THH Episode 47: “The Dutiful Dozen”: The South Bend Blue Sox and Women’s Professional Baseball

Transcript and Show Notes for “‘The Dutiful Dozen’: The South Bend Blue Sox and Women’s Professional Baseball”

Written by Casey Pfeiffer and Michella Marino. Produced by Jill Weiss Simins.

[Crowd noise and cheering at a baseball game]

Justin Clark [using old time radio voice and effects]: And we’re all tied up here at 1 a piece as we head to the bottom of the 10th. The Blue Sox need to put one across to keep their championship hopes alive. . . And we’ve got something cooking here. . . Runners on the corners now with two out. Can they do it again folks? Westerman up at the plate with a chance to win it. And there’s a liner smashed to the right side and it’s through! Ladies and gentlemen, as they’ve proven time and again, don’t count these Sox out yet! We’ve got ourselves a tied series, and we’ll see you tomorrow for the championship!

[Audio clip of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”]

Clark: For fans cheering at the ballpark on September 10, 1952, few could have anticipated that their team would again have a chance to bring a championship title home to the city. The season had started off bright and expectations were high, but the ballclub had all but limped to the finish line. Injuries, costly managerial decisions, and discord between the players and leadership contributed to their drop in the standings. When six members walked off the team in late August and early September in a player strike just days before the end of the regular season, the club’s chances at clinching a consecutive playoff championship seemed bleak. After all, they’d lost a third of their roster and were reduced to just twelve players – a dutiful dozen. Giving up would have been easy. But as we all know…

[Audio clip from A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks]: “There’s no crying in baseball.”

The women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League were accustomed to adversity and relished the opportunity to compete at the same level as male professional baseball players. Showcasing their determination, grit, and innate athletic skill, the South Bend Blue Sox were prepared to leave it all on the field again for a chance at the 1952 title.

I’m Justin Clark, and this is Talking Hoosier History.

Though it would be twenty years until the passage of Title IX in 1972, which prohibits discrimination “on the basis of sex” in federally funded educational or athletic programs, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or AAGPBL, set an early precedent for women in professional sports. The League showed that when they had the opportunity, female athletes could be as competitive and entertaining as men. Yet, it also underscored that societal expectations of femininity were – and continue to be – imposed on female athletes. The South Bend Blue Sox and other teams of the League serve as an example of women succeeding in fields dominated by men, while reminding us of the work still needed today to help achieve greater gender equality in sports.

[Audio clip of the AAGPBL “Victory Song”]

Clark: Many of us are familiar with the quote, “There’s no crying in baseball,” from the popular movie A League of Their Own. The 1992 film put the AAGPBL back in the public eye, four decades after its founding. While the movie highlighted the history of the League (with some Hollywood liberties, of course), it’s important to note that though it was among the first, if not the first, organized professional women’s league to play baseball, women have been playing the sport since at least the 1860s.

Baseball, since its early roots in America in the mid-18th century, has been considered a man’s sport by most.  After developing into a professional game in the 19th century, it was dubbed too strenuous for women—the long base paths, heavy bat, overhand pitching, etc. etc. So women who played in the late 19th and early 20th century faced social criticism for their foray into this masculine domain.  Despite this, women continued playing on barnstorming teams and at women’s colleges on the east coast in the post-Civil War era through the turn of the 20th century but not in particularly high numbers, at least officially.

In the 1880s in urban areas, the game of baseball was modified to accommodate smaller spaces such as indoor gyms and city playgrounds, which led to the development of softball.  As softball evolved by the turn of the century, women were pushed into this sport and away from baseball.  Softball grew dramatically through recreational and industrial leagues during the Great Depression, and although generally acceptable for women in the pre-WWII era, female players were often deemed masculine.  Time Magazine described female softballers as “cavorting U.S. tomboys…girls [who] can pitch, bat, field grounders, otherwise perform like a reasonable facsimile of the male.” This widespread popularity of softball set the stage for a ready-made pool of athletes for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  These women knew how to play, and they were good. Very good.

