Breaking barriers her entire life, Mary Pratt, an outstanding athlete from Eastern Massachusetts, pitched in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1943 to 1947. After her professional baseball career, Pratt went on to become an educator, coach, and a strong advocate for the advancement of women in sports.
Pratt was born on November 30, 1918, in Bridgeport, Connecticut.1 Her father was employed as a draftsman working on the construction of submarines for the Lake Torpedo Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, during World War I. Later he earned a CPA and worked in real estate in New York City. During the Depression the family struggled financially, so in 1930, the family, including Mary and her two brothers, moved to her father's hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts, just south of Boston, where he worked at Bethlehem Steel's Fore River Shipyard until his retirement in the 1950s.2
Mary Pratt couldn't stay at home and do what other girls did in her Quincy neighborhood. She had to be on the playground. She had to be playing whatever sport the boys were playing: baseball, softball, and basketball. "There were no teams for girls and the boys would let me play with them," she recalled in an interview in 2008. "The only opportunities I had to play were the opportunities I made for myself, and those opportunities were to play with the boys because at that time, competition and highly competitive sports for girls were kind of against the dictates of society."3
Pratt credited her passion for sports to her father, who regularly took her to the Boston Garden and Fenway Park for sporting events. "My favorite players growing up were Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams," she remembered. She said in the interview that she followed the Red Sox intensely. "I, like so many people, had been waiting so long for the Sox to win. We never thought it would happen. I used to go to Fenway and take my mother on Mother's Day for 10 cents. Maybe some day they will win again."4 At 89, the diminutive (5'1") Pratt kept physically active by supervising and participating in circuit training classes several times a week at a fitness center in nearby Weymouth, Massachusetts.5
After graduating from North Quincy High School in 1936, Mary Pratt entered Boston University's Sargent College, where she received her degree in physical education in 1940. Pratt filled her college days participating in almost every sport the school had to offer. She played basketball, softball, volleyball, lacrosse, field hockey, tennis, and archery. When the school offered sailing, Mary signed up for that program as well.6
Pratt began her teaching career at the Thayer Academy in Braintree in the fall of 1940. The following September (1941) she took a position with the Quincy School Department.7 In the early spring of 1943, Boston Herald writer Ralph Wheeler was informed of a nationwide effort to recruit women to play in a new Midwest professional softball/baseball league. Wheeler had covered Boston area high school sports, so he alerted Mary and other local women athletes about the All-American Girls Softball League (AAGSBL) tryouts.8 At the end of 1943, the league changed its name to the All American Girls Baseball League (AAGBBL) and for the 1944 and 1945 seasons the league became the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Since the organization by league alumnae of the Players' Association in 1987 and the premiere of the movie A League of Their Own in 1992, the league is now popularly known as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League or AAGPBL. In those years, Pratt's teacher's pay was $1,100, so when the offer came to play professional ball in the spring and summer for $60 a week plus meal money, Pratt jumped at the opportunity and reported to Rockford, Illinois after the school year ended in 1943.9
Most people were unfamiliar with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League until Penny Marshall's film, starring Geena Davis, Madonna, and Tom Hanks, was released.10 The idea for the women's professional league is credited to Chicago Cubs' owner Phil Wrigley. By the fall of 1942, the military draft began making serious inroads in major-league rosters, and major-league teams had to recruit older players and untried teenagers to fill out their rosters while their regulars were in wartime service. In addition, in late 1942, the Office of War Information advised major-league owners that a plan was under way for increased manpower mobilization for the summer of 1943, and it might necessitate canceling the 1943 baseball season.11 Wrigley saw a way of providing entertainment at Wrigley Field as well as taking advantage of the national boom in women's softball that began in the 1930s. Pratt, in fact, was an outstanding softball player who played on the Boston Olympets (1939-40) in the Boston Garden.12 Several other women from the Boston area became stars in the AAGPBL including Pat Brown of Winthrop and the late Maddy English, who has a school named in her honor in her hometown of Everett.13
In 24 games for the Peaches in 1943, Pratt won 5 and lost 11.14 In 1944 she reported to Rockford early, thanks to an early spring release by her school principal, and after a few games, she was reassigned to the Kenosha, Wisconsin, Comets. "There was a league rule, rather unique at the time," she recalled. "In order to maintain a high level of competition within the structure of the league, players could be shifted or traded at the discretion of league officials." Because of injuries to two Comets pitchers (Helen Nicol Fox and Elise "Lee" Harney), Mary, who by that time had earned the nickname Prattie, was sent to Kenosha. The move to Kenosha was complicated, because Rockford was on the road at the time and "all of my clothes were back [in Rockford] where Dottie Green and I rented our room."15
Pratt's well-worn suitcase was among the items put on display the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, at an exhibition devoted to women in baseball. On Mother's Day 2006, Pratt and 42 other veterans of the AAGPBL attended the unveiling of an AAGPBL statue and the opening of the exhibit, entitled "Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball." (Hall of Fame curator Ted Spencer, a native of Quincy, had not known that his physical education teacher played professional baseball until a smaller "Women in Baseball" exhibit was opened at the Hall of Fame on November 5, 1988.)
