SABR

Alice Kolski

This article was written by Bill McMahon.

The subject of this biography was a great female ballplayer. She did not play in the All-American League; in fact, she played softball rather than baseball. Nevertheless, she was one of the most significant figures in the ball playing scene of the 1940s and ’50s. The movie A League of Their Own popularized the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, but what is not widely known is that when it was flourishing there was a parallel league in Chicago, the National Girls Baseball League. Many women moved back and forth between the two leagues. If one were to pick the player who epitomized the National League, it would have to be Alice Kolski.

Alice knew and played with or against all the female stars of her day. She played throughout the entire history of the National League, on the same team, which was owned and managed by her brother Edwin T. “Ed” Kolski. Alice was born in Chicago, the youngest of seven children, four girls and three boys. She graduated from Josephinum Academy. When she was 6 years old her mother was killed in an accident. The older boys were told to take care of her, so they took her when they played baseball. She came to be regarded as “playing like a boy.” Edi got into managing teams, both men’s and women’s. Alice started in the amateur scene in 1936, with the Hedstrom Coals. In the late ’30s and early ’40s Chicago was a center of women’s fast-pitch softball, with a national tournament. Alice faced such players as Joan Hagerman, Ann Harnett, Elise Harney, Shirley Jameson, Pauline “Pinky” Pirok, Clara Shillace, Twila Shively, Marge Stefani, and Joanne Winter, i.e., the talent pool for the foundation of the All-American League.

The All-American League was founded in 1943, and a year later the National was born, partly to counteract the player drain to the All-American. Ed Kolski was one of the league founders, who also included Charley Bidwill, owner of the Chicago Cardinals football team. Immediately there was a bidding war between the two leagues. Alice stayed in Chicago with her brother, whose team that year was known as the Brach Kandy Kids. The team was declared league champion by winning the playoffs. Partial recordsii have Alice hitting .199 with two home runs and an 11-8 pitching record,iii and she was named the league’s MVP.

The following year, 1945, the team became known as the Queens. It was sponsored by the Rauland Radar Company and hence was the Rauland Radar Queens. The team finished third, losing in the playoffs to the Bluebirds (owned by the Bidwill family). Alice won 30 games, her greatest pitching year. In 1946 owner/manager Ed Kolski did not get a corporate sponsor, and the team was just known as the Chicago Queens. Alice led the league with eight home runs. The team had a down year, finishing fifth in the six-team league. In 1947 the Queens were beginning to jell, as they finished third with a 53-39 record and lost the playoffs in seven games to the Bloomer Girls and their great pitcher Wilda Mae Turner. The team signed outfielder Pat Carson (.349, 10 home runs) from Portland, and also featured shortstop Jamie Deckard, first baseman Arlite Lehnhoff (.291), outfielder Loretta Davis (6 HR), and pitchers Marge Nicholls (19-7, 1.61) and Renee Sweet (12-13, 2.07). Alice was clearly the versatility Queen, playing 23 games in the infield, 26 in the outfield, 27 catching, and 20 pitching. In 344 at-bats she hit .238 with 5 home runs, 15 triples, and a league-leading 69 RBIs. Her pitching record was 10-8, with an ERA of 2.52. After the season the nation’s top amateur team, the New Orleans Jax Girls, came to Chicago and played a seven-game series against an NL all-star team, which included Alice. The professionals won the series, five games to two.

In 1948 the All-American challenged the National League by placing a team in Chicago. The Colleens played in Shewbridge Field on the southwest side, which wasn’t far from the parks of the Queens and Bluebirds. Despite the advantage of televised games, the Colleens were a failure. The team was bad and was moved after the season. Meanwhile the Queens finished third again with a 65-45 record. Nearly complete records give Alice a batting average of .260, 9 homers (league-leading), and 47 RBIs (probably second). She played 44 games in the outfield, 41 at second, and 10 at first base. Her pitching record was 13-11, which included a nine-inning no-hitter. In the playoffs the Queens took the Bluebirds, 3 games to 2, setting up a rematch with the Bloomer Girls. In the best-of-seven series the Queens won three of the first four and appeared to be in. However, behind Wilda Mae Turner the Bloomer Girls swept three straight games by scores of 3-0, 3-0, and 3-1. Alice Kolski led her team in hitting with a .304 average. But that was little consolation, and she took the loss very hard. Perhaps under the influence, Alice and teammate Dorothy Hane were stopped by the police for speeding (50 mph) and/or running a red light. There was an argument, and the women were arrested. Today we might find this incident a bit amusing, showing the humanity of the participants. At the time it was viewed with more gravity, as women were supposed to be “ladylike.”

In 1949 Ed got a sponsor, the Match Corporation of America. After being itinerant for most of their existence, the Queens got a home field, Shewbridge, at 74th and Aberdeen. The field belonged to St. Leo’s parish, and Catholic League football games were played there. From then on the Queens were tied to Shewbridge. The team picked up a famous amateur pitcher, Betty Evans (Grayson), who teamed with Nicholls, Sweet, and Ann Kmezich to pitch the team to a second-place finish. On June 28 Alice broke her ankle sliding into home and was out for the season. WBKB televised a game a week, the Queens being on TV sometimes. Alice Kolski was able to return for the playoffs and hit a three-run homer in Game Four against the Bloomer Girls. This time the Queens took the Bloomers, three games to two, and went to face the first-place Bluebirds in the finals. The Bluebirds won, four games to two, but Kolski won Game Two with a two-run triple.

