Women Players in Organized Baseball

This article was written by L. Robert Davids

This article was published in the 1983 Baseball Research Journal


On June 21, 1952, the Harrisburg, Pa., Senators of the Inter-State League announced plans to sign a female player to a contract. She was Mrs. Eleanor Engle, 24, a 132-pound stenographer at the State Capitol. She worked out with the club at shortstop the next day, but did not play in the game against Lancaster. Harrisburg manager Buck Etchison, who had not been consulted on the matter by club officials, strongly opposed the use of Mrs. Engle. So did umpire Bill Angstadt.

National attention on the issue forced a quick ruling by National Association President George Trautman barring the signing of women as players. Commissioner Ford Frick concurred in the action. Engle’s teammates apparently concurred also, as a much published photo of the time showed her sitting alone in one part of the dugout while all the male players were grouped in the other section. An article in The Sporting News, in summarizing opposition to girls playing in O.B., stated: “Even President Bill Veeck of the Browns, who presented a midget in a game last year and tried many bizarre promotional stunts, declared it was going too far.”

Mrs. Engle, keenly disappointed at the ruling, said she would try out with the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All American Girls Baseball League. This was an organization started in 1943 in the Middle West and was headed for part of its tenure by Max Carey. Jimmie Foxx was manager of the Daisies in 1952.

While progress has been made in O.B. in the area of women umpires – particularly in the case of 27-year-old Pam Postema, who, after several years in the lower classifications, worked her way up to the Pacific Coast League in 1983 – there are no serious threats to buck the ruling on female players which Trautman imposed in 1952.

There were earlier efforts, however, to open the doors of minor league ball to female players. Essentially all of these ventures were publicity oriented. We can dismiss quickly such one-shot events as Babe Didrikson, the top all-around woman athlete of the 1930s, pitching against the Cleveland Indians in a springtime exhibition game in New Orleans; or Paul Dean of the Cardinals pitching to a lady batter in a pre-game activity under the lights in Cincinnati in July 1935.

The most publicized case of this type resulted from the promotional efforts of Joe Engel, owner-president of the Chattanooga Lookouts, and the recognized “P.T. Barnum of Baseball.” He signed a 17-year-old southpaw pitcher named Jackie Mitchell and got her into an exhibition game with the New York Yankees in Chattanooga on April 2, 193 1. The Lookouts leading hurler, Clyde Barfoot, started the game and gave up a double to Earle Combs and a single to Lyn Lary for one run. With Babe Ruth coming up, Mitchell went to the mound. She threw two strikes past Ruth and he asked the umpire to check the ball. The Babe then took a third strike and threw his bat away in mock disgust. Gehrig swung wildly at three pitches and dragged his bat back to the dugout. Tony Lazzeri tried to bunt the first pitch, and then took four balls. Chattanooga manager Bert Niehoff then had the young lefty leave the mound and Barfoot returned to retire the side. The Yanks went on to a 14-4 win.

The wire services reported the event reasonably straight and most sports editors carried it the same way. Readers didn’t know whether to take it seriously or not. The Sporting News practically ignored it, saying only that powerful sluggers were not going to hit the ball with a young girl on the mound. Joe Engel was satisfied with the publicity. On April 23, he placed Mitchell on the Reserve list. She had not appeared in any Southern Association games, although she had been on the roster. Engel said she would continue to do promotional work on behalf of the club.

That same April of 1931, and it would be stretching to say the timing was coincidental, the Joplin, Missouri, Globe ran a story about players for their Class C Western Association club reporting for spring training under the direction of manager Lyman Lamb, former Western League star. The April 10 story included a reference to Joplin resident Luke Corbus, the catcher, who “is being groomed for an outfield job. Miss Vada Corbus, his sister, also will go to Pierce City today. She has signed with the Miners for a trial, and will try for a catching position with the club.” Two days later the Globe ran a picture of her in Joplin uniform and batting lefthanded. The caption said: “A 19-year-old Joplin girl, Miss Vada Corbus, is among those out for the job as catcher with the Joplin Miners this season. She is expected to work a part of the opening game at Childress Field April 30.”

But opening day came and Vada Corbus did not play — then or later. There was practically no mention of her thereafter. The New York Times ran a picture of her on April 21, and it is speculated that the advance publicity alerted National Association officials and any plan that the Joplin club had to get her into a game was squashed.

It appears that there have been only two widely separated cases where a female player participated in an official minor league game. One was publicized briefly and the other went practically unnoticed.

Ed Barrow, former baseball manager and executive, mentioned in his autobiography that he was instrumental in bringing a female player into professional baseball when he was president of the Atlantic League in the late 1890s. No specifics were given, however, and it fell to SABR member Al Kermisch to help pinpoint the time of this short-lived experiment.

