At SABR 51 on Thursday, July 6, 2023, a panel discussion was held on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.
The panel included included former AAGPBL player and women’s baseball ambassador Maybelle Blair, with Dr. Kat Williams of the International Women’s Baseball Center, and Kristie Erickson of The History Museum in South Bend.
- Audio: Click here to listen to the SABR 51 AAGPBL Panel (MP3; 53:21)
Here are some highlights:
ON THE LEGACY OF THE AAGPBL PLAYERS
- Williams: “Women’s participation in the game of baseball did not start in 1943 and it did not stop in 1954. Women have been a part of this game since its inception, and we still are. … But I think what they did off the field, what they did when they stopped playing, what they did with the money they earned — in some cases, twice what their fathers made — they opened businesses, they put themselves through college. They became doctors and lawyers and directors of departments at large corporations. They had an opportunity to do those things because they had an opportunity to play baseball. … They had an impact that far surpassed their batting averages.”
ON THE AAGPBL’S IMPACT ON ITS COMMUNITIES
- Erickson: “The league drew crowds of 2,000 to 7,000 at many of their games throughout the Midwest. That’s a lot of folks paying for tickets and peanuts and programs. … It was inexpensive entertainment and most of their revenue came from ticket sales. The South Bend Blue Sox did better than most, but they also had a unique location. … Cities with teams started their own camps and leagues for young women. Fort Wayne (Indiana) had and still has a long-term league for young women to play since the 1940s. … These cities also would eventually come to employ more women in jobs, at factories. … If you were a fan of women’s sports, you might be inspired to do something outside of traditional gender norms. … You see a little bit of a bump in [these places].”
ON HER FAVORITE MEMORY OF THE AAGPBL
- Blair: “Putting on my uniform. When I put on my uniform, I said, ‘Maybelle, you are a professional baseball player, believe that.’ And I put on my spikes and hit that cement — there’s nothing like the music of spikes on cement, clickety-clack, clickety-clack. To this day I don’t know why they didn’t make a song about the clickety-clack of baseball shoes.”
ON PLAYING WITH INJURIES
- Blair: “I want you to know that these girls and women are stronger than the men when it comes to belly-aching about all of their pains and their aches and their moans and their groans. When we were playing baseball, we didn’t have sliding pads. We had little dresses on and bloomers under there. We’d go sliding in and we’d get all this gravel in our rear ends. And today, if you feel my rear end, you can still feel gravel in there because I still carry it with me.”
ON ATTENDING COLLEGE AFTER BASEBALL
- Erickson: “At the time, maybe 8 percent of women attended college. For ex-players in the (All-American) league, it was more like 35 percent. In interviews, you’d hear players say, ‘I always thought I would be on the farm … but after playing in the league, I thought I could do more than that myself.’ For so many of these players, going to college and earning graduate degrees … becoming teachers, sharing that knowledge with the community and inspiring them.”
ON THE FUTURE OF WOMEN’S BASEBALL
- Blair: “We built the International Women’s Baseball Center (in Rockford). What a great opportunity to have a home for girls baseball like the boys do in Williamsport (Pennsylvania). Girls love baseball, they must — or they wouldn’t be here. Look in the stands and you see almost as many women out there as men. Give us an opportunity to show how much we love the game. … We don’t intend to be major-league players, all we would love to do is to have a league of our own like the IWBC.”
For more coverage of SABR 51, visit SABR.org/convention.
Originally published: July 13, 2023. Last Updated: July 13, 2023.