SABR

Ruth Kramer Hartman

This article was written by Brian Engelhardt.

Ruth Kramer Hartman played for the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during the 1946 and 1947 regular seasons, then with the Grand Rapids Chicks in the 1947 league playoffs. Before playing in the AAGPBL, Ruth was one of the top softball pitchers in her hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania. After her time there, she returned to Reading and resumed her excellence on the softball mound until she retired from pitching more than 10 years later. At the same time, she started a girls’ softball program at Reading High School, where she coached with great success for 16 years.

In 2003, Baseballtown Charities, an organization in Reading associated with the Reading Phillies AA franchise dedicated to giving financial support to area youth baseball and softball programs, created a “King of Baseballtown” award to be presented annually  to a resident of the Reading area based upon lifetime accomplishments and contributions to baseball or softball. With the successes that Ruth had achieved on both softball and baseball diamonds, it was only fitting that she was designated as the first woman to receive the award, receiving the title on January 24, 2008. However, after being informed that she was named “King of Baseballtown,” Ruth stated that title did not suit, proclaiming, “I want to be Queen.” And so it was decreed: Baseballtown had its first “Queen.”

The future Queen of Baseballtown was born in Leesport, a small town outside of Reading, on April 26, 1926.  She was the oldest child of Annie (Kissling) Kramer and John F. Kramer, Sr. Ruth would have two younger brothers, John Jr.—who would go on to serve as Sheriff of Berks County for 20 years—and Gary, born when Ruth was a senior in college. A mechanic by trade, John Kramer supported his family by working on cars. His specialty, according to Ruth, was Packards.   Kramer’s list of clients included several prominent families in the area. Ruth related that often he would take her along on these maintenance calls: “He would bundle me up and put me in the side car of his motorcycle. When I got there, I’d play with dolls that they would have for me.” In the meanwhile, her father would tend to his customer’s family Packard.

It was just at this time that the fortunes of Ruth’s family changed dramatically.  John Kramer won the “Irish Sweepstakes” (a lottery run by the newly created Irish Free State), stopped working as a mechanic, and instead became a hotel keeper. His first venture was to rent Leinbach’s Hotel, an inn with a historic past in rural Bern Township, about 12 miles outside of Reading.

With the change in his daily routine, Ruth’s father also changed how he spent time with Ruth. She recalled that “One day my Dad looked at me and said, ‘I have to do something with you. You have to be my little boy.’ (Ruth’s brother John — five years her junior — would have been a toddler at this time.) Ruth and her father began to play catch on a regular basis in the cow pastures surrounding the family home, which included learning how to field ground balls. It was a challenging classroom for Ruth’s education on the diamond. As Ruth put it: “Dad would hit balls to me and would say, ‘If you could field a ball in those cow pastures, you can play anywhere.’ He was right. There were cow pies all over the place and holes. It was a mess.”  

Again Ruth’s development as a ballplayer was directly affected by her father’s business activities. He had a disagreement with his landlord—the owner of Leinbach’s Hotel—about physically moving the building to a site on the newly opened three-lane highway between Allentown and Reading.  Kramer thought his landlord was missing a fine business opportunity, so in 1940, he terminated the lease and in purchased a hotel and taproom in Reading known as the Rising Sun, from a local brewery. The Rising Sun was located in the northeast part of the city near the busy Reading Railroad repair shops, and drew most of its clientele from them. The Rising Sun was also near a city playground at 11th and Pike Streets. Aged 13 at the time, Ruth was a regular at the 11th and Pike site, playing baseball and softball there daily, “mostly with older kids,” as she recalled. 

The Kramer family settled into the hotel portion of the building, upstairs from the tap room. Ruth and her brother John each slept in one of the guest rooms. The hotel had 21 rooms, the minimum number required by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board regulations for a hotel license. As a consequence, whenever agents from the PLCB conducted a surprise inspection to enforce the regulation, and verify that there were 21 rooms either in use by guests, or vacant and available, Ruth and her brother had to quickly remove all their possessions from their rooms and hide them so PLCB agents would not see them.

