“Take me out to the ballgame! Take me out to the crowd!” – But wait? Where are the crowds? And what happened to the home team? Where did everyone go? How can vendors sell their peanuts when no one is at the game? And how can you play a game when all the fit athletes are abroad?
During the Second World War there was fear that Major League Baseball Parks across the country were in danger of collapse due to the fact so many men were being drafted into military service. Chewing-gum mogul and Chicago Cubs Owner, Philip Wrigley created a committee to solve the potential collapse. The committee recommended that a girl’s league be created in order to attract enough crowds to save the baseball parks. The All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was a professional baseball league
that existed from 1943 to 1954. Over 600 girls participated in the league that totaled 15 teams. Ann Harnett became the first girl to sign with the All-Americans, who was shortly followed by Shirley Jameson, Edythe Perlick and Claire Schillace.
Being a female athlete in the 1940s and 50s was no picnic. Wrigley enforced strict rules and regulations upon the women athletes in order to uphold the “highest ideals of womanhood”. After their daily practices during spring training in Chicago the women met with Helena Rubenstein’s Beauty Salon to attend evening charm and etiquette lessons. Each athlete was also given a personal beauty kit with instructions on how to use it with the goal of making sure each woman was as physically attractive as possible (because nothing is going to help you catch a fly ball better then applying the right shade of lipstick). Even the uniforms were made with aesthetics in mind, rather then practicality. Imagine having to slide into base wearing a short shirt that shows off your legs rather then protecting them! The women also signed contracts forbidding them to wear trousers or drink alcohol.
The public image of the league and its players was important because not only was the league helping keep the ballparks open and making money but they were also a tool in the wartime patriotism media machine. Not only was baseball a popular form of entertainment but also it became a symbol of national pride and honor. Even the name, “All American League” was chosen to convey a certain image. At the beginning of each game the two teams stood in a “V for Victory” formation. The league held exhibition games for the Red Cross and veteran’s hospitals. Maintaining the patriotic and wholesome image of the players was a main priority for Wrigley and other league executives.
As the years went on the men came home the popularity of the AAGPBL declined. The combination of lack of promotion for the women and the start of televised men’s major league baseball led to the demise of women in baseball in 1954. The women continue to be remembered for their athletic ability and for boosting the morale of the public during wartime though with their own place in the Baseball Hall of Fame and the film A League of Their Own.