The girl in question was Elizabeth Stroud, but she played under the name of Lizzie Arlington. Her background is described in an article in the July 3, 1898, Philadelphia Inquirer, part of which is quoted here:

Miss Lizzie Arlington made her debut as a professional baseball player under the shadow of Colonel Rogers’ much lauded cantilever yesterday afternoon when she pitched for the Philadelphia Reserves against the Richmond Club. Miss Lizzie is a Mahanoy City maiden, who learned to play ball up in the coal regions with her father and brothers. In her baseball costume, she doesn’t look over five feet in height, is stockily built, has brown eyes and hair, and lays claim to 22 summers and the same number of winters .. . Captain William J. Conner, well known in sporting and theatrical circles, heard of her, went out to see her play, and engaged her on sight at $100 per week to finish the season under his management. Captain Conner is very proud of his new star and sees millions in her, but he was sorely disappointed at the size of the crowd, not over 500 being present. He will do better next week when he goes on the Atlantic League circuit.

In this professional game (but not organized ball) against the Richmond Club of Philadelphia, Lizzie pitched four innings and played second the rest of the game. She gave up six hits and three unearned runs in an 18-5 triumph and collected two hits herself off Mike Kilroy, former major league hurler. Her next date was with the New York Athletic Club against Norristown, and again she performed well. The Captain Conner arranged for her to play with several Atlantic League clubs. As it happened, she played in only one game for Reading against Allentown on July 5, which was a regulation minor league game. Here is the description from the Reading Eagle.

With Lizzie Arlington heralded as the “most famous lady pitcher in the world,” as a special attraction, over 1000 persons wended their way to the ball grounds Tuesday afternoon, including 200 ladies. But she was apparently brought there to show the audience what she looks like and how she dresses, for she appeared only a few minutes in practice and twirled the last inning. Reading won from Allentown by 5 to 0 in an exceedingly pretty game, but the victory was due to Garvin’s masterful pitching and his excellent support.

Miss Arlington with several other persons drove on the grounds in a stylish carriage drawn by two white horses. To the applause that greeted her she lifted her cap. The spectators beheld a plump young woman with attractive face and rosy cheeks. She wore a gray uniform with skirt coming to her knees, black stockings and a jaunty cap. Her hair was not cropped short, but was done up in the latest fashion.

She practiced with Reading and played 2nd base. She made several stops, but the very hot “daisy-cutters” she left to Ulrich. She made several neat throws. She went about it like a professional, even down to expectorating on her hands and wiping her hands on her uniform. Miss Arlington was put in in the 9th when Reading was 5 tallies to the good. Joe Delahanty, the first batter to face her, fouled to Heydon. Lyons shoved a little grounder to the female twirler, who threw him out at 1st. Seagrave and Jim Delahanty made safe cracks and Boyle walked. With the bases full, Cleve gave Newel a foul. “Good for Lizzie,” shrieked the crowd. She shook hands with a number. Miss Arlington might do as a pitcher among amateurs, but the sluggers of the Atlantic League would soon put her out of the business. She, of course, hasn’t the strength to get much speed on and has poor control. But, for a woman, she is a success . . .On Thursday she gives an exhibition at Hartford.

On July 6 the Hartford Courant reported that “the Newarks will be here the balance of the week and a sensation is promised for Friday’s game when Miss Lizzie Arlington will pitch for the Hartfords. It is said that she plays ball just like a man and talks ball like a man and if it was not for her bloomers she would be taken for a man on the diamond, having none of the peculiarities of women ball players.” But Lizzie’s appearance with the Hartford club was cancelled at the eleventh hour as “the local management did not want to take any chances of losing the game to Newark.” The other games that were planned in the Atlantic League did not materialize and Lizzie Arlington suddenly dropped out of the news. In spite of all the ballyhoo, brief as it was, Lizzie played only one inning of minor league ball. That was the July 5 ninth inning pitching appearance against Allentown, which, incidentally, had three Delahanty brothers in the lineup. Tom had already been in the majors and Jim and Joe would follow.

The next time a girl appeared in the lineup of a minor league team was on September 7, 1936, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This was in the Class D Arkansas-Missouri League and Cassville was playing Fayetteville in the next-to-last day of the season. There was no advance publicity in the Fayetteville Daily Democrat, just the report of the game the day after. The text of the article read as follows:

With Frances (Sonny) Dunlap, All-America girls A.A.U. basketball player of the Tulsa Stenos, who lives in Farmington,, near here, in their outfield, the Bears won the semi-final game of the season from the first half champion Cassville Blues at the Fair Grounds yesterday afternoon, 5-1.

Miss Dunlap, who gave a swell exhibit of herself during infield workout at third base, did not have a chance in right field. Neither did she secure a safe hit in three times at bat, but she connected with the ball each trip to the plate, and once made outfielder Gene Dunlap probably is the first girl in history to play an entire game of organized baseball.

The final statement probably is correct. And the primary reason this distinction was achieved was because there was no advance publicity and the league officials and/or National Association officials did not know it was going to take place. If there were any aftereffects, there was no mention in the Fayetteville Daily Democrat or other newspapers. The incident slipped into historical oblivion and wasn’t even resurrected in 1952 when Eleanor Engle made her splash with the Harrisburg team.

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