With Ruth beginning to play with other girls in the city, her father sponsored a girls’ softball team – the “Rising Sun Maids.” Ruth was the team’s pitcher. Her debut against outside competition was a rough experience – Ruth described it with a smile: “My first game was a 26-0 loss to the Diamond Lils (a highly talented team from Leesport). They had Amy Dunkleberger (who also would go on to play in the AAGPBL) and her two sisters. (Also on the Lils was Fern Shollenberger, who played nine seasons in the AAGPBL.) They were good. They hit everything I threw. After it was done, I said, ‘I never want to pitch again. That’s it. I don't want to play anymore.’”

The coaches for the Maids, Charles Brahm and John Hospidor, both experienced women’s softball coaches, were able to convince Ruth and her teammates not to be too discouraged after the dreadful first game. Practicing on a coal dirt field situated next to a railroad siding, the Maids worked and improved. At the same time, a young coach, Dominic Salamone, worked with Ruth individually. Ruth related, “It wasn’t so much the increasing the speed on the ball—he did that—but what he really helped me with was getting the ball to move. He really helped me.”

The Maids enjoyed success, winning a number of tournaments. In 1944, World War II forced the team to change its name to “Piker Maids,” (“Rising Sun” being associate with the Japanese empire) even though Ruth’s father continued to sponsor the team. A few years later, the sponsor became a political club in Reading’s 17th Ward, and the team became the “Seventeenth Ward.”  In the meantime, Ruth’s pitching continued to excel with her petite 5’1”, 110 pound-frame giving no indication of the power in her right arm.

Besides playing and practicing with the Maids and with Salamone, Ruth gave daily presentations of her own version of “Once Upon a Mattress” staged in a vacant lot across the street from the Rising Sun Hotel. Ruth’s father fastened a mattress to a tree and drew a circle where the strike zone would be located. Each day Ruth was directed to go to the lot with her softball, and from a spot approximately 40 feet away, she would try to hit the circle 50 times in a row.

Ruth described the challenges she faced in this daily activity: “I had one ball. I’d throw it and then have to go over and pick it up myself. It had to be 50 in a row hitting the target. If I hit 35 in a row and missed one, then I had to begin again until I hit 50. My Dad would come to the window, and if he thought it was too quiet outside, he’d yell, ‘Ruth—where are you at?’ Then he would lean on his elbows out the window and watch to make sure I was doing it right. Other people in the bar would look out and watch too, to let him know I was doing what I was supposed to. There always was someone looking out the window at the Rising Sun.” Every time Ruth and the elements would wear out a mattress, her father would create a greater challenge for Ruth, by making the target circle smaller on the new mattress. Ruth related how her younger brother John would watch in eager anticipation of her missing the circle, heralding for one and all (and especially their father) to hear that Ruth had to start again at square one.

Ruth faced another daily ritual with little enthusiasm. Every day, she was required to go to her room, close the door, and practice her accordion for an hour, accompanied by the ticking of a metronome for the entire time. In recalling this 60 years later Ruth declared she “...still [could not] stand the sound of a metronome to this day.”  Despite her aversion to practice, Ruth and her brother John, who played the mandolin, were sufficiently accomplished to appear several times on a local radio show, playing accordion and mandolin duets. 

Following her graduation from Reading High School in the fall of 1942, Ruth enrolled in what at the time was known as East Stroudsburg State Teachers College (now East Stroudsburg University) to pursue a degree in teaching.  Ruth’s only outlet for her softball talents was the women’s intramural program as the college had no intercollegiate team for women. A problem was that no woman on her team was able to catch her pitching.  This was temporarily addressed after a few games by an arrangement where the catcher on the men’s softball team served as Ruth’s catcher in intramural games. The young man was subject to several limitations—including that he could not bat, run the bases, or throw out runners. (With the tone in her voice roughly comparable to that of a gunslinger blowing smoke from the butt of a smoking pistol, Ruth said the latter restriction was not a problem since she struck everyone out, so there were never any base runners anyway.)

This temporary arrangement was not popular within the intramural program’s members, with Ruth, or with the fellow called in to serve as the catcher. Eventually, Ruth was permitted to play with the college men’s softball team. An adjustment was made so she pitched from a women’s mound, 40 feet from the plate, as opposed to the men’s distance of 46 feet.  

In those games, Ruth says with pride,  “I remember striking out a lot of big guys.  It was dangerous playing men’s teams. The ball would come off the bat of the men with greater velocity than what the women would hit.” On one occasion Ruth suffered “a pretty severe leg injury” as a result of being hit by a line drive. She was proficient as a pitcher against the men, acquiring the nickname, “Rocky.” Ruth explained, “They said I threw like a rocket.”

