The first years of the All-American Girls Softball League included some volatile moments on the diamond when players, managers, umpires and even fans were caught up in the emotions of the moment.
Being ejected from the game became commonplace for players and managers. When the stakes were at their highest and a bad call stood between success and failure, fists flew.
When it was the fans who rioted, the only recourse for officials was to bring out the police to escort umpires to safety.
What might be considered the ultimate confrontation occurred in 1947 when it was an umpire who was forced out of a game. It wasn’t because of any misconduct on his part but because a player objected so violently to his call that he couldn’t continue on the field.
The Racine Belles and the Grand Rapids Chicks were in the final innings of a late game of the League’s Shaughnessy Playoffs. The two teams were “locked in a bruising 2 to 2 tie when the Belles took their turn at bat in the last of the eighth,” reported the Racine newspaper.
The Belles’ Edythe Perlick had doubled to second and then made it to third when teammate Eleanor Dapkus sacrificed. Maddy English walked, putting two on the bases. Irene Hickson sent a fly ball to the Chicks’ centrefielder Jane ‘Jeep’ Stoll, who then fired it to home plate to try to stop Perlick from scoring.
The play was close but Umpire George Johnson declared Perlick safe.
“In a split second,, reported the Racine newspaper, “Catcher Ruth Lessing of the Chicks pounced on Johnson with both hands flying and slugged him so hard in the eye and face that Johnson staggered back under the attack, so dizzy he was unable to continue working behind the plate.”
Lessing was evicted from the game and the immediate question became whether or not she would be allowed to play the next and final game of the playoff series.
It’s interesting to note that when Belles’ Manager Charles Stis did something similar in 1945, he was replaced. Ruth Lessing’s punishment was a $100 fine, and the umpires for the series recommended that she be allowed to play in the playoffs’ final game.
In any event, the Belles won both of the games and the playoffs.
A couple of days later the newspaper reported that “ardent fans have already donated more than enough to pay [Lessing’s] fine.”