SABR 41: Jan Wood, A Pioneer of Women’s Ball

LIVE FROM LONG BEACH — The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League became a household name after A League of Their Own came out in 1992. But even hardcore fans likely are not aware of another World War II-era girls league: the National Girls Baseball League … which Wood is quick to remind you was actually a softball league. (The AAGPBL evolved into a hardball league, but the Chicago-based NGBL never did.) 

Jan Wood played for three years in the NGBL, which drew more than 500,000 fans annually at its peak, and is fiercely proud of her playing career. She said she was discovered by scouts in 1949 while playing a sandlot game. During her time, she was known as a strong hitter and an even better base-stealer, leading the league in one season. If not for a broken wrist sustained while sliding headfirst into second base — sliding feet-first was usually more painful due to the “short shorts” uniform worn by the female players — Wood likely would have gone on playing until the league folded in 1953.

Being a pioneer of women’s baseball in America is only one of Wood’s many accomplishments. During World War II, she served in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Later, she flew around the world, raised rabbits and cows, and built a home for herself in Reseda, California.

— CJ Hangen

Originally published: July 7, 2011. Last Updated: July 27, 2020.