May 25, 2020
It’s our deepest dive yet into the legendarily one-of-a-kind All-American Girls Professional Baseball League with Marshall University Professor of Women’s Sport History Kat Williams (The All-American Girls After the AAGPBL: How Playing Pro Ball Shaped Their Lives).
Widely acknowledged as the forerunner of women's professional league sports in the United States, the pioneering AAGPBL featured more than 600 female players over the course of its twelve seasons between 1943-54 – spanning 15 mid-sized markets across the American Midwest, and drawing sizable crowds – including nearly a million fans at its peak in 1948.
In its first season, the league played a game that resembled more softball than baseball: the ball was regulation softball size (12 inches) and the pitcher's mound was only 40 feet from home plate – a third closer than that of men’s baseball. Pitchers threw underhand windmill (as in softball) and the distance between bases was 65 feet – a full 25 feet shorter than in the men’s game.
But, over the AAGPBL’s history, the rules gradually evolved to approach those of full-fledged men’s baseball; by the league’s final season in 1954: the ball was regulation baseball size, the mound distance was 60 feet (a mere six inches closer than the men’s game), and the basepaths were 85 feet long (just five feet shy of those of the men).
To prove its competitive seriousness, the league peppered its on-field managerial ranks with male skippers of substantial major league baseball pedigrees – including eventual National Baseball Hall of Famers Max Carey and Jimmy Foxx.
The quality of play was consistently high, convincing even the most purist of traditional baseball fans that “the Girls could play.” By 1947, the AAGBPL was even emulating the majors in identifying and recruiting talent from the fertile playing fields of baseball-mad Cuba – a story Williams helps illustrate with her new profile (Isabel “Lefty” Alvarez: The Improbable Life of a Cuban American Baseball Star) of one of the handful of émigrés who ultimately came to the US to become “All-American.”
This week’s episode is sponsored by the Red Lightning Books imprint of Indiana University Press – who offer our listeners a FREE CHAPTER of pioneering sportswriter Diana K. Shah’s new memoir A Farewell to Arms, Legs and Jockstraps!