[Audio clip of “Baseball Boogie”]

Clark: America began contributing towards the WWII effort and then officially joined the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Radio clip: “Millions of women who have never before been employed in industry are now enlisted in the nation’s labor forces. They are stepping in wherever they are needed to do a man’s job.”

Clark: More women entered the workforce, finding new employment opportunities in jobs traditionally held by men, who had taken up arms to fight.  This included professional baseball.

[Audio clip of “Baseball Boogie”]

Clark: Baseball was America’s national pastime and provided release from the stressors of the depression and war years. As the American economy shifted to wartime production in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, industrial recreation gained even greater importance for war workers and spectators who wanted to enjoy wholesome entertainment.

Radio clip: “See baseball is back again.  All of Washington is out, including the President of the United States.”

Clark: In January 1942, President Roosevelt stated,

Clark [using Roosevelt voice]: “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. . . everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. . . they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work. . .”

Clark: Nevertheless, there were still concerns that a manpower shortage could affect professional baseball in the spring of 1943 and leave ballparks empty. Not willing to wait around and see what happened, Philip K. Wrigley, chewing gum magnate and owner of the Chicago Cubs, stepped up to the plate.

He decided that professional women’s softball was the answer. When it became clear, though, that men’s professional baseball would not be curtailed by a manpower shortage, instead of abandoning his idea of women’s professional softball, Wrigley shifted gears slightly. According to historian Merrie Fidler,

Casey Pfeiffer: Wrigley “fashioned the league’s objectives to compliment the war effort in the mid-sized industrial communities that supported its teams.”

Clark: Wrigley founded the All-American Girls Softball League as a non-profit organization. He explored potential host cities ranging from Detroit to Cincinnati to Gary, but the final cities selected to host League teams were South Bend, Indiana; Racine and Kenosha, Wisconsin; and Rockford, Illinois. These cities had been hotbeds for women’s softball since the 1930s, were mid-sized war production cities, and were conveniently located within a 100-mile radius of Wrigley’s base of operations in Chicago.

Radio Ad: for Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum: “Hi ho, hey, hey.  Chew Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum!”

Clark: Wrigley offered a previously unimaginable opportunity: a chance for female athletes to play professional ball.

He used his already established scouting network to recruit the very best players from across the US and Canada, eventually even recruiting Latin American players. The League held final try-outs in Chicago and then distributed players to each of the four new teams. The original South Bend team included women hailing from the state of Florida to the city of Chicago to the province of Saskatchewan, and a little bit of everywhere in between.

Furthermore, this was a paid opportunity, and the League paid well—salaries started at $45/week, which according to contemporary newspapers was “more than the average stenographer or factory girl gets, and far above the average Class D minor leaguer” and ranged up to $85/week, which was on par with “players in the top minor leagues.”  And to drum up further publicity, the League hired former male major league stars as team managers.

At the League’s onset, the women played a hybrid game that fell somewhere between softball and baseball. The game continued to evolve throughout the League’s 12-year history, eventually becoming baseball.

Radio clip: “Like many another sport, baseball has made way for the ladies. They train like men for professional games that draw a million paid admissions every year.  From coast to coast and even from Canada and Cuba comes the cry, ‘Slide, baby, slide!’”

Clark: Early on, the women used the underhand pitch and a typical softball but batted with Louisville Slugger baseball bats. Each team played with nine players, allowed lead offs and steals, and lengthened the base paths and pitching distance. By 1948, overhand pitching was implemented and in the final season a regulation size baseball.  The League constantly evolved in its name and structure. In later years, it has been labeled, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Here we will just say the League to avoid confusion.

Wrigley was of the mind that for society to fully accept women’s professional baseball and to shed stereotypes of women softball players, he would have to highlight the players’ femininity.  The women would be promoted as “All-American girls.” Indeed, one United Press article described the new league as “beauty at the bat, pulchritude on the pitcher’s mound, and glamour in the gardens when the nation’s first professional girls’ softball league opens its initial season.” As Fidler explains,

Pfeiffer: “Wrigley attempted to achieve this goal by soliciting the design of a special ‘feminine’ uniform, by employing team chaperones, by establishing player conduct rules similar to those in vogue for women on college campuses, and by educating players in the finer points of ‘feminine’ charm.”

Radio clