At the height of World War II, more than 1,000 professional baseball players were drafted into service, leaving major league teams bereft to recruit male players from the minor leagues. When that failed to fill the vacancies, the All-American Women Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) sought to recruit women into the field of professional baseball.
The mass entry of women into the workforce was an effort to fill industrial vacancies, and a similar alternative was made in the male-dominated world of sports. Philip K. Wrigley, CEO of Wrigley Chewing Gum and owner of the Chicago Cubs, funded the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The women were surveyed from all over North America, and the auditions took place at Wrigley Field. The selected players were grouped into four teams – the beginnings of the league.
The game was initially similar to women’s professional softball, with many players used to pitch the ball, and gradually evolved into baseball. Many National League stadiums refused to allow women to play in them, so teams were established in Midwestern cities. The selected towns were central to wartime production, and the presence of baseball provided entertainment. It also maintained the morale of the male and female wartime personnel, as well as their families. Due to initial success, Wrigley expanded the league to two other major Midwestern cities after only two years: Milwaukee and Minneapolis, the new home of the women’s team, the Minneapolis Millerites.
The Millerettes played at Nicollet Park, sharing the field with the Minneapolis Millers. Despite the lack of players that many other teams faced, the Millers continued to play through World War II and competed with the Millerettes for an audience. General admission to the two teams’ matches was eighty-five cents. The games were advertised as “family friendly”, and the behavior of female players was expected to reflect this image. The League hired attendants to supervise the women, and smoking, drinking, and dating were prohibited behaviors.
Wrigley wanted to assure the masses that women were not trying to dominate the “men’s sport”, and thus promoted femininity above all else. Many of the players were from rural areas, and the League established witch schools to educate women about proper behaviour, training them to speak, dress, apply make-up and “proper posture”. The auditions were not far from the beauty pageant, where the women were chosen as much for their looks and playing ability.
The Millerettes’ uniform consisted of burgundy knee socks and a short-skirt dress (either cream or pink, depending on whether it was a home or away game) emblazoned with the City of Minneapolis seal. Although shorts were worn underneath, the dresses did nothing to protect the women from injuries; “Strawberry” scratches on their legs acquired from slipping were very common. In newspaper articles covering the games, Millerites were described as “delicious”, “beautiful”, and “statues”.
Box office sales began to decline due to competition with mills. Several other teams in the league complained about the distance to travel to play at Nicollet Park; Their closest competitor was 400 miles away in Rockford, Illinois. On July 23, 1944, the Millerettes became an exclusive traveling team throughout the Midwest, earning the nickname “The Orphans”. In 1945, after one of the shortest stints in the AAGPBL, the Millerettes relocated to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they played the Fort Wayne Daisies until 1954.
In 1987, Kelly Kandel, the Miller’s son of Helen Callahan and girlfriend Kim Wilson, paid tribute to female players in producing the documentary A League of Their Own. It chronicled the Callaghans’ experiences in the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League, which inspired the 1992 Penny Marshall movie of the same name.
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