In the spring of 1946, Ruth was playing a game with the men in downtown Stroudsburg. AAGPBL League President Max Carey (the former Pittsburgh Pirate great and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame) was in town that day, and happened upon the game.  Impressed with what he saw, Carey asked Ruth if she wanted play in the AAGPBL. Ruth told him that she was perfectly happy playing for and travelling with the “Crystalettes,” a women’s team in Reading that she played for over the summer.

Carey told Ruth to think about it, and offered to talk to her about it later. He asked where she lived and her phone number. Ruth expressed no interest in Cary’s number so he gave his business card with his number to one of Ruth’s male teammates standing nearby, saying, “This is in case you change your mind.” When Ruth said to her male teammates that she had no interest, she recalled, “The boys all looked at me and said, ‘You don’t want to play professional baseball? You’re out of your mind!’”

A few days later, while in her dormitory, Ruth received a message to come immediately to the office of the Dean of Women to take a phone call there. Ruth rushed over to find that the call was from her father. As Ruth remembered, “He told me that I was going to Chicago and play baseball. I told him I didn’t want to go, and all he said was, ‘We’ll see when you get home.’” The semester was coming to a close, and Ruth was going to be returning home to Reading within the week in any event.

When describing how her father, “always had things to say criticizing what I had done,” Ruth immediately pointed lot that she knew of the great pride he took in her accomplishments and how satisfying it was to her when she learned from different people, “that he was always bragging about me in the bar” and that “when he came to games when I was in college he would always be saying, ‘That’s my kid.’” As active as her father was in her softball career, by contrast, and to Ruth’s disappointment, her mother never saw her play.

Later, Ruth reflected on her father’s overall influence on her softball career. In describing the tension that would arise from her father’s frequent criticisms, as Ruth said, “When my father came to games I could smell him almost. I didn’t need to see or hear him, but I suddenly knew he was there.”

On arriving home Ruth described how she found that, “My Dad had not only packed my suitcase, but he bought me new clothes, including new saddle shoes, skirts, dresses and nylon stockings. When he talked to Max Carey, Max explained what I would need to wear.” She was fully packed and ready to go on the train to Chicago that was leaving from Harrisburg the next day.

Under the headline, “Reading Girl Joins Pro Softball League,” a brief article in the May 29, 1946, Reading Eagle related how Ruth Kramer, “one of Reading’s outstanding feminine athletes,” left the night before on a train for Chicago, to play professionally in the (erroneously titled) “All American Girls Softball League.” Briefly describing Ruth’s successes on the softball diamond, the article labeled her “a consistent winner in girl’s competition.”

What was not mentioned in the article was that Ruth cried all the way during the hour or so ride in the car with her father on the way to the train station in Harrisburg. Ruth described herself during that trip, as “giving a big performance.” On the train from Harrisburg to Chicago, although riding in a sleeper car for the first time in her life, Ruth related, “I didn’t really get to appreciate it since I cried all night—all the way to Chicago.”

It is safe to assume that Ruth’s first day in the AAGPBL was unlike that of any other player. Following her tearful night in the sleeper car, Ruth was greeted in Chicago by league president Carey, who was to escort her on an express train to Racine, Wisconsin, where she would play for the Racine Belles that evening.

Before departing for Racine, Carey and Ruth took a cab from the train station to the headquarters of the William Wrigley Jr. Company, where Carey had a meeting scheduled with company president Philip K. Wrigley, and founder of the AAGPBL. Carey took Ruth with him to the meeting and introduced her to Wrigley and a number of other company executives also in attendance. According to Ruth, Wrigley then gave her a tour of the office, introducing her as the newest AAGPBL recruit.

Following Ruth’s whirlwind tour of Wrigley Company headquarters, she and Carey caught the train to Racine, where she was scheduled to meet the team before a game that night against the visiting Fort Wayne Daisies. On arriving in Racine late in the afternoon, Ruth was given a makeup kit and a Racine Belles uniform. She was then told to hurry and get ready for the game as the other Belles were already at the field.

