SABR

Sophie Kurys

This article was written by Jim Sargent.

Sophie Mary Kurys, born into a Ukrainian-Polish family in Flint, Michigan, on May 14, 1925, grew up during the Great Depression and developed a lifelong love of sports, especially baseball and golf. Starting in 1943 and playing through 1950 (and briefly in 1952), she became one of the all-time great players of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). A four-time All-Star, Kurys enjoyed her best season in 1946. Voted Player of the Year by the league’s managers, Kurys hit .286, third highest in the league, and she led the circuit in runs scored with 117 and stolen bases with an all-time professional baseball record 201 (in 203 attempts). Capping her finest hour, Sophie led her team, the Racine Belles, to the All-American League’s Shaughnessy Playoff Championship, and she scored the winning run in the final playoff game.

Kurys, at 5-feet-5 and 120 pounds, was a good hitter and, thanks in part to her speed and talent, was the league’s best baserunner. Knowledge of her skill at running the bases and sliding smoothly preceded her, and her reputation unnerved many pitchers. An intuitive thinker with quick reflexes and a sharp eye at the plate, she drew many bases on balls, averaging more than 64 walks per season from 1943 through 1950. Usually batting leadoff for Racine, she scored more runs than any other Belle. Also, Kurys led the league in steals from 1944, when she swiped 166 bases, through 1950, when she totaled 120 steals.

Few players could match Kurys’ understanding of opposing pitchers and their moves or her skill and aggressiveness on the basepaths, and, indeed, few could match her defensive skills in the field. An all-around athlete who excelled in track and field, softball, basketball, and volleyball as a schoolgirl, she became Racine’s regular second baseman by 1944. In 1945 Racine’s new manager, Leo Murphy, moved Sophie to the leadoff spot, and there she remained.

Savvy, intense, and experienced, Kurys was named to the league’s All-Star team in 1946, 1947, 1948, and 1949 (the league didn’t choose postseason All-Star teams in the war years). One of the Belles’ leaders, Sophie, a popular favorite in Racine and a star who was respected and applauded by spectators in every league city, enjoyed a remarkable career that in many ways epitomized the talent, enthusiasm, determination, and low-key demeanor of the women of the AAGPBL.

Kurys’ sports odyssey began in Flint, where, as one of five children, she grew up in a working-class family. Her father was Ukrainian, her mother was Polish, and both were hard workers. An attractive, serious brunette with grayish-green eyes and a strong work ethic, Sophie liked almost every sport, including basketball, volleyball, baseball, track, bowling, and, years later, golf. She loved baseball, but she excelled at any competitive activity.

Sophie attended All-Saints Catholic School, Emerson Junior High, and Flint Northern High School. In 1939, at age 14, she won Flint’s Mott Decathlon by racking up 4,693 points out of a possible 5,000. That summer she also played shortstop and third base on a championship fast-pitch softball team, and she played city softball for three more seasons.

Times were tough in America during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and Flint, Michigan’s second leading center of automobile manufacturing behind Detroit, was particularly hard hit by economic difficulties. Sophie worked part-time for the National Youth Administration as a teenager. Later, she clerked in a business office and worked for a dry-cleaning establishment. She continued to play sports in her spare time, but she also worked to help support her family.

By late 1942, with World War II causing a manpower drain and the Office of War Information saying that Major League Baseball might have to be suspended for the duration, the All-American Girls Soft Ball League (the name also evolved over the years) was created in Chicago. For Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley and his top associates, the idea was to field a league of teams made up of young (ages 15 to 25), attractive, and athletic girls who could play a hybrid of fast-pitch softball and baseball. The All-American League would be a patriotic alternative to men’s baseball as well as a morale booster with sex appeal. The league’s girls faced a nearly impossible ideal: They were expected to look and dress like fashion models, but to play ball like Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams. Indeed, most who competed in the soon-popular circuit proved that women could play the national pastime with skill and femininity.

In April 1943 scout John Gottselig, later Racine’s manager, came to Flint, and Sophie tried out. She recalled, “In the movie A League of Their Own, the windows in the gymnasium were not protected, but at Berston Field House, they had bars on the windows. Berston had two gyms, one where the girls played and one where the boys played. So I didn’t break any windows, because the windows were protected!”

The scout picked three of us, and he sent me a contract. My brother was in the Army, and I asked my sister, ‘Well, what do you think? Do you think I should go?’ She said, ‘If they paid me money to go play ball, I certainly would!’ Then my brother sent a letter and said, ‘Go ahead and go. You love to play. Why don’t you go?’”

Her father was reluctant, but her mother gave the go-ahead. A few weeks later, Sophie rode the train to Chicago for more tryouts, or “auditions.” The spring camp lasted from May 17 to May 26, 1943, for more than 200 white softball stars (the league broke no racial or ethnic barriers before Cuban players first arrived in 1948) from various states and Canadian provinces. Under chilly conditions in the Windy City, the girls had to dress in feminine attire at the hotel, run through workouts at Wrigley Field during the day, and, at night, attend sessions of the “Charm School” supervised by Helena Rubenstein, one of Chicago’s famous beauty experts.

Recalled Kurys, “We all tried out at Wrigley Field. They had big-league managers, and they said at ‘allocation day’ they would pick the group that they thought would be good enough ballplayers to make the league. We stayed at the Belmont Hotel, which was just about three blocks from Wrigley Field. We walked to Wrigley Field, and we walked back. We didn’t have our uniforms yet, so we were all wearing slacks and sweatshirts, or whatever. We had to be dressed in skirts and sweaters and walk to Wrigley, and we’d change clothes there and practice.

“At the Belmont Hotel, we never rode the elevators. We had to walk up and down the stairs – it was all part of our training. (She laughs) On a certain day, they said when we came downstairs, our names would be on this chalkboard. We came down the stairs that morning, and I looked to see if my name was there. I saw my name under Racine. I thought, ‘Racine? God, where’s Racine?’ (She laughs) I never heard of Racine.

“So we left a little bit early, because it had been raining in Chicago. They decided that we would go to our respective hometowns and continue our training, and get familiar with the field. We went to Racine on the trains, these ‘els.’ There was a North Shore and a South Shore [elevated train]. The South Shore went to South Bend, and the North Shore went to Racine and Kenosha and Milwaukee. We took the train, and we were met by the people from the town, and the mayor. They had a rabbi from the Kiwanis Club meet us. Then we had lunch the next day at the Kiwanis to meet the townspeople.

“They really treated us royally. We were a family, because we stayed in their homes. They had allocated two girls to a home. As it was, along with my roommate and I, these people had three boys. They would go to all the ballgames. Of course, the boys would always give us tips on playing ball. ‘Maddy’ English and I stayed with the Thielens. They would go to the ballgames. I think the tickets were about 75 cents. We were part of their entertainment, because I don’t think TV had come into being yet.”

Kurys soon loved Racine and the Belles’ fans: “We really drew. First, they came out because they were curious to see whether we could play ball. When they saw that we could, we drew very well, until the waning years. My last year in Racine was 1950. By then there was everything else to do, so I guess we weren’t entertainment any more, or maybe not as much, anyhow.”

Sophie, who turned 18 one day later, signed a contract for $50 a week on May 13, 1943, according to the Flint Journal. Her departure – like many of the girls, it was Sophie’s first-ever trip outside her home state – would hurt her local team, the one sponsored by Merchants and Mechanics Bank. For the 1942 season, Kurys had batted .415 for the CIO Autos team.

The new All-American Girls Soft Ball League with its unique blend of softball and baseball rules started at the end of May. The 108-game schedule ran from May 30 to August 29. In later years, schedules would begin around May 20-22.

