Injuries mount as brawls continue in 1944 AAGPBL

In my last post, I wrote that in the first year of the League, the traditional arguing between umpires and the managers and players sometimes boiled over to the point where fists flew and fans charged the field. It got worse.

In 1944, the league expanded by two teams, both of which were seeded with some of the top players of the League.

1944_Milwaukee_Chicks AAGPBL

The Milwaukee Chicks, managed by Max Carey, had a reputation for deliberate roughhouse tactics designed to incapacitate their opponents.

They also appear to have been some of the toughest, or that was the reputation earned by the Milwaukee Chicks, managed by Max Carey, a National League record-holder who had been known for his base stealing and his baseball smarts.

Carey was destined to become League president, when it would be his job to impose the  discipline that would get unruly personnel under control, but in 1944, his job was the same as every other manager – to lead his team to the championship.

It was under his coaching that the team developed a reputation for rough play.

Just before a series with the South Bend Blue Sox, manager Bert Niehoff told Jim Costin, the South Bend Tribune sports editor, that he had heard from other teams that the Chicks “were tearing the League apart with their rough house tactics, particularly on the bases…”

After the first game of a series between the Blue Sox and the Chicks, Bert Niehoff was again quoted, saying that “if anything, the case had been understated to him by the others.”

Niehoff, however, was no stranger to volatile games. On the July long weekend, the Kenosha Comets and the league-leading South Bend Blue Sox, met for a series. Kenosha won the first two games and were heading for a third straight win in the second game of a double-header.

Bert Niehoff, manager of AAGPBL South Bend Blue Sox 1943-44, when he played with the Philadelphia Phillies

Bert Niehoff, like all the League managers, had many years experience playing and scouting in the major leagues.

It was the “most tumultuous night of play in the All American Girls Professional Ball League ever unraveled here,” went the South Bend Tribune news report. “The nightcap had hardly started when the first of two blow-ups, which incited fans against the umpires transpired.”

Blue Sox manager Bert Niehoff was banished when he protested a balk called by umpire Jack Rice. “It flared into white heat” when umpire Jordan tossed [South Bend] Catcher [Mary ‘Bonnie’] Baker out in the home fourth when, after she had lofted out, made a remark to Jordan as she returned to the dugout.

“Baker refused to leave the field and Jordan pulled his watch, upon which Bonnie obliged his nibs.”

South Bend lost that game too, a humiliating 8-1.

“When the game ended, an irate fan landed a haymaker on Jordan as the arbiter neared his dressing quarters and it was then police reserves offered him protection and after some time succeeded in dispersing the fans who milled around outside the umpire’s dressing rooms.  All of this action was witnessed by League president Ken Sells.”

Later in the season, it was the Chicks and the Racine Belles who provided the drama.

In the second game against the Belles, described as a “slam-bang battle for first place in the League,” the Chicks won 8-5. Umpires Charles Ullenberg and Jack Rice made several close decisions against the Racine team and threw their manager, Johnny Gottselig and third baseman Maddy English out of the game for strenuous protests.

Ullenberg had already enraged fans the night before by throwing Gottselig out of the game for smoking in his own dugout. And prior to ejecting English from the game had already erased a run she had scored in the third inning.

After the game ended, several hundred Racine fans pushed the umpires around as they tried to make their way to the clubhouse and Ullenberg was reportedly struck by several fans. Police and ushers shepherded the umpires through the crowd and then out of the clubhouse while fans booed and jeered.

It was the following year that one of the most serious breaches of discipline occurred, and the Chicks were involved, but their crime seems to have been that they won the game.

The Chicks were now headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and managed by Benny Meyer. Once again they were in Racine for a series against the Belles, managed now by Charlie Stis.

When umpire Jack Rimer ruled against a play by Racine’s Irene Hickson in the 9th inning that gave the winning run to the Chicks’ Twi Shively, the Racine manager lost his temper. Enraged, he stormed  onto the field and took a swing at Rimer, who swung back and a “swing-as-you-please shindig was on,” according to newspaper coverage.  The two had to be separated by police and spectators.

AAGPBL 1945-47 Grand Rapids Chicks, Philomena Gianfrancisco, Twila Shively and unidentified player

Twi Shively, flanked by Philomena Gianfrancisco on the left and an unidentified player on the right, joined the Grand Rapids Chicks in 1945.

The reporter noted that hitting an umpire was a very serious offence and whatever disciplinary action levied by the new League president, Max Carey, would “set the pattern in case any other League managers decide to present another umpire with a ‘knuckle sandwich.’”

(Local newspapers once they covered the fist-fight seemed to have ignored any follow-up, but shortly after the incident Stis was replaced as manager and he never returned to the All-American League.)

In fact, charges of unsportsmanlike behaviour could have been fairly evenly spread around the League.

Sports editor Costin reminded readers that it was these kind of tactics on other occasions that had led to a broken collar bone for Minneapolis catcher Dorothy Paire and an elbow in the eye for South Bend catcher Bonnie Baker, to name just two of many incidents. It was time “heavy fines and suspensions be meted out as a warning that such gashouse stuff will not be tolerated.”

But reporters weren’t above egging hot-tempered players on. The same writer that covered the Stis-Rimer set-to wrote that what he really wanted to see was for one of the girls to take a swing at an umpire.

“As a guy who is wholeheartedly against a man ever striking a woman, except in self defence, I’ve often wondered how chivalrous one of the league’s umpires would be in case one of the girls tried to tee off on his chin.”

As it happens, that was a couple of years away.  Read about it in the final post.

If anyone can identify the third player in the photo with 
Twila Shively, please let me know.

About Lois Browne

I'm a mystery writer, blogger and traveller.
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