Jackie Mattson Baumgart
In the fall of 1992, our Milwaukee-area church invited a local ballplayer who had appeared in the recently released movie A League of Their Own, to join us for a family tailgate party. Little did we know that her spirited presentation of her playing days in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) would prompt so many of us to become fascinated with the league and the women pioneers who played their hearts out in it. Jackie Mattson Baumgart shared her memories, self-described as the best time of her life, of her career as a catcher for the 1950 Springfield Sallies and 1951 Kenosha Comets and of her involvement in the Penny Marshall-directed film.
Born Jacqueline Mattson on November 16, 1928, in Waukegan, Illinois, Jackie was the youngest of eight children (five brothers and two sisters). Her father, Siebert, was a carpenter and her mother, Edith Adeline, was a homemaker who also worked as a maid. Jackie’s mother attained a fifth-grade education after coming to the United States from England at the age of 8. Jackie shared her childhood passion for the game of baseball with local writer Courtnay Brummer by stating, “I fell in love with the round ball when I was just able to walk. It is a gift, it was my salvation.” Her mom was not always supportive, however. Jackie recalled for author Patricia Brown her mother’s take on her ballplaying: “She didn’t like it at all. She could not understand why her ‘little girl’ found every moment she could to play baseball with the boys. I remember one time when my mother sent me to the store and on the way I went by some boys playing a scrub game. I joined them, and was two hours late getting back home. I was even late for supper, and as punishment, had to go without.”
As with many families of the Depression era, the Mattsons struggled through hard economic times. To help with her family’s finances, Jackie moved to Milwaukee in the spring of 1942. She lived in a flat with her sister Dorothy, 14 years older, and her husband, a truck driver, plus their five children. Even though Jackie had played sandlot ball with her brothers in Waukegan, it was in Milwaukee where she first played organized ball. Jackie had impressed her brothers with her strong arm and love of the game. She did the same with her teenage female peers and coaches during her years in the playground recreational leagues run by the city of Milwaukee. She was a fast learner and developed into a talented ballplayer. The teenaged Jackie also enjoyed other sports, including basketball and speed skating.
In 1944 Jackie learned catching skills by serving as a bullpen catcher for a men’s hardball team. The following winter she continued to catch in a Milwaukee recreation department indoor softball league, in which she focused on keeping her eyes open regardless of where the 11-inch outseam foul tips went. Her skills became solid enough that she was recruited to play fast-pitch softball in 1945 in the West Allis (a Milwaukee western suburb) fast-pitch league, a highly competitive and popular circuit that sent many ballplayers to the AAGPBL. Two former major leaguers, Bunny Brief and Jack Kloza, manager of the 1944 Rockford Peaches, worked for the Milwaukee rec program and moved the aspiring Jackie up to the West Allis league. Here she played on the state championship Majdecki Foods team that included past and future AAGPBL ballplayers including Eileen Burmeister, Marge Peters, and Edna Scheer. They won the championship in a 1-0 game in which the deciding run scored on an illegal pitch when the opposing pitcher stopped her motion. This was the only game that Jackie’s mother ever saw her play.
In September 1945 Jackie moved back to Waukegan; her sister had just delivered her sixth child and was out of space for any siblings. Jackie attended Waukegan High School as a senior but moved back to Milwaukee in the late spring of 1946 to earn a diploma from Milwaukee’s South Division High School by taking one summer history course. Of greater importance to Jackie was the chance to play competitive ball again. This time, she lived with friends and worked in the produce department for her team’s sponsor, Majdecki Foods. Lifting 100 pound sacks of potatoes was a work activity that helped Jackie gain strength as a ballplayer.
By 1947 Jackie was working as a draftsman and detailer for the National Enameling and Stamping Company, which originally made Nesco roasters, and then with Kearney and Trecker, a machinery and tool manufacturer. From 1947 through 1949, she and Edna Scheer, along with 1944 Milwaukee Chicks third baseman Vivian Sheriffs Anderson, played with the amateur Milwaukee Jets. This team rode in three cars to weekend tournaments as far away as Canada and Indiana (often playing men’s baseball teams with the Jets’ pitcher throwing against the Jets and the male pitcher facing the men’s team). The versatile Jets also competed against women’s teams in fast-pitch softball. An AAGPBL scout was impressed with Jackie’s ability to hit to all fields and her strong defense and arm behind the plate. Her competence in both softball and hardball certainly had a positive impact on the scout as the AAGPBL completed its conversion from fast-pitch to baseball in 1948. She was asked to try out for the AAGPBL in Newark, New Jersey, in 1949. After borrowing $50 from her other older sister, Connie, and her dentist husband, Jackie boarded a train for Newark.
Jackie performed well at the tryouts and was invited to spring training in 1950 with the South Bend Blue Sox. The 5-foot-5, 100-pound catcher was assigned to the 1950 Springfield Sallies, a rookie developmental team that traveled throughout the country, playing against their itinerant companions, the Chicago Colleens. The Colleens and Sallies were both managed by Mitch Skupien but each team had its own chaperone who also served as a coach. Barbara Liebrich worked with the Sallies and Pat Barringer supervised the Colleens. Even though Jackie and the Sallies did not play in the actual AAGPBL regular championship season that year, she participated in a summer tour that was unforgettable.