For the opening season, the league’s new ball would be similar to a softball, that is, 12 inches in circumference with white seams. But almost yearly the “Girls’ Pro League,” as newspapers often called it, gradually reduced the size of the ball: 11½ inches in 1944-1945, 11 inches in 1946-1947, 10⅜ inches in 1948, and, from mid-1949 through mid-1954, 10 inches. Players used the regulation-sized 9¼-inch baseball in the second half of the 1954 season. Also, the 10-inch ball introduced in July 1949 had red seams and a cork center, allowing batters to hit the smaller ball harder and longer.

Compared with softball, the league followed mostly baseball principles:

  • Teams used nine players, instead of ten in softball.
  • Runners could lead off base and steal, but leading off was not allowed in softball.
  • Players used Louisville Slugger baseball bats, not softball bats.
  • Pitchers began with one foot, not both, on the pitching rubber.

Due to using increasingly smaller hardballs, the league moved the pitcher’s mound back in increments from 40 feet to 60 feet by mid-1954. At the same time the basepaths were expanded, also in steps, from 65 feet in 1943 (softball basepaths were 60 feet) to 75 feet in 1953, adding 10 more to make 85 feet in July 1954. Further, the AAGPBL required underhand pitching for the first three seasons, allowed underhand and side-arm deliveries in 1946, shifted to side-arm pitching for 1947, and adopted overhand hurling in 1948.

Led by manager John Gottselig, a former Chicago Blackhawks star who knew more about hockey than softball, baseball, or women, the Belles fielded a very good team. The scrappy Sophie mainly played second base. But she began in the outfield, because Claire Schillace, a regular flychaser from Chicago and one of the league’s first four recruits, was a teacher who played only on weekends until the school year ended. When the regular at second base suffered an injury, Kurys took over the position, and later she won the starting job.

By June 1943 Sophie, writing letters to friends in Flint, commented that “everyone [in Racine] is friendly and their faces beam when they find we’re members of the softball team. Our manager, Johnny Gottselig, is treated like a king.” According to the Flint Journal, she said the “yellow and brown uniform is O.K.,” and she particularly liked “the red fingertip jacket they furnish us.”

Kurys enjoyed a very good season in 1943. In 106 games she hit .271, tying for sixth best in the league with three others, Kenosha’s Shirley Jameson and Ann Harnett and Rockford’s Dottie Kamenshek. Sophie collected 104 hits, scored 60 runs, and batted in 59 runners. By comparison, Gladys Davis of Rockford, the only regular on any team to bat over .280, paced the loop with a .332 average. Davis rapped 116 hits, scored 78 runs, and produced 58 RBIs.

At first the league was composed of four teams (with 15 players each) in midsized industrial cities near Chicago: the Racine Belles, the Rockford Peaches, the South Bend Blue Sox, and the Kenosha Comets. Kurys recalled the league's early playoffs (matching the first-half season winner versus the second-half winner) being called the “Scholarship Series,” because part of the game receipts would be used to send a girl from the winning host city to college.

In an all-Wisconsin playoff that September, first-half winner Racine (20-15 in first half, 25-23 in second half, and 45-38 overall) beat second-half champ Kenosha (16-19, 33-21, and 49-40) in three straight games. Kurys excelled, as she had all year. For the three-game series the Belles’ cleanup hitter batted .300, and she recorded four assists and 14 putouts at second base.

“The strange part of it was that Kenosha’s star pitcher was ‘Nickie’ Nicol Fox,” Kurys recollected, adding that Nicol got married to a Canadian named Fox after the 1944 season. “We beat her the first game that she pitched, and then we never beat her again all year. And they would say, ‘Well, Nicol is pitching tonight. All she has to do is put her glove down on the mound and the Belles are beaten.’

“In the playoffs, we beat her. I think we beat her two games, which was unusual. Because Nickie would knock our socks off every time she pitched. But we got our revenge in that series.”

In 1944 the All-American Girls Professional Ball League (the term Ball became Baseball in 1945) expanded to six teams by adding the Milwaukee Chicks (the franchise moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945) and the Minneapolis Millerettes (the franchise moved to Fort Wayne in 1945 and became the Daisies). Racine did not make the playoffs, finishing in fourth place in both halves of the season. But in 1945, when the AAGPBL began the Shaughnessy Playoffs (first place versus third and second place versus fourth in a best-of-five playoff, and winner versus winner in the best-of-seven series), Racine placed fourth but lost to Fort Wayne in the semifinal round, three games to one.

Kurys returned to Flint during the offseason and worked at the components division of General Motors, A.C. Sparkplug (later known as Flint East, the complex was razed in 2010). On May 6, 1944, speaking to sportswriter John Steve of the Flint Journal before leaving for her second season, Sophie said, “The game as we play it is a lot faster and more interesting than softball, because baserunners are allowed to take leads off bases, and there are more stolen bases.” She added that a Racine sportswriter who doubted the effectiveness of girls playing baseball took three at-bats against Belles’ pitcher Mary Nesbitt, a southpaw whose repertoire featured a knuckleball. The writer, said Kurys, struck out three straight times.

In 1944 Kurys hit .244 with seven doubles, three triples, and one home run. Also, she led the league in stolen bases, setting a new record of 166. It was her first of seven straight seasons to top the circuit in steals. Sophie also led in most runs scored with 87, and she ranked second with 60 RBIs. Further, she drew 69 walks and was hit by the pitcher seven times.

In 1945 the Belles got a new manager, Leo Murphy, who enjoyed a 25-year career in baseball. Murphy understood that Kurys, with her speed and daring, should bat in the leadoff position, thus giving her more opportunities to get on base, steal, and score. Sophie later remarked, “Johnny Gottselig had me all over the place. Leo Murphy got me to be the leadoff hitter.”

On Sunday, July 1, 1945, the Flint Journal reported that Sophie remained on the bench, having suffered a knee injury from her “too ambitious sliding.” When she left Saturday’s game, Sophie was hitting only .183, but she ranked third in stolen bases with 22 in 28 games. Before the injury, she set a league record by playing 248 straight games, a streak that began early in the 1943 season.

Kurys rebounded within two weeks. Overall, she averaged .239, tops for Racine and fifth-best among league regulars, with 74 of her 83 hits being singles. In addition, she totaled 69 walks, stole 115 bases, got hit by the pitcher five times, scored 73 runs, and led all second basemen in fielding at .968. Still, the Belles dropped to fourth in the six-team league with a 50-60 record.

Kurys produced a spectacular season in 1946, and, as a result, the league’s eight managers voted her Player of the Year. The Flint native tied for second in hitting at .286, the best mark to date for a Racine player. Sophie also displayed power, slugging five doubles, six triples, and three homers. She set five league records: most runs scored in a season, 117 (the second of six times she led the AAGPBL in that category); most stolen bases in a season, 201 (Fort Wayne’s Thelma “Tiby” Eisen was a distant second with 128); most walks in a season, 93; most runs scored in a game, five; and best fielding percentage at second base, .973.

As a baserunner, Sophie was quick to take advantage of a pitcher’s motion. An Olympic-quality athlete, she had the baseball instincts of a Ty Cobb or a Max Carey.

“It wasn't so much her speed,” Madeline English observed in 1996. “Sophie read the pitchers and took advantage of their different deliveries, and she took advantage of every mistake they made.”

Sophie also had a quick first step: “My big asset,” she recalled, “was a fast getaway.”

For Racine, however, the first postwar season came down to the Shaughnessy Playoffs. The Belles won first place with a league-best 74-38 record, won the semifinal round of playoffs by defeating the South Bend Blue Sox in four games, and won the AAGPBL crown by defeating the 1945 champions, the Rockford Peaches, four games to two.

Throughout the playoffs Kurys, 21, was the biggest star. She led all players in hitting, stealing bases, and scoring runs. But her most famous feat climaxed the final game. Hurling for Rockford, Carolyn Morris pitched no-hit ball for nine innings, but she lost the no-hitter because her team failed to score. Racine ace Joanne Winter won her fourth game of the playoffs (her third against Rockford), despite allowing 19 base runners – but she stranded all of them.