What first struck Ruth, after playing up to then in fairly drab gray or white uniforms was the bright yellow Belles’ uniform.  She said, “I never played in anything like that. It had a little pink hat and a little skirt and was cute, but the next thing I thought was, ‘Where are the leggings so you could slide?’” The makeup was yet another matter. Ruth related, “I was not used to wearing lipstick or makeup at all. So I put a little on just because I thought I had to.”

Ruth’s real problems began when she arrived at the field. Belles’ manager Leo Murphy made it very apparent to Carey that he was not happy being presented with this new player who he had never seen play. Murphy pointed out that his team (on its way to a first place finish with a 74-38 record) really didn’t need her.

The situation only became worse when Ruth discovered she couldn’t get the regulation AAGPBL ball over the plate. The problem was her inability to adjust to the size of the ball, which was 11 inches in diameter, as opposed to the 12-inch diameter ball she was accustomed to using in softball.  She struggled so much, it appeared she would be heading home without a roster spot.  Ruth recalled how, at the time, “I was embarrassed. I was used to being queen of the diamond back (in Reading). Also, I figured that my Dad would say that I did it on purpose to come home.” 

Observing Ruth’s ordeal with the new ball was Bill Wambsganss, manager of the visiting Fort Wayne Daisies. Despite Ruth’s troubles with the differently-sized ball, Wambsganss was impressed with Ruth’s talent. Wambsganss had considerable baseball experience – he had made the only unassisted triple play in World Series history and played for 13 years in the American League, mostly at second base.

Wambsganss asked if he could work Ruth out for the Daisies. Permission was granted. In the impromptu workout he saw that she not only had speed, she handled ground balls well, was n accomplished bunter, and was talented in sliding into bases. Ruth explained she, “learned that from the boys I played with at East Stroudsberg” and added that she was “maybe not much of a hitter, but I was a great bunter.”

With an eye to using Ruth at second base, Wambsganss arranged with Carey that Ruth’s contract would be transferred to the Daises. Ruth remembered the rest of the evening as being somewhat awkward, as after changing out of the Belles uniform, she sat in her street clothes to watch her new teammates.

Feeling homesick, Ruth knew she “had to get over it quickly,” and she worked hard to earn a fair amount of action at second base. If not in the starting lineup, she was used as a pinch runner in late game situations due to her superior ability on the bases. As she put it, “I was pretty fast and I could slide.” In addition, she sufficiently conquered her problems with the 11-inch ball so that after a few weeks, Wambsganss regularly had her pitch batting practice. However, in her two years with the Daisies, to her disappointment, Ruth never pitched in a regulation game.

Another problem Ruth had to immediately address was that, “It didn’t go over so well with the other women on the team that I missed all the conditioning that went on in spring training.” In her first season, her performance on the field caused her teammates to warm up to her. However, when she missed spring training the next season because she had to complete college classes and final exams, she described how some of her teammates called her “the big college girl.” Along the same lines, her being signed and  introduced to the AAGPBL by Carey caused some other players seeing to get under her skin  to refer to her as “Carey’s little pumpkin pie.”

Upon arrival in Fort Wayne, Ruth moved into a boarding house with teammates Vivian Kellogg and Faye Dancer. Ruth described Faye as not only her “favorite player on the team” but also her “best friend.”  In Ruth’s words, “She drove me crazy.” A talented pitcher and outfielder, Dancer was a free spirit whose nickname on the Daisies, “All the Way Faye,” provided the inspiration for the character “All the Way Mae,” played by Madonna, in the hit 1992 movie A League of Their Own. Ruth’s roommates played pranks on “the rookie.” She regularly found dead mice on her door knob, and on one occasion—reminiscent of the horse’s head scene in The Godfather—she found a bloody ox tail in her bed.  It was Faye who short-sheeted Ruth’s bed every evening—although presumably not the evening with the ox tail! Ruth was not the exclusive target of Faye’s pranks. When new chaperones joined the Daisies, it was Faye who put limburger cheese in the overhead lights in their rooms, and it grew more aromatic as the lights heated up.

Canadian teammates Helen Callaghan St. Aubin and her sister Marge Callaghan Maxwell, each of whom played different positions, kept Ruth loose by regularly ribbing her. Ruth recalled: “They kept it up the whole time I was there in Fort Wayne. They were a tough pair.”