First, the barnstorming Sallies and Colleens played in 65 cities in 25 states in the South, East, and Canada, not only to improve their skills but to create publicity for recruiting new players to AAGPBL tryouts. As Jackie exclaimed to Courtnay Brummer, “The tour was just marvelous. I had never been anywhere.” Milwaukee-area writer Susan Treu uncovered this enthusiastic description by sportswriter Joe McLaughlin of Jackie’s catching skills with the Sallies: “What an arm the girl has. She pounced on a bunt in front of the plate the other night and whistled the ball to first base.”
However, Jackie encountered some downsides, including trying to fathom the enforcement of segregation laws in the South. In addition, the 90 games over the three-month road trip were grueling with sweltering ballparks and muggy buses in which Jackie had great difficulty sleeping. She played in 48 games, batting an even .200 with 4 doubles and 18 RBIs. Jackie fondly recalled playing in major-league ballparks like New York’s Yankee Stadium and Washington’s Griffith Stadium. Meeting a fellow catcher, future Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, was a memorable experience. He offered Jackie his bat, which she politely declined as it was so heavy.
Jackie impressed the AAGPBL in 1950 and was invited to spring training with the Kalamazoo Lassies in 1951. The right-handed hitter was placed on the Kenosha Comets, who needed another catcher because of late-arriving college students. Once all were back, Jackie saw limited playing time and hit .098 in 22 of the Comets’ 107 games as one of four catchers used over the course of the season. (The others were Eunice Taylor, Irene Hickson, and Jean Lovell Dowler.)
Rather than spend more time in a league she believed was declining, Jackie returned to Milwaukee in 1952. She played ball occasionally but mostly focused on her career in the product design/engineering field at companies including Nash Kelvinator and Black Hawk Manufacturing. She met her future husband, Bob Baumgart, at a group golf outing arranged by a mutual friend. (Bob, an Air Force veteran of World War II, worked as a mechanical engineer for the Heil Company.) with their first date at Marquette Stadium for a 1956 Green Bay Packers exhibition game. They married in January 1957, became the parents of three sons, and had three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Bob encouraged Jackie to pursue a teaching career, which she did by going back to school in 1970 at Milwaukee’s Alverno College. She earned a bachelor’s degree in broad field social studies and her teaching license in secondary education. She taught middle school and homebound students in the suburban Franklin school district before retiring in 1981. Bob died in 2006.
Jackie said her love for broad field social studies and sociology (her major) came from the tremendous diversity of people she met in her time in the AAGPBL. Playing with ballplayers from Cuba, Canada, and all over the United States, and interacting with her rural and urban teammates, piqued her interest in learning more about their backgrounds. She is a United Methodist certified lay speaker. As of the summer of 2013, she still coached her church coed softball team.
The former Sallie and Comet never left the Milwaukee area and, as of 2013, lived about two miles directly south of Miller Park. After the AAGPBL became well-recognized due to the release of A League of Their Own in 1992, Jackie, like many other former players, began enthusiastically participating in various events as a representative of the league. She helped the Milwaukee Brewers research and design the permanent Walls of Honor display as the AAGPBL representative to the project, and she was inducted into the Walls of Honor in the 2001 inaugural ceremony. In 2002 she was inducted into the Old Time Ballplayers Association of Wisconsin Hall of Fame. Jackie also participated in AAGPBL player panel discussions in 2000 at the Milwaukee County Historical Society and at the 2001 SABR Convention in Milwaukee. In addition, Jackie served in leadership positions on the AAGPBL Milwaukee Reunion Committees of 2000 and 2009. She was greatly impressed by the Women in Baseball exhibit that opened at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in November 1988. The exhibit featured the AAGPBL. After seeing her name on the roster of AAGPBL players featured in the exhibit, she told Susan Treu, “It was a very emotional thing. It’s one of those times when you cannot put it into words, it just permeates the whole body. Very seldom in one’s lifetime does one feel that kind of emotion: Elation, coming to grips with the fact that one did all right.”
Jackie was thrilled to appear in several scenes of A League of Their Own, experiences that she happily shared when giving presentations on the AAGPBL throughout southeastern Wisconsin at churches, summer softball tournaments, Little League events, high-school athletic dinners, retirement homes, and school history programs, plus Midwest Athletes against Childhood Cancer, Cystic Fibrosis, and Special Olympic fundraising events. Wearing her AAGPBL shirt (inscribed with the famous line from the movie “There’s no crying in baseball!”) Jackie’s talk featured her original kangaroo leather spikes, catcher’s mitt, and 10-inch ball from 1950 as well as a stack of photos and/or baseball cards to sign. She would not sign a card until she got to know the recipient’s name and engaged the person in a conversation. Only then would she give her autograph, complete with a personalized message. Driving to talks in her car with Wisconsin car license plates stamped “AAGPBL,” she always wore her league ring.
Back in 1992 at my church, she rolled that ball on the floor in a circle with several toddlers, including my daughter, Beth. She played catch with some of our Little Leaguers, including my son, Jeff, and made some hands hurt with the speed of her throws. Not surprisingly, so many of those young people, including both of my children, inherited Jackie’s love for the game. As she said so emphatically to Beth, “I think I would have been a nothing if it wasn’t for baseball.” Graciously sharing her love of the game, her cherished time playing in the AAGPBL, her unique experiences participating in A League of Their Own, and her insistence that her audience grab the opportunity to do what they love to do, as she did in her life, she surely was a “somebody.”
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AAGPBL Baseball Card No. 291 (Jacqueline Mattson), Larry Fritsch Cards, Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
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Mattson, Jackie, Numerous personal and telephone interviews from September 1992 to August 2013.