Winter, a hard-throwing right-hander whose record was 33-10 in 1946, scattered 13 hits, walked four, and hit one batter, while another batter reached base on an infield error. However, Joanne was tough in the clutch, pitching out of one jam after another.

Sophie recollected, “Bill Allington, of Rockford, was classified as one of the smartest managers in our league. I think they had about four squeeze plays. But he tried them with the bases loaded, and they just kept bunting the ball right at Joanne, and she’d just flip it to the catcher, because she didn’t have to tag the runner. It was a force at home. I think he tried that four times, and it didn’t work. Credit Joanne for that.”

Also, the Belles made some great catches, notably by left fielder Edythe “Edie” Perlick, right fielder Eleanor Dapkus, shortstop Moe Trezza, and first sacker Marnie Danhauser, who handled 22 chances flawlessly.

Sophie especially remembered Perlick’s catch in left field: “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! 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.”

In the bottom of the 14th frame, facing righty Millie Deegan, who had shut out Racine since the tenth inning, Winter struck out, but Kurys singled through the left side. With Trezza at the plate, Sophie stole second. She led off the base, and, as she later explained, “Betty hit to right field, through the infield. It was sharply hit, and Rosie Gacioch was playing shallow. I had started to steal third, and Leo Murphy, our manager, just kept waving me to go, winding his arm up, and ‘Go! Go!’ When I slid into home, I slid away from the tag. The throw was coming from right field. That was a close play, but I was safe, and we won the game.”

Speaking in 1996, Moe Trezza described that same play: “With Sophie on base, Rockford became very tense. Sophie was great at working the pitchers. Deegan, the Rockford pitcher, tried to keep Sophie close to first base. Sophie’s speed and keen instinct allowed her to steal second. I can’t remember what the count on me was. Sophie had a big lead off second. Leo Murphy, our manager, gave me the hit sign.

“The ball came in and I could see Sophie going as I swung, like a hit-and-run. Being a late swinger, I usually hit through the middle or to the right side of the field. As I ran to first, I saw the ball go through the infield, so I never saw Sophie slide across home plate. The screams of the fans told me once again, Sophie came through for Racine. The team jumped on Sophie and I got lost in the crowd. I do remember a fan on the first base line, shaking my hand. He put a $5 bill in it and before I realized what he did, he disappeared.”

The 5,630 fans who paid to see that playoff finale got their money’s worth. They also boosted Racine’s attendance to 102,413 for the year, setting an all-time franchise record.

Kurys contributed four more outstanding seasons to the Belles, and she made the AAGPBL All-Star teams from 1946 through 1949. Always a strong hitter, in 1950 she belted seven home runs to tie for the circuit’s lead with Rockford’s Eleanor Callow, the league’s career home-run leader. The Belles remained strong in 1947 and 1948, but they never again won a championship.

Racine kept its core of players through the 1950 season, but the Belles aged together. The team finished third of eight teams in 1947 (65-47 record), first in the Western Division (76-49) in the ten-team season of 1948, seventh (45-65) of eight teams in 1949, and sixth (50-60) of eight teams in 1950. Anna May Hutchinson’s record of 27-13 and Joanne Winter’s mark of 22-13 topped the Belles’ pitchers in 1947, Doris Barr’s 14-12 ledger was third, but Jane Jacobs was fourth with a 2-6 record. In 1948, as Racine paced the five-team West, Winter led the Belles with a 25-12 record, Eleanor Dapkus produced a fine 24-9 ledger, but rookie Jetty Vincent ranked third at 5-2, and Hutchinson, her arm worn out, fell to 3-6. In 1949 Hutchinson was traded, newcomer Erma Bergmann helped Racine with her 11-14 record, Winter made a comeback with an 11-13 mark, Eleanor Dapkus was 12-11, and Irene Kotowicz went 8-15. Finally in 1950, Dapkus paced the Belles with her 17-11 mark, Winter posted a 9-11 ledger, and Bergmann was 11-14, but no other Racine hurler won more than four games. The franchise had a lineup of good players, but Battle Creek, Michigan, bought the Belles for the 1951 season.

Asked how the decreasing ball size (10⅜ inch in 1948 and 10-inch in mid-1949) and the switch to overhand pitching in 1948 affected her, Sophie liked the shift toward the national pastime: “In baseball, you have more time to see the ball coming from the pitcher, but in softball, the pitcher is closer, and you don’t have as much time to see the ball. You’re really got to be ready to hit it, or forget it – the ball’s past you before you can get the bat off your shoulder. I liked baseball better, because I could see the ball better, because in softball the ball comes at you too fast.”

In mid-July 1950, before a Racine-Kenosha contest, the Belles sponsored a “Sophie Kurys Night” to honor one of the league’s greatest players. Already the career stolen-base leader, Sophie was still going strong.

Kurys’ lifetime statistics for the All-American League can be seen in the table below, with boldface representing categories in which she led the AAGPBL in a given season, and an asterisk (*) showing all-time league records. Not only did she pace the league in runs scored six times, totaling 688 over her nine-year career, but she set a career stolen-base record of 1,114, topping the circuit from 1944 through 1950, always sliding (with thighs bandaged) in a skirted uniform!

Year Games AB Runs Hits RBI HR SB BA
1943 106 383 60 104 59 3 44 0.271
1944 116 394 87 96 60 1 166 0.244
1945 105 347 73 83 15 1 115 0.239
1946 113 392 117* 112 33 3 201* 0.286
1947 112 432 81 99 18 2 142 0.229
1948 124 444 97 112 22 3 172 0.252
1949 111 416 70 102 26 2 137 0.245
1950 110 424 95 130 42 7 120 0.307
1952 17 66 8 21 0 0 17 0.318
Life 914 3298 688 859 279 22 1,114* 0.260

 

Asked about the honor of being Player of the Year in 1946, Kurys, modest, straightforward, but often reticent, replied, “I didn’t have a clue that I was going to be picked. Don Black, who was our PR man in Racine, wrote me a letter and asked me to give some kind of history of my playing days in Flint. I thought it was just for the Yearbook. He worked for Western Printing, and Western Printing wrote the Dell Books. He wrote the ‘Flint Flash’ stuff.

“That would have been a clue that I was being considered, but I never thought about it. Then when I was picked, well, I have a little bit of pride about that, because it was the managers that did the picking, and most of them were major-league managers.”

Racine, however, had to give up the franchise due to declining fan turnout. Figures for all seasons are not available, but after drawing more than 100,000 in 1946, the Belles drew 79,994, still a good attendance, in 1948. Paid admissions, however, fell to 44,912 in 1949 and hit rock-bottom with about 29,000 in 1950. Sophie and Joanne Winter switched to professional fast-pitch softball in Chicago, where they sparked the Admiral Music Maids to the 1951 championship of the National Girls Softball League, actually a professional softball circuit.

Kurys made a brief comeback with the All-American League in 1952, partly because the Music Maids wouldn’t pay the salary she desired. But the owner changed his mind after Sophie hit .318 during 17 games in Battle Creek, and she returned to play three more years of Chicago softball.

Having worked in the offseason at Racine’s Apex Machine Producing Company, a manufacturer of automotive and airplane parts, Sophie continued in the business, became a partner, and finally retired in 1972. She moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, completed her GED, and attended a community college on a golf scholarship. Afterward, she enjoyed many years competing in golf.

“Not only was Sophie a super player and the master of the slide,” Edie (Perlick) Keating remembered, “but she was also a great friend. I believe our team was the only one which had most of the same players for our eight years in the league. We all liked each other and became lasting friends.”

“Sophie isn’t upbeat, just down-to-earth and very family-oriented,” Maddy English recalled about her former roommate. “She always worked hard at baseball, and she sent money to her family. She’s a real person. There’s nothing phony about her.”

“Sophie Kurys was a tense and serious player who gave the team spark and inspiration,” Moe Trezza recollected.

In 1986 Kurys was proud to be inducted into the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame. She was more pleased in 1988 when the National Baseball Hall of Fame opened a permanent display on Women in Baseball. An advocate for women's opportunities in sports, Sophie was impressed to see women accomplish so much in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Writing for the Fourth Edition of Total Baseball in 1995, Barbara Gregorich and Debra A. Shattuck selected Kurys as one of the top 20 players in the history of the All-American League. Observed Gregorich and Shattuck about the All-Star second sacker: “Sophie Kurys was nothing short of sensational in getting on base, stealing bases, and scoring runs.”

When the movie A League of Their Own hit silver screens in 1992, players like Kurys were interviewed and asked to compare the movie to their league. Sophie liked the movie, wrote Carol Azizian of the Flint Journal on July 3, 1992. The former Racine star said actresses like Geena Davis, who portrayed Dottie Hinson, and Lori Petty, who played her younger sister Kit Keller, did fine jobs. As for ballplaying, Sophie said the actresses did “an adequate job. If you’ve never seen us play, you wouldn’t be able to compare. We were super good ballplayers.”

Comical scenes in the movie such as the Charm School showed the girls sipping tea, putting on makeup, and walking with books on their heads to learn proper posture. As in the movie, the Belles used to pull pranks on the manager, Sophie said, recalling one instance where they hid his pants in the chaperone’s locker. But few girls drank and caroused at all-night bars, as some Peaches’ players did in the movie. “None of us [Belles] drank in 1943. We didn’t know anything about that stuff.” A few years down the road, she added, “we would have a beer after the game.”

The “Girls of Summer,” reminiscent of the movie’s ending, were still getting together for annual reunions. They renewed friendships, rehashed old stories, caught up on news about their former teammates, played in a golf tournament, and enjoyed a banquet.

“Some of my best memories,” Sophie observed in 2011, “were playing in the league and for the Belles, and winning the first championship in our league in 1943. That was awesome. The next great thing was winning the championship against Rockford in 1946, and scoring the winning run after 14 innings. Being chosen Most Valuable Player in 1946 was very special to me, because I was chosen by ex-major leaguers who were the managers.”

On occasion Sophie Kurys, the Belle of the ball game, spoke to writers like me about the once-in-a-lifetime All-American Girls Baseball League. Always dedicated to her family and friends, the quiet heroine died in Scottsdale, Arizona, on February 17, 2013, at the age of 87.


Sources

An earlier, less complete version of my Sophie Kurys article appeared as “The Flint Flash: The Premier Base Stealer of the All-American Girls Baseball League,” in Oldtyme Baseball News, volume 8, issue 4 (1997), 30-31. Based on interviews with Kurys in 1996 and 2011, I included material about her in my book, We Were the All-American Girls: Interviews With Players of the AAGPBL (McFarland, 2013), 58-66. Sophie’s statistics come from the summary sheet prepared on a yearly cumulative basis for the All-American League by the Howe Bureau, copy in AAGPBL Files in the Center for History, South Bend, Indiana. Also see the chapter on Kurys in Barbara Gregorich, Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball (San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993), 122-130. The newspaper story about the AAGPBL’s championship game between Racine and Rockford on September 16, 1946, appeared in the Racine Journal-Times, September 17, 1946, copy in Kurys File at National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York. Several years ago the librarian for the Flint Journal sent me the newspaper’s clipping file on Kurys. The Journal’s articles are identified in the text, including Carol Azizian’s interview story, “Recalling Her Real ‘League,’” July 3, 1992. Also, I received detailed letters about Kurys and the AAGPBL from Betty Trezza and Edie (Perlick) Keating, both in November 1996, and I interviewed Madeline English by telephone at the same time. Diana Star Helmer’s book Belles of the Ballpark (Millbrook Press, 1993), though written primarily for young people, provides useful insights into the Racine team over the years. As with all former All-Americans, the AAGPBL web site has a wealth of information about teams, records, players, and more; see http://aagpbl.org/.

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