SABR

Amy Dunkleberger Jurasinski

This article was written by Brian Engelhardt.

Amy Dunkleberger Jurasinski’s one season with the South Bend Blue Sox of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League ended prematurely in August of 1946 when her husband, Mark Shuman, and his mother went to South Bend, Indiana, seeking to talk her into returning to their home in Mohrsville, Pennsylvania. Amy (who played in the AAGPBL as Amy Shuman) was buoyed by a telegram from her father telling her to “stick to your guns,” and for a week she told her husband that she wanted to finish out the final six weeks of the season.

After several days of attempted diplomacy, Mark took a different tack. Amy related that he showed up unannounced at a Blue Sox practice and “(J)ust picked me up …[and] practically threw me over the locker-room fence. [He] told me to get all my belongings – that I was going home.” Times being different in 1946 than they are in the 21st century, Amy returned to Mohrsville – with a broken heart. “I cried all the way home and then for another week after I got back,” she told the author in 2006. “He was just like the big boss and, you know, at that time you listened to your husband.” Setting her jaw firmly, she added, “But I wouldn’t listen nowadays. They can’t get away with that now.”

The abrupt departure from the Blue Sox ended a dream that started when Amy Dunkleberger was a young girl and played baseball every day in the pasture on her family’s farm outside Mohrsville (in the Pennsylvania Dutch country northwest of Philadelphia). Describing how, “All the girls and the boys from the neighborhood used to come to our field and we’d play almost every day,” she added, “That’s all we ever did was play ball every day in the field.”

Born on March 10, 1925, in Mohrsville to Earl and Pearl (Gerber) Dunkleberger, Amy began to play in the daily game in the pasture when she was 8 years old, joining her two older sisters, Dorothy and Elaine, and her older brother, Charles, The number of Dunklebergers in the game grew when Amy’s younger sisters, Doris and Gladys, joined in later. Amy’s father encouraged his children to play and work on their baseball, sometimes playing himself when he could get away from running the farm. Her mother was not as enthusiastic about the game; she “would get mad when we played all day and not do the chores she wanted us to do,” Amy recalled.

When Amy and her sisters grew older, they took their baseball skills out of the family pasture to the Mohrsville Dodgers, one of several local girls’ softball teams. Behind the play of the Dunkleberger sisters, the Dodgers won the 1940 Schuylkill County League championship (even though Mohrsville is in Berks County). Amy’s oldest sister, Dorothy, was the only daughter not playing softball. Their mother had died of cancer in 1939, and while she was ill, Dorothy took over her farm chores, as well as household responsibilities in raising the other five children.

The younger sisters moved from the Dodgers to the Diamond Lil’s, a softball team in nearby Leesport. (Coach Lloyd “Scoop” Clemens’s, son Doug played in the major leagues in the 1960s.) Amy, then a ninth-grader, was named Rookie of the Year. Described by Coach Clemens as “tireless performers,” the Dunkleberger sisters provided the backbone of the team – Amy in the outfield or at first base, Elaine in center field, Doris pitching, and Gladys catching. (“Gladys could throw the ball to second in the air from a sitting position behind home plate,” Amy said.) A teammate, shortstop Fern Shollenberger, played in the AAGPBL for nine years with Kenosha and Kalamazoo. The Diamond Lil’s were one of the better girls’ softball teams in Pennsylvania, though they usually were defeated in the late rounds of state tournaments by the Kaufmann Maids, of nearby Reading, who dominated Pennsylvania softball for a ten-year period..

Amy’s brother Charles was a talented high-school player who did well enough in local recreational leagues to get a professional tryout in the late 1940s. A highlight of his baseball career was playing in an exhibition game August 1946 in Reading against the St. Louis Cardinals in which he had a single, one of only seven hits his team got as they fell to the Cardinals 12-1 An uncle, Charles Dunkleberger, was the longtime baseball coach at Reading High School.

 

After graduating from Ontelaunee High School in 1942, Amy worked for the Reading Company and continued to excel on the softball diamond. In 1943 she and her sisters rejoined the Mohrsville Dodgers. At a game in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1946, they were spotted by a scout for the AAGPBL. The scout was so impressed with the team’s talent that he invited Amy, Doris, and Gladys along with two other players to come to a league tryout to be held in a few weeks in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

But first Amy had to resolve one complication. Her husband returned home from the Navy just before Amy was to leave for the tryouts and didn’t want her to play in the AAGPBL, much less go to the tryouts. Amy had married Mark in 1944 while he was serving in the Navy. According to Amy, they were married at Shuman’s insistence in South Carolina immediately before he was to ship out. Amy had gone to South Carolina to see him off; she had no idea that he would want to get married then. Although she at the age of 19 had misgivings, she ultimately agreed to go through with the ceremony. No member of Amy’s family was in attendance. The only person present besides the couple and the justice of the peace performing the ceremony was the groom’s mother.

When Shuman found out that Amy wanted to go to Pascagoula, Amy recalled, “He said I was not allowed to go to the tryout but I bugged him to let me go for three weeks and promised him if I did make the tryouts I would come home anyway.” At the same time, Amy’s father encouraged her and told Shuman to “let Amy go.”

Ultimately, Amy was able to go when she told Shuman that she was just going to see what the tryouts were like, then come home. Mohrsville teammate Fern Shollenberger, who like Amy had been recently married, also had a husband who was not happy that she was going to tryouts, and made a similar promise to her husband. Amy related, “Fern and I both agreed that if we made the teams, we weren’t coming back.” In all, four of the Mohrsville players – Amy, her sister Doris, Shollenberger and Dawn Miller – boarded a train in Reading bound for the tryouts in Pascagoula. Although they wouldn’t be paid unless they made a team, the train fare (including the luxury of sleeper berths) and their meal money were at the expense of the AAGPBL.