The 1946 Daisies finished the season in fifth place with a record of 52-60. Although no member of the team was named to the league All-Star team, Ruth recalled a number of other talented teammates in addition to Dancer and Kellogg (known as a slick fielder).  These included catcher Kathryn “Kate” Vonderau and pitcher Dottie Wiltse Collins. Collins, the niece of George “Hooks” Wiltse of the great New York Giant teams of the early 1900s, would win 22 games that season—one of four seasons in a row in which she won at least 20. When Ruth returned for the 1947 season, she lived with Dottie and her husband, who resided in Fort Wayne year-round. She did not get short-sheeted that year at all. (A connection between Hooks Wiltse and Ruth’s hometown of Reading was that he managed the 1917 Reading Pretzels, and for a brief time, the 1926 Reading Keys.)

The Daisies slipped to seventh place in 1947, with a record of 45-67. At the season’s outset, former umpire George Johnson managed the team, succeeding Wambsganss, who had moved over to manage Muskegon that season. As the season progressed, Johnson was asked to go back to umpiring and was replaced by William “Daddy” Rohrer, a former Pacific Coast League star with a successful track record in coaching women’s softball teams in California for the past 10 years. Several women coached by Rohrer played in the AAGBPL, including his daughter Kay, who played for Rockford in 1945.

During her two years in the league, games against the Kenosha Comets were special to Ruth. Playing third base for the Comets was Fern Shollenberger, a native of Hamburg, Pennsylvania, and a former rival of Ruth’s in Berks County league games.  Ruth looked forward to their reunions, recalling how she enjoyed seeing Fern, calling her “The best player I played against in the league.” When both were finished playing in the AAGPBL and had returned to Berks County, Ruth and Fern were teammates on various teams in the Reading area.

Ruth recalled with a laugh the various features of the AAGPBL. “We had to be ladies first. We had those cute little hats you would put on the back of your head. We had to have long hair,” she said. She also recalled the dress code off the field, recalling, “We needed to wear dresses or skirts…no slacks. No shorts. And we wore saddle shoes.”

The league demanded its players be lady-like. Teams had chaperones to monitor player behavior. The AAGPL required its players to attend charm school, but the specifics varied from team to team. Ruth related: “We went to charm school one day a month with the Fort Wayne Daises. Other teams went once, and that was it.” Ruth’s memories of the various chaperones were that they were like “tough army sergeants.” A particularly fond memory for Ruth was that one time she spotted a little girl in the stands in Fort Wayne holding up a sign that said, “Rocky We Love You.”

At the end of the 1947 season, under league rules, the rival Grand Rapids Chicks were allowed to add two additional players to their playoff roster.  Ruth and her former roommate, Vivian Kellogg were added to the Chicks roster. The Chicks were led by pitcher, Mildred Earp (who had a gaudy record of 20-8), pitcher-outfielder Connie Wisnewski (who was known as “The Iron Woman” for her power and endurance and who won  six games),  pitcher-outfielder Alice Haylett (who won 19 games), and league all-star catcher  Ruth “Tex” Lessing. Known for her ferocious competitiveness, earlier that season, Lessig was fined $100 for punching umpire George Johnson. (Fans collected more than $2,000 to pay the fine.)

In game seven of the final round of playoffs between the Chicks and the Racine Lassies, with the Chicks leading 1-0, Ruth was inserted as a pinch hitter late in the game and remained in the game, playing second base. With one out in the ninth and a runner on second, the Lassies were threatening to tie the game. The batter hit a line drive that Ruth jumped up and caught in the webbing of her glove. The runner on second base had taken off with the pitch, so Ruth had little trouble in tagging second to complete an unassisted double play that gave the Chicks the League Championship. It was the last play of Ruth’s AAGPBL career, and it was in all likelihood her most dramatic.

Despite Ruth’s participation, unfortunately there were no available statistics on her performance for either 1946 or 1947.

Following the drama of her season-ending play with the Chicks, Ruth did not return to the league the next year, wanting to graduate with her class at East Stroudsburg in the spring of 1948. Ruth described that “It was important to me that I would walk with my class, and finish with them.” Immediately after graduation she accepted a teaching position and began what would be a 36-year teaching career in the Reading School District. Aside from teaching physical education, in the 1950s she coached volleyball, track, and swimming. She also coordinated programs for gymnastic exhibitions—which were performed with music in a number of public places, and also programs on dance. Ruth recalled that the gymnastic programs, plus a program, “Origins of Dance,” presented several times over the years, were each always well received.  

