At the height of World War II, more than 1,000 professional baseball players were enlisted into service, leaving barebones major league teams to recruit male players from the minor leagues. When that failed to fill the empty positions, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) looked to recruit women into the field of professional baseball.
The mass entrance of women into the workforce was an effort to fill vacated industrial jobs, and a similar substitution was made in the male-dominated world of sports. Philip K. Wrigley, Wrigley Chewing Gum Company CEO and the owner of the Chicago Cubs, financed the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Women were scouted from throughout North America, and tryouts were held at Wrigley Field. The selected players were compiled into four teams — the beginnings of the league.
The game initially resembled women’s professional softball, as many players were accustomed to pitching underhand, and gradually evolved to regulation baseball. Many National League stadiums refused to allow women to play in them, so teams were established in Midwest cities. The selected cities were central to wartime production, and the presence of baseball provided entertainment. It also kept up morale for male and female wartime workers, as well as their families. Due to the initial success, Wrigley expanded the league to two other major Midwest cities only two years later: Milwaukee and Minneapolis, the new home to the women’s team, the Minneapolis Millerettes.
The Millerettes played at Nicollet Park, sharing the stadium with the men’s minor league team, the Minneapolis Millers. Despite the lack of players many other teams faced, the Millers continued to play during World War II and competed with the Millerettes for an audience. General admission to both teams’ games was eighty-five cents. The games were publicized as “family-friendly,” and the female players’ behavior was expected to reflect that image. The league hired chaperones to supervise the women, and smoking, drinking and dating were among forbidden behaviors.
Wrigley wanted to assure fans that women were not trying to take over the “men’s sport,” and thus promoted femininity above all else. Many of the players were from rural areas, and the league established charm schools to educate the women on proper behavior, training them on how to speak, dress, apply makeup and “proper posture.” Tryouts were not far from a beauty pageant, as the women were chosen as much for their looks as for their playing ability.
The uniforms of the Millerettes consisted of maroon-colored knee socks and a short-skirted dress (either cream or pink, depending on whether it was a home or away game) emblazoned with the Minneapolis city seal. Although shorts were worn underneath, the dresses did nothing to protect the women from injuries; the “strawberry” scrapes across their legs gained from sliding were all too common. In newspaper articles covering the games, Millerettes were described as “dainty,” “pretty” and ”statuesque.”
Former Major League Baseball catcher Clarence “Bubber” Jonnard managed the team during their 1944 season. The Millerettes’ lineup included sisters Margaret “Marge” Callaghan and Helen Callaghan, one of the leading hitters in the League. Despite the season’s enthusiastic start, the Millerettes were 23–36 at the end of the first half of the season. They did not make much improvement, and ended that season 45–72.
Box office sales began to decline due to competition with the Millers. Many other teams in the league complained of the travel distance to play at Nicollet Park; their closest competitors were 400 miles away in Rockford, Illinois. On July 23, 1944, the Millerettes became exclusively a traveling team throughout the Midwest, earning themselves the nickname “the Orphans.” In 1945, after one of the shortest durations in the AAGPBL, the Millerettes were relocated to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they played as the Fort Wayne Daisies until 1954.
In 1987, Millerettes outfielder Helen Callaghan’s son Kelly Candaele and friend Kim Wilson paid tribute to the female players in the production of the documentary film “A League of Their Own.” It chronicled the Callaghans’ experiences of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which inspired Penny Marshall’s 1992 feature film of the same name.
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