All six AAGPBL teams attended spring training together before the start of the 1944 season. While most of the players were recruited for their athletic talent, Pratt fondly recalled that famed cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein gave beauty and posture tips to the players so that in addition to being outstanding ballplayers they could be "ladies" as well.16
In 1944, Pratt had her best year in the AAGPBL, pitching for Kenosha, which was managed by former Red Sox skipper Marty McManus, a real treat for the diehard Boston fan.17 She won 21 games, including a no-hitter against Minneapolis, using her famous control pitching. Initially, the AAGPBL used modified softball rules, and Pratt was very effective using a controlled slingshot or windmill windup to get hitters out. She led Kenosha to first place in the first half of the season, and at season's end, the Comets met the second-half winner Milwaukee Chicks for the league championship. Although Kenosha lost, Pratt's contributions were an important part of her team's success and contributed to the overall growing success of the league.18
Pratt again requested an early release from teaching in 1945 to attend the Comets' spring training, but the school department refused to let her go. Mary loved the AAGPBL life, so she decided to quit teaching and left for spring training.19 After one more season with Kenosha and two more with Rockford, she retired from the AAGPBL with a record of 28 wins and 51 losses. She posted 33 hits in 114 league games. "I had one good year, according to statistics," she commented, "but five wonderful years in a project of its nature which has never been duplicated during my years of competitive athletics for girls and females."20
At the end of the 1945 AAGPBL season, Pratt returned to the Quincy public schools in the fall and taught physical education and special education there for more than 40 years (1941-65 and 1968-86). Additionally, she spent three years as an associate professor and coach at Salem State College (1965-68).21 During her teaching career, which spanned 46 years, she also coached basketball, softball, and soccer in high school, and softball and tennis in college. Ms. Pratt coached ten championship softball teams in Massachusetts and spent her summers working with the Quincy Recreation Department, where she coached and officiated at various boys and girls events. She played lacrosse in Boston, served as president of the team and hosted a British traveling team on their trip to Boston.22
Pratt also contributed significantly to the welfare of women athletes in the Boston area. In 1986, as co-founder of New Agenda-Northeast Project, she promoted the notion of equity for girls and women by creating athletic opportunities for them. These opportunities included a National Girls and Women in Sports Day that recognized and encouraged the accomplishments of schoolgirl athletes throughout Massachusetts.23 In 2006, each award winner received a copy of Pratt's memoir, Preserving Our Legacy: A Peach of a Game. The sponsor of the awards, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, thought that reading the book would inspire schoolgirl athletes to emulate her "enthusiastic, infectious love of competition" and would challenge "young women to think about the struggles of those who went before."24
In 1999, as a member of the Board of the AAGPBL Players Association, Pratt initiated the "Out and About" program by keeping in touch with former players and tracking their speaking engagements and other activities. Using responses to her "Out and About" questionnaires, she began a series of detailed reports to the AAGPBL Players Association. She said proudly, "What I have done to perpetuate that concept initiated by Mr. Wrigley is an important part of my legacy." Also, starting in 1992, she began making personal appearances in which she discussed the league's history and her personal experiences and recollections. As of 2008 she had made 558 such appearances.25
Throughout her professional career, Pratt contributed her time and resources to several professional and community organizations, including the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the Massachusetts Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the Sargent College Alumnae. In 2003 she was inducted into the New England Sports Museum, joining such notables as Red Auerbach, Phil Esposito, Luis Tiant, and other outstanding sports leaders.26 She is also enshrined in the Boston University Hall of Fame27 and the Boston Garden Hall of Fame.28
In 2006, Pratt became the eighth recipient of the prestigious Heights Award for her contributions to women's athletics. Established by the Massachusetts Lottery Commission and Boston College Athletics, the award recognizes individuals who made a "long-term commitment, demonstration, and dedication to the growth of women's athletics."29
Approaching the age of 90, an energetic and resourceful Mary Pratt continued to preserve the legacy of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, to cultivate the friendships she gained by playing in the AAGPBL, to encourage the development of a "level playing field" for women athletes, and through her active participation in groups and associations, to stay dedicated to the pursuit of equality for women in sport. Her philosophical approach to achieving this goal and to life in general: "Everything is possible if you persevere."30
New York Times
Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Massachusetts
Attleboro Sun Chronicle, Attleboro, Massachuetts
Boston Red Sox Scorebook Magazine, 1993
The Voice of the Retired Public Employee (Massachusetts)
Memories and Dreams (Baseball Hall of Fame)
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (www.aagpbl.org)
Boston Garden Sports Hall of Fame (www.tdbanknorthgarden.com)
Boston College Athletics (www.bceagles.cstv.com)
Boston University Athletics (goterriers.cstv.com)
National Baseball Hall of Fame (www.baseballhalloffame.org)
Fidler, Merrie, "Development and Decline of the AAGPBL 1943-1954," University of Massachusetts Master's thesis (unpublished), 1976.
Pratt, Mary, Preserving Our Legacy: A Peach of a Game, 2004 (self-published autobiography).
1 Interview with Mary Pratt, Cooperstown, New York, May 15, 2006
2 Pratt, Mary, Preserving Our Legacy: A Peach of a Game, 2004: 16
3 Interview with Mary Pratt, Quincy, Massachusetts, July 18, 2008
4 Pratt interview, May 15, 2006
5 Pratt interview, July 18, 2008
6 Pratt. Preserving Our Legacy: 24.
7 Pratt. Preserving Our Legacy: 31.
8 Pratt interview, July 18, 2008.
9 Harbor, Paul. "At 86, Pratt's Still Pitching For Female Athletes," Boston Globe, June 23, 2005.
10 Macy, Sue, "All-American Girls Claim Their Place in History," Memories and Dreams (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum), Fall 2003, Vol. 25, No. 4: 9.
11 Finoli, David. For the Good of the Country: World War II in the Major and Minor Leagues, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2002.
12 Pratt. Preserving Our Legacy: 23-24.
13 Brown, Patricia. A League of My Own, McFarland, 2003: 168.
14 All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Official Website (www.aagpbl.org) Mary Pratt page.
16 Pratt interview, July 18, 2008.
17 Pratt, Mary, letter to author dated August 3, 2008.
18 AAGPBL website.
19 Pratt interview, July 18, 2008.
21 Pratt. Preserving Our Legacy: 31.
22 Ibid.: 24.
23 Ibid.: 91.
24 Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, Women in Sport Committee, Dedication to Mary Pratt, 2006.
25 Pratt interview, July 18, 2008.
26 The Tradition Sports Museum website: (www.tdbanknorthgarden.com/pdfs/tradition08-about.pdf)
27 Boston University athletics website: (goterriers.cstv.com/hallfame/pratt-mary.html).
28 Pratt. Preserving Our Legacy: 100.
29 Boston College Athletics website: (www.bceagles.cstv.com) Heights Award page.
30 Pratt interview, July 18, 2008.