During Ruth’s senior year of college, her mother gave birth to Ruth’s youngest brother, Gary. The birth was not routine. In the days before ultrasound, the initial prognosis was that Ruth’s mother had a tumor. When the prognosis was changed to that of a pregnancy, Ruth’s mother was told that the baby was to be stillborn.  Ruth’s mother surprised everyone, when she gave birth to a healthy boy, named Gary, 21 years younger than his big sister. A year later, in 1949, Ruth married Kenneth Hoverter. In 1950, they would have a daughter of their own, Karen.

While Ruth was finished with the AAGPBL, she was still involved in the game, turning to softball. Because Ruth played professionally, she had to sit out a year before returning to amateur competition. When she finally did return, the softball career of “Rocky” Kramer Hoverter resumed at full throttle.

Ruth pitched for the Crystalettes, which was sponsored by the Crystal Restaurant, a that time the most popular restaurant in downtown Reading. The team became the “Breeze Inn Hurricanes” when the Breeze Inn restaurant picked up the sponsorship. In 1958 she pitched for a team known simply as the “Reading Girls” which won that year’s Pennsylvania State Class AA Softball Championship. When her daughter, Karen, was old enough, she was a mascot for Ruth’s different teams.

Ruth also served as a “pick up player” (eligible for tournaments only) for the Pottstown Cardinalettes, as well as teams in Lancaster, Erie, and Lewistown.  Earlier in her career, Ruth and another future Fort Wayne Daisy, Alice Hoover (who played with them in 1948), were “pick up” players for a fire company team as far away as Lewistown, Pennsylvania. Between the Crystalettes, and her various other “pick up player” teams, Ruth played in tournaments in California, Oregon, Washington, Florida, Ohio, and Canada. Expenses for these road trips were split: the team raised money to pay for gasoline, while the sponsoring restaurant furnished meal money allowance.

Ruth pitched into her mid 30’s with the Crystalletes (the sponsorship of her team had gone back to the Crystal), at which point, as she put it, “I saw the writing on the wall,” passing on her mantle as staff ace rocket-armed Patty Whitman,  who was 13 years younger than Ruth. Over the course of her softball career, Ruth pitched in more than 600 games, and with more than 250 victories. In one tournament in 1954, she pitched three games in one day.

In 1976, Ruth’s competitive juices on the diamond were rejuvenated when she was able to begin a girls’ softball program at Reading High School. The program was an immense success: over the 18 seasons that Ruth helmed the Reading “Red Knights,” the team compiled an overall record of 217-73, won two Berks County Championships, three District titles, and was twice state runners-up.  

After Ruth retired from teaching and coaching, she began to breed sheep—specifically,  Corriedale sheep, on her farm in Limekiln—just outside of Reading.  Initially, Ruth was interested in raising donkeys, but her granddaughter, Kelly Glaser, then eight years old, was interested in breeding sheep for a 4-H project for school.  Ruth had a friendship with a local doctor with a large herd of Corriedale sheep who had won a number of awards. Ruth related, “He got me started. That was 23 years ago.”

Ruth, now married to Dan Hartman (she and Hoverter were divorced in the late 1950’s) originally raised sheep and donkeys, but have limited their sheep herd to 19 at the time of this writing.

Many of Ruth’s sheep are named for Reading and Philadelphia Phillies players, including Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino.  Newly-named sheep include Freddie Galvis, Jacob Dieckman, and Doc Halladay.  Breaking with the baseball tradition, Ruth said that “Mutombo,” named for the former Philadelphia 76er great, was her greatest sheep of all time.

Ruth’s naming of her sheep for various members of the Reading Phillies does not occur because she pulls names out of a hat. Over the years she has been a regular at Reading Phillies games, talking to the young players from her seat next to the home dugout.  She has become a sort of den mother to a number of them.  The favorites ended up with a sheep named after them.

Ruth earned the reputation as one of the nation’s top sheep breeders, winning a number of awards, including the prestigious “National Corriedale Breeder of the Year” award in 2006, as well as the grand champion title that year in the North American International Livestock Exposition for her sheep “Brito” (named for former Phillies pitcher Eude Brito). She received a silver plate from Australia, and secured, in 2008, the title of Outstanding Shepherd of the Year for the Corriedale breed.

Ruth observed, “Now I have sheep…they are like my children.” Although Ruth finds the travel at times exhausting, she noted that she attends sheep shows in Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Colorado. These are in addition to several shows in Pennsylvania. A relationship that Ruth values particularly is her friendship with Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.  According to Ruth, “We’re very close. He’s been here (to the farm) many times. When I go to see the Phillies play, he has me come down and sit in the family seats. He’s such a nice young man.”  Ruth also described how, on a number of occasions in spring training, Howard would tell younger players heading for Reading to listen to Ruth, as “She knows her ball.”

Ruth also remains in touch with former Reading Phils Cole Hamels, and Gavin Floyd, the latter having been traded by the Phillies to the White Sox. Ruth described the Reading Phillies alumni with whom she stays in touch as “Sort of my extended family…like my sheep.”

Ruth’s individual honors include her induction into the Fort Wayne Athletic Hall of Fame, the Berks County Division of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, and had the unique distinction of being among the first inductees into the Reading High School Sports Hall of Fame. She is also proud of being in the first class of “Northeasters,” an award for alumni for Northeast Junior High School in Reading. Accompanying her in that first class were former Boston Red Sox pitcher and scout Charlie Wagner and former Baltimore Colt great Lenny Moore.

Touched by her being honored as the first “Queen of Baseballtown,” Ruth described herself as “shocked,” stating, “I just couldn’t believe that I would be chosen. I played ball. I coached. I just never dreamed that I would be important enough to be (named) something like this. It’s way above me, I think.”

Ruth took part in the dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Women in Baseball” exhibit with other AAGPBL Players on November 5, 1988.  She regularly participates in AAGPBL functions in the southeast portion of Pennsylvania—when permitted by her schedule with her sheep. Ruth never told anyone about playing in the AAGPBL—except college teammates and other women from Reading who played there.  Ruth related that she was called in for a day to relate her experiences in the AAGPBL to assist with script development of “A League of Their Own.”  She has attended other AAGPBL related ceremonies at the Baseball Hall of Fame, including the unveiling of a statue of a woman ballplayer on Mother’s Day of 2006.  

To sum up her time in the AAGPBL, Ruth had one word: “Fantastic!”

Looking back on her life in 2012, Ruth Kramer Hartman said, “I always wanted to be the best—whether it was in baseball—I would push myself. When I was coaching, I was demanding of my players. And even now, with my sheep, I still always want to be the best.”

Sources

Reading Eagle, May 29, 1946, Reading Girl Joins Pro Softball League

Saint Joseph Gazette, September 18, 1947, Girl Offered $2,000 after Socking Ump, page 8

Reading Eagle, December 18, 1948, Intruder Captured in Northeast Section

Reading Eagle, July 10, 1956, Breeze Inn Gals, A Crowd of Vets, Keep Reading, Berks on Sports Map, Bob Reigner

Reading Eagle, August 10, 1958, Regionals Next Aim of Girls

Reading Eagle, July 22, 1959, Sports Fanfare, Paul Lukas

Reading Eagle, December 29, 2006  “Exeter breeder knows what it takes to win”

Reading Eagle, January 24, 2008, ‘Queen’ Hartman Touched by Fanfare, Mike Drago

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

The All American Girls Professional League Record Book, W.C. Madden, McFarland and Co., 2000

Ruth Hartman, Autobiography, http://www.baseballinfortwayne.com/2007/02/22/from-the-baseball-field-to-the-4-h-field/

"Faye Dancer", by Tim Wiles, Society for American Baseball Research BioProject

Official Site of the AAGPBL, “William Rohrer”, http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/profiles/rohrer-william/795

Official Site of the AAGPBL, “Ruth (Kramer) Hartman”, http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/profiles/hartman-ruth-kramer/342

Official Site of the AAGPBL, “Fort Wayne Daisies”, http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/teams/1946/fort-wayne-daisies/19

Interviews by the author with Ruth Hartman on November 3, 2006, November 18, 2006; May 8, 2012; May 15, 2012.

Speech by Ruth Hartman on July 19, 2012 in West Reading, Pennsylvania.

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