Women ball players head for Wrigley Field

Marie Wadlow and Ann 'Toots' Hartnett show their softball form in February 9, 1943 Chicago newspaper report that they are bound for the professional league try outs at Wrigley Field.

Marie Wadlow and Ann ‘Toots’ Hartnett show their softball form in February 9, 1943 Chicago newspaper report that they have been recruited  for the professional league to play at Wrigley Field.

The prospect of being able to play professional softball raised the heartbeat of many talented players in the American Midwest and western Canada in early 1943, but it also threatened to strip the best players from amateur teams.

The Chicago Tribune reported on February 9, 1943 that National League owners had been invited to be a part of a professional girls’ softball league “in those cities where parks are idle half the season.”

The question arose whether amateur club owners were concerned about approaches being made to some of the game’s best players. In February 1943, it appeared not to be an issue.

Rudy Sanders, president of the Metropolitan Girls Major Softball League, received the news of the imminent raid upon the amateur players with calm. “Wrigley is going to have trouble persuading most of the star players to sign,” he said. “Most of them have war defense jobs or other work by which they earn an average of $50 a week the year ’round, right now. They can hold these jobs and play nights with us, and live at home, untroubled by scheduled trips to other cities.

“Another thing, the caliber of girls’ softball has increased of recent years but there still isn’t enough difference between the stars and the rank-and-file of the teams to wreck us if the Cubs and their associates take two or three off each club. We will still be able to go ahead giving the fans good softball at a fraction of the cost the Wrigley Field project will have to charge.”

By May, the story was different. Gene Kessler, sports editor for the Chicago Times, reported a “Hair-pulling softball war” was underway.

A ‘hair-pulling feud’ has flared as the outcome of P. K. Wrigley’s venture into professional girls’ softball.  The Greater Girls’ Softball league, which has operated successfully in Chicago for several years, is lining up for a finish fight after having its ranks raided of stars.

Already the Wrigley loop has taken a dozen players from the local league. Some of these girls were employed in defense plants and are leaving their jobs for the summer to play softball exclusively in Kenosha, Rockford, Fort Wayne and South Bend.

Edwin T. Kolski, manager of the Benda Coals, cites an example in a letter to us. “Leola Brody, who played on my team after working hours, had been performing 100 per cent defense work at a Chicago plant,” he stated. “She received a contract from Ken Sells, president of the All-American Girls Softball league, offering $65 per week. She signed this and now has obtained a four-months’ leave of absence to play with this new league.”

Thus, Wrigley’s organization is taking girls off defense jobs in Chicago to play softball in Kenosha, Rockford, Fort Wayne and South Bend. Such a move by the owner of a major league baseball club is hard to understand.

Such raiding of stars threatened to entirely wreck the Greater Softball league. It did reduce the loop from eight to six clubs. So the local owners hired a lawyer and started plans to fight back. …

Outcome of this situation probably will be a turnover of the Greater Softball league from amateur to professional (or semi-pro) with all girls placed under contract. That would protect the clubs for the future.

But the Chicago league already has lost so much playing strength — girl stars who developed the past few seasons — that revisions of the loop and schedule were necessary….

“We had to do something to save our league,” Rudy Sanders, manager of the Rockolas, explained. “So we decided to give the new league a fight. We do not have funds to compete with Wrigley in offering salaries, but we won’t ask our players to leave their jobs.”

“…If all who have been approached leave us, we’ll have to dig up a lot of new talent to survive the blow. But we’re going to give them a fight.”

We might say a hair-pulling fight.

And of course, with that characterization of the bad feeling between the long-standing softball teams and the new Wrigley enterprise, this cartoon was considered appropriate.

Girls' pro softball did take young women away from defence work, a serious issue in 1943. Nevertheless, only cartoon characters pulling each other's hair was an appropriate graphic.

No amount of skilled playing could override the preferred stereotype of women as hair-pulling squabblers.

It completely overlooks the fact that the players were happy at the new opportunities that Wrigley’s league offered them. Many of the players who didn’t join had tried out and been rejected.

It was the men who were at loggerheads over who would get the best softball talent. The local businessmen who ran the amateur teams were in it for their own prestige and money. They were the ones who were doing the ‘hair-pulling’, whether each others or their own.

The issue of how the new league could access a supply of skilled players foreshadowed the league’s end nearly 12 years later.

In its final days, the AAGPBL had changed the size of the ball and the diamond and  the style of pitching to such an extent that new players could not adapt. It’s one of the major reasons that the league folded.

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About Lois Browne

I'm a mystery writer, blogger and traveller.
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