Upon their arrival in Pascagoula the women were assigned to former wartime barracks and joined about 200 other players trying out. After two weeks of playing, cutdowns began. “They took 20 girls every day,” Amy recalled. “Every girl hit ten balls and fielded ten balls.” With her muscular 5-foot 6-inch, 140-pound frame, molded by hard work on the farm, Amy showed power in the tryouts. One of the drills each player had to go through was hitting ten balls pitched by a coach. Amy described how the coach pitching to her “put them right over the plate,” and she “really sailed them right out. I hit them really. … I was a lot stronger than a lot of the girls, and I could really hit a ball further than they. And when it came to fielding, I didn’t miss anything.”

Amy made the cut. The coaches called out the names of the successful players. “When I heard my name, I almost fell over, I was so happy,” Amy said. Fern Shollenberger also was picked. Amy described how her sister Doris became homesick, and that “Every time I saw her she was miserable and wanted to go home.” Doris was released from her contract and returned to Mohrsville. Amy’s sister Gladys was finishing high school at that time and had intended to try out, but decided not to when Doris returned.

Amy signed her contract in the presence of the AAGPBL’s president, Max Carey. She recalled with a laugh that she had no idea he had been a star player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Carey was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1961.

Amy was placed on the South Bend Blue Sox, who played exhibition games on their way north in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. (Fern Shollenberger was assigned to Kenosha.) Although she was happy with her salary, $65 a week, Amy was upset with her limited playing time in the exhibitions. “Since I was a rookie I only got to play in one or two innings,” she said. Most of her at-bats resulted in fly balls that were caught, she said, adding, with some pride, “I never struck out.” A left-hander, she usually played first base.

Amy continued to play sparingly when the Blue Sox reached South Bend and the regular season started. The team finished in third place with a 70-42 record under manager Chet Grant. Some of the better players on the team were third baseman/pitcher Jean Faut, who played in the league for eight of its nine years in existence and had “a fine arm”; catcher Mary Baker, an all-star; and infielder Senaida “Shoo Shoo” Wirth, who stole 89 bases that season.

Although Amy played very little in the games, she frequently played catch with manager Grant. “He would always take me aside and play catch with me, throwing overhand. He had me throw it pretty hard,” she said, and she concluded that she was being groomed to be a left-handed pitcher, as the league was making its way to overhand pitching delivery (overhand delivery was adopted in 1948). But her season ended in August with the surprise visit to South Bend by her husband and his mother. After she told him in one of their nightly phone conversations that she would stay with the team until the season ended in September, he showed up the next day with his mother. Aside from her love of being in the league, even with the limited playing time, Amy’s reason for wanting to stay was grounded in a very practical fact: “He was making $35 a week as a plumber, and I was making $65 as a ballplayer.” With the support she received from her father (who sent the “stick to your guns” telegram), Amy resolved to stay, only to be carried off the field and forced to go back home to Pennsylvania.

No statistics appear to be available for the portion of the season Amy was with the Blue Sox. She said she played from time to time as a defensive replacement at first base, and was inserted from time to time as a pinch-runner. She observed, with no small amount of pride, “I was fast.”

Once back home in Pennsylvania, Amy was upset not only because she no longer was in the league, but also (she related sardonically) because “I also had to look for a job.” She found employment in 1947 working in production in the Berkshire Knitting Mills, one of the largest employers in the Reading area.

Mark Shuman died in an automobile accident in 1951. Two years later Amy married Joseph Jurasinski. They had two daughters, and Amy had four grandchildren. Amy took time off from 1959 to 1964 to stay at home raising her two daughters, and in 1964 she took a position in the production line with AT&T in Reading, working there for 23 years until she retired in 1987. Joseph Jurasinski died in 1998.

After she returned to the Reading area, Amy was prevented from playing softball for a year because of her former professional status. She resumed playing for a team in nearby Blandon, but soon retired from softball. “I was about 25,” she said. “It wasn’t the same when I came back. If I did well, the people would say, ‘Well she’s a pro.’ ”

Amy attended a number of AAGPBL events in the southeastern Pennsylvania area and took part in the dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Women in Baseball” exhibit with other AAGPBL players in November 1988. She also attended the unveiling of a statue of a woman ballplayer at Cooperstown on Mother’s Day in 2006.

Amy Dunkleberger Jurasinski’s fond memories of the brief time she played in the AAGPBL are tempered with the regret she felt for having had her season cut short. But in her talks to groups in the Reading area about her experiences, she encouraged girls to try to follow their dreams as she tried to follow hers.

(Author’s note: Much of this biography is based on four interviews with Jurasinski between 2006 and 2012.)

 

Sources

“Close Successful Season,” Reading Eagle, November 19, 1940.

Brian C. Englehardt, “Grand Dames of Berks County Softball,” Berks County Historical Review, Spring 2007.

W.C. Madden, The All American Girls Professional League Record Book (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2000).

Official Site of the AAGPBL – “Amy Shuman Jurasinski (Dunkleberger),”

http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/profiles/shuman-jurasinski-amy-dunkleberger/68

Official Site of the AAGPBL – “South Bend Blue Sox,”

http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/teams/1946/south-bend-blue-sox/22

Interviews by the author with Amy Dunkleberger Jurasinski on September 1, 2006; January 17, 2007; January 19, 2009; and July 11, 2012.

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.