Having just missed for three years, Ed Kolski left nothing to chance in 1950. He signed the stars of the New Orleans Jax, Freda and Olympia Savona, and thus built a powerhouse that would dominate for the foreseeable future. Freda Savona was an all-time great. Records for 80 percent of the season give her a .417 batting average, double-digit home runs, 72 RBIs, and 236 total bases.iv In addition to sister Olympia, the lineup included such sluggers as Pat Carson, Ann Kmezich, and Alice (BA .239). In midseason Pauline “Pinky” Pirok, a star in both women’s leagues, was signed. Alice was now mainly a catcher but injuries led to her playing some at third base. Pitchers Evans, Nicholls, and Kmezich won 66 games, and the Queens won the regular-season championship easily with an 80-29 record. They were victorious in the playoffs also, three to one over the Rockolas and four to two over the Bluebirds.

By now a dynasty was emerging, and 1951 was more of the same, a 74-35 record, playoff wins over the Bluebirds (three to one) and the Bloomer Girls (four to three). The sponsor was Tony Piet, a former major-league infielder who had a car dealership. TV games were announced by Pat Flanagan, who had broadcast for the Cubs in the early days. Perhaps the only setback of the year was a 7-5 loss to the league all-stars, whose roster included Audrey Wagner, Sophie Kurys, Edythe Perlick, and pitcher Joanne Winter. Alice caught for the Queens. But just when the Queens seemed invincible, things changed. The next season, 1952, began with the retirement of Betty Evans Grayson, Olympia Savona, and Marge Nicholls. Ann Kmezich didn’t report until midseason, so the pitching staff was essentially new. The Queens compensated partly by signing Virginia Busick, who posted a 31-9 record. But the team was not quite as good over all and finished third with a 57-43 record. Alice did some pitching, going 3-7. The biggest news, however, was the sale of the team on July 1 to Tom Satovich of Maywood. The team became the Alemite Queens, and Freda Savona replaced Ed Kolski as manager, becoming the second woman to manage in the league.v The Queens were still good enough to win the playoffs, making them the champion for the third straight year.

Because the All-American was beginning to struggle, several of its players moved to the National. But the same reasons—television, other entertainments, etc.—led to a decline in women’s baseball in general. Two teams dropped out of the league for 1953, leaving only four. The redistributing of talent did not favor the Queens, as they lost Ginny Busick. For only the second time since the inception of the league they didn’t make the playoffs, which were between the winners of the two halves of a split season. Recordwise they were last. In June Ann Kmezich was traded to the Bloomer Girls for Erma Bergman. Alice played third base and did some pitching, with a 2-5 record. Her batting average at midseason was .204. After the 1953 season the Music Maids folded, leaving only three teams. A fourth team was added after the season had begun, so there wasn’t a balanced schedule. Kolski played right field and was helpful on the mound, winning five games and losing three.  Ginny Busick returned to the Queens and won about 21 games. The Queens had the best regular season record but lost in a round-robin playoff.

The Queens dropped out after 1954, and although the Bluebirds and Bloomer Girls played some games in 1955, arguably it wasn’t really the National League any more. Subsequently Alice played for a couple of years in California and retired, taking a job with the post office in Chicago. She married Eric Lundgren in 1961. She died on March 25, 2011, while living in the Elgin, Illinois, area, about 40 miles from Chicago. Her survivors were two children, James Lundgren and Patricia Lundgren Frank, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

A couple of years before her death Alice appeared in an old-timer’s event with the Northern Indiana Slammers. Among the other participants was Ginger Gascon, who played in both leagues.

Although not the greatest player overall, Alice was a consistent star for all of the NGBL’s 11 seasons. She was the leader of a team that won two regular-season and five playoff championships. There was no one comparable in versatility. If there were a league hall of fame, Alice would be one of the first to be selected. Her family remembered her as a fine, loving woman, who always wanted to play ball, and even in her advanced years was the best player on the field.

 

Sources

Chicago Daily News

Chicago Herald-American

Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Tribune

Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, Illinois

Forest Park Review

Southeast/Southtown Economist

Obituaries:

Chicago Tribune, March 28/29, 2011

Daily Herald, March 29, 2011

Bloomer Girls News, 1947-48 (Courtesy of the Forest Park Historical Society).

Edwin T. Kolski’s Chicago Queens, 1947. Booklet published in Chicago by Kolski.

Official National Girls Baseball League Magazine. Several issues, 1949-53. Printed for the league by Publishers, Inc., Cicero, Illinois.

 

Notes

iEdwin T. Kolski (1911-2000) graduated from Notre Dame in 1932. He owned and managed women’s amateur and professional teams and a men’s semipro team. He was Republican committeeman for Chicago’s 32nd Ward for many years and was a prominent political, as well as sports, figure.

ii The statistics for this league are not available per se. An inspection of numerous archives has failed to unearth them. I have complete stats for only one year, with partials for most of the others. The records were compiled by the defunct Howe News Bureau (which also did minor-league averages). Stats Inc. has some of the Howe records but so far has not located the NGBL averages.

iii Like the All-American, the National was a pitcher’s league, so any average over .200 was good. There were few home runs, and Alice Kolski was one of the better sluggers in the early years.

iv Next highest in total bases was 141, which makes clear the Ruthian impact of Freda Savona. Audrey Wagner, one of the greatest players in the All-American, had jumped to the National. She had a .277 batting average, 122 total bases, and 47 RBIs.

v The first was Wilda Mae Turner.

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