and in Canada. By the time Wrigley and his associates went public with their plans for the All-American League in early 1943, Perlick had been recruited. While she was playing for the Chicago Rockolas in the World Softball Championships at Detroit the previous September, a Cub scout wrote that Edythe “out-hit most of the right fielders in this district.”
After making the league at tryouts held in Wrigley Field that May, Perlick, an attractive 5’3” 125-pound blonde, was allocated to the Racine Belles. A reserved person who was friendly in social situations, the right-handed hitter remained a Belle throughout her league career, playing left field until Racine lost the franchise after the 1950 season. In eight years, Perlick averaged .240. Her hitting was very good, considering the All-American League used a “dead ball” that was twelve inches in circumference in 1943 and 1944. Moving gradually toward baseball, the circuit decreased the ball’s size by increments to 11.5 inches in 1945 and 1946, 11 inches in 1946 and 1947, 10 and three-eighths inches in 1948, 10 inches from 1949 to 1953, and to nine and a quarter inches in 1954, the league’s final season. Also, a livelier ball was introduced in 1949 (for major changes, see Rules of Play on the AAGPBL web site: http://www.aagpbl.org/league/rules.cfm).
In 1943 the All-American League was composed of four teams in mid-sized cities near Chicago: the Racine Belles, the Rockford, Illinois, Peaches, the South Bend, Indiana, Blue Sox, and the Kenosha, Wisconsin, Comets. According to the league’s official program for 1943, Racine’s roster included pitchers Mary Nesbitt, Olive Bend Little, Annabelle Thompson, and Gloria Marks; catchers Irene Hickson and Dorothy “Mickey” Maguire; infielders Margaret “Marnie” Danhauser, Glenora Moss, Charlotte Smith, Leola Mae Brody, Madeline “Maddy” English, and Sophie Kurys; and outfielders Clara Schillace, Marjorie Hood, Eleanor Dapkus, and Perlick.
As it turned out, Racine had a solid core of players, and the Belles were able to keep many of the women together as the years passed. In fact, Racine’s final team picture, taken in 1950, features several players who began in 1943. Perlick’s longtime teammates included Kurys, a speedy second baseman and a good hitter who became the circuit’s all-time stolen base leader with 1,114; Winter, a talented right-handed hurler who peaked with 33 wins in 1946 but who adjusted well to the overhand style in 1948; English, a versatile infielder who, with Kurys, formed one of the league’s best double-play combinations; Dapkus, a slugging outfielder who led the league in homers in 1943 with 12; and Hickson, a solid defensive catcher who did an excellent job of handling the pitchers.
Reflecting on her teammates in 1996, Perlick observed, “I believe we were the only team that had most of the same players for those eight years. We all liked each other and all became lasting friends, which is probably why our team was successful most of those years.”
Edie added, “There was this seventeen-year-old from Flint, Michigan, who was to be our second baseman, named Sophie Kurys. And it didn’t take long before everyone knew that there was going to be something special about her, not only as a player but also as a friend and person. She had a great many fans, whom I am sure have said it was worth the price of admission just to see Sophie at second base and to see her great feats on the base paths.”
During 1943 and 1944, the league’s first two years, the playoffs matched the season’s first half winner versus the second half winner. The best-of-five series was called the “Scholarship Championship,” because one girl in the city of the winning club received a $500 college scholarship. In an all-Wisconsin playoff during September 1943, first half winner Racine (with a 34-20 record in the first half and 25-29 in the second half) beat second half champ Kenosha (with 23-31 and 33-21 records, respectively) in three straight games. Also, Perlick batted a career-best .268, the league’s twelfth highest average among regulars.
The Chicago native returned home after playing the league’s inaugural season, but later she spent the off-seasons living and working in Racine. A common complaint by All-Americans, and Perlick was no exception, focused on the difficulties of the frequent travel between league towns. During the last three years of World War II, the teams rode railroads, notably Chicago’s “North Shore” and “South Shore” elevated lines. Beginning in 1946, the teams traveled by bus, which meant the girls didn’t have to ride crowded day coaches and lug suitcases and bags from one train to another at the Chicago station, all the while appearing in public in “feminine” attire.
In 1944, when the league added the Milwaukee Chicks and the Minneapolis Millerettes, the Belles missed the playoffs, producing losing records of 28-32 and 26-31 and ranking fourth of the six teams in both halves of the season. Racine’s star southpaw Mary (Nesbitt) Crews, who led her team with the league’s fifth-best record of 26-13 in 1943, posted the Belles’ only winning record, 23-17, in 1944. The other three pitchers suffered off years. Jo Winter, who had an 11-11 record in 1943, slipped to a 15-23 ledger, and rookies Jane Jacobs (9-15) and Dorothy Ortman (6-8) also found the league’s hitters tough to defeat. In 1945 the league began the Shaughnessy Playoffs, using a format where the top four teams played off, with first place versus third place and second place versus fourth in the best-of-five games. The winner of each series played a best-of-five championship round. In addition, the Chicks had relocated to Grand Rapids, and the Millerettes relocated and became the Daisies in Fort Wayne. Under the expanded system, Racine placed fourth with a 50-60 record, but the Belles lost to the second place Daisies in the semifinal round, three games to one.
Perlick continued to enjoy solid seasons, hitting .229 in 1944 (twenty-first in the league) and .213 in 1945 (nineteenth). But those averages are misleading. Her timely hitting was best illustrated by RBI figures: she drove in an All-American and Racine-best 63 runs in 1944, and a team-high 41 runs (third in the league) in 1945. Racine’s 1945 yearbook called her “one of the real standbys of the Belles for the last two years, a consistent threat at the plate and a brilliant and heady outfielder.” In 1946, averaging .230 and ranking twenty-second among regulars, Perlick, who ran the bases well, stole a personal-best 88 bases.
“I started out sliding into the bases,” Perlick recounted in 1997, “but after many strawberries and a sprained ankle, I decided I was fast enough to avoid sliding. If you studied the pitchers, you’d know just when to get the jump on them. And most of the time I was fast enough to beat it out successfully.”
Edie’s teammate, Sophie Kurys, by now considered the league’s best second sacker, set an all-time record with 201 thefts in 203 attempts in 1946. Voted Player of the Year, Kurys led the Belles to the league championship. The Flint native hit .286 with five doubles, six triples, and three homers. For Racine, however, the first postwar season came down to the Shaughnessy Series. The Belles won first place with a league-best 74-38 record, won the semifinal round by beating South Bend in four games, and took the lead in the finals over the 1945 champion Rockford Peaches, three games to two.
In game six, played on September 16, 1946, at Racine’s Horlick Field, the Belles and the Peaches played one of the great contests in All-American history. The game went thirteen innings without either club scoring. Finally, with one out in the fourteenth, Kurys singled off Rockford relief pitcher Millie Deegan. Sophie promptly stole second. When Kurys broke for third on the next pitch, the hitter, Betty “Moe” Trezza, singled sharply through the right side of the infield. Sophie rounded third, raced home, and hook-slid by the plate, barely avoiding the catcher’s tag. Racine won, 1-0, becoming the league’s 1946 champions.
Defensively, the Belles made some great plays. Edie, who batted clean-up but went 0-for-5 in the finale, made one outstanding catch that helped win the title. In a 1996 interview, Kurys recalled Perlick’s grab: “Rosie Gacioch was a fairly good hitter. She really nailed the ball, and I don’t know, Edie, whatever sense she had, sixth sense, or whatever, she just seemed to take off at the crack of the bat. Right at the last second, she turned around and leaped and caught the ball!”
Sophie concluded, “I can still see it, to this day. It was the most tremendous catch I’ve ever seen in my life, and it saved a home run.”
Perlick enjoyed another good season in 1947, averaging .239, good for eleventh among league regulars. She also produced 39 RBI (eleventh) and made the All-Star team—an accomplishment she repeated the following year. One of her biggest games came on July 15, 1947, when the first-place Belles defeated the last-place Comets, 5-0. Edie jump-started her team by leading off with a home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Maddy English followed with a triple to left field, and Irene Hickson sacrificed her home. In the fifth, right-hander Anna May Hutchison, who racked up her fourteenth win in twenty starts, led off with a single. Sophie Kurys singled to right, and Moe Trezza sacrificed the runners along. Lavonne “Pepper” Paire popped a single over second base to score Hutchinson and move Kurys to third. Perlick, the next batter, drove a screaming liner over third base that looked like a certain home run, but the ball bounced and touched the bleachers, making it a ground rule double, thus giving the hustling left fielder her second RBI for the night.
In 1947, Perlick enjoyed a season highlight during the Shaughnessy Playoffs. Racine finished the regular season with a 65-47 record, tied for second with the Grand Rapids Chicks. The Muskegon Lassies finished first with a 69-43 ledger, and Racine drew Muskegon for the first round. The Belles bumped off the Lassies, four games to one, thanks in part to superb pitching by Anna Hutchison. In the championship, however, Racine fell to Grand Rapids in seven games, losing the title as they won it the year before—by a 1-0 score.
Still, Racine and Perlick played clutch ball. The first three games went into extra innings, with the Belles and Hutchison claiming the opener in twelve innings, 2-0. The Chicks, however, came back to win game two, 3-2 in ten innings, and game three, 2-1 in ten frames. Behind the fine pitching of Mildred Earp, Grand Rapids won game four, 3-0, and needed only one more victory for the championship.
In that fifth game, Perlick connected for one of her greatest hits, slugging a three-run home run in the first inning. Behind Hutchison’s clutch pitching and the Belles’ fine defense, the lead lasted for a 3-2 victory. Then Racine won game six, 4-3, breaking a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth. But in game seven, Earp beat Hutchison in a tough pitcher’s duel, 1-0.
The league’s history of the playoffs praised Racine: “The work of pitcher Anna Hutchinson for the Belles was exceptional, and it is hard to conceive that Racine could have made any progress without her strong right arm. Edie Perlick, hustling left fielder, led her team at bat and helped to keep them in the series with her stick work and fine defensive play. And especially worthy of mention was the heroic work of Irene Hickson, peppery [catcher] of the Belles, who played throughout the twelve-game series with a broken finger on her throwing hand, to give stirring and convincing demonstrations of why girls baseball as played in the All-American Girls Baseball League has earned itself a place among of the top attractions of the nation.”
Perlick returned and played three more seasons for Racine, hitting .243 (seventh in the league), .255 (seventh), and .247 (twenty-ninth) in 1948, 1949, and 1950, respectively. By June 10, 1949, she was leading the league with a .344 mark. Doris Sams, the pitcher-turned-outfielder who was voted Player of the Year in 1947 and 1949 with Muskegon, later won the 1949 batting title for regulars with a .279 average. Although she lacked the plate appearances to win the crown, Jean Faut, ace pitcher of the South Bend Blue Sox, recorded the league’s best average, hitting .291 in 117 at-bats. Also, Perlick tied for fifth with Rockford’s Dorothy Kamenshek, as both averaged .255.
Perlick made the All-Star team again in 1948. Compiling statistics for the annual Major League Baseball, Don Black wrote, “Edythe Perlick is on the [All-Star] team for the second straight year. The managers like her on the basis of her steady all-around play. She is always a consistent and timely hitter and no outfielder excels her in defensive play. Team spirit and hustle are a big factor. She holds the lifetime record for runs-batted-in with 292 in six years.”
The Belles won no more championships, but Perlick usually led the club in RBIs. From 1948 through 1950, she drove in 51, 41, and 59 runs, and she continued to sparkle in the outfield. Her defensive prowess was illustrated, for example, on July 18, 1948, at South Bend’s Playland Park, when Jean Faut and the Blue Sox blanked the Belles, 5-0.
According to sports editor Jim Costin of the South Bend Tribune, the game showed the quality of women’s baseball: “Last night’s game was another beautifully played contest, fielding gems on both sides. Edythe Perlick, Racine’s left fielder, was the principal thorn in the side of the Blue Sox, making two great catches and each was at the expense of Betty Wagoner. In the seventh, Perlick raced far to her right for a one-handed catch of Wagoner’s bid for a triple, and in the eighth she raced in, made a diving one-handed catch of Wagoner’s low liner, and doubled Jean Faut off third.”
After the 1950 season, Racine, facing declining attendance, lacked the financial resources to keep the club in town. The Belles moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where the franchise remained for two seasons. Perlick decided not to move with the team. Instead, she returned to Chicago and played fast-pitch softball for two years with the Admiral Music Maids of the semiprofessional National Girls Baseball League.
In September of 1952, soon to be thirty, Perlick left the game, got married, and began raising her daughter, Susan. The marriage later failed, and Edie went to work for A.B. Dick, a Chicago corporation that made parts for IBM. She worked on the drill presses and milling machines until 1969. Taking her daughter and moving to Pompano Beach, Florida, Perlick worked for the Harris Corporation, where she retired after twenty-three years of service. The former All-American was always proud of Sue and, later, of her two grandsons, Jeff and Danny.
Perlick, an unpretentious person, explained that the idea of women playing baseball during the 1940s was so unusual that after her pro career ended, she had nobody to talk with about her AAGPBL experiences. As a result, those memorable times were pushed into the background. When playing for Racine, the Belles, like the other All-American players, roomed in private homes, and they were heroines to local fans. Also, Perlick was a good teammate on the diamond, but rather a loner away from the ballpark. For example, she did not enjoy socializing with teammates after games. Later, Edie was a single mother who worked, and after retiring, she endured health problems. Partly as a result, the Chicago native never attended any of the AAGPBL Reunions.
When she reflected on those years, Edie recalled that many of the players attended a nearby Catholic church, where Father Bob Enders was the priest. After a couple of years, when she began working in Racine during the offseason, she got to know Father Bob through her local family: “When I played ball, I always prayed not to be the best player but to be one of the best, and I hope I achieved that goal. You know, our team was sort of a religious group. Most of the girls on the team as well as our dear manager, Leo ‘Pop’ Murphy, were Catholics, and we went regularly to Mass. You can imagine that many prayers went up for some of those games.”
“Edie Perlick was a very good ballplayer,” Fort Wayne Daisy ace right-hander Dottie (Wiltse) Collins recalled in 1997. “She was always in the background and never got much credit, because Racine had stars like Sophie Kurys and ‘Maddy’ English. Edie was a good one, and she was fast. But she was a very quiet person who did not broadcast herself.”
Edythe Perlick, who passed away on February 27, 2003, was one of the many first-class, independent-minded, talented women who typified the high caliber of play of the All-American League. Growing up in Chicago and dreaming about playing professional ball when the league was created in 1943, she was a gifted all-around athlete who could swing a big bat and do an excellent defensive job in the field. Based on her eight stellar seasons as an All-American, Edie Perlick deserved the recognition for her many baseball achievements that she finally enjoyed later in life.
The best sources of information about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League include the Players Association web site, http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm; the Center for History in South Bend, Indiana, which holds the archives of the AAGPBL; the Joyce Sports Research Collection at the University of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library, which has an excellent collection of AAGPBL materials; and the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, New York, has a useful collection of files on the AAGPBL, including a folder on Perlick. The best book on the All-American League was written by Merrie Fidler, The Origins and History of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2006). However, this article was based in part on newspapers and other sources as well as my collection of letters from Edie (Perlick) Keating, particularly those dated November 15, 1996, December 23, 1996, January 20, 1997, February 16, 1997, June 17, 1997, August 4, 1997, and September 22, 1997. Also see “Edie Perlick Keating” in the AAGPBL newsletter, Touching Bases, May 2001, p. 31. Interviews included Sophie Kurys, July 19 and December 3, 1996; Edie Keating, November 12, 1997; and Dottie (Wiltse) Collins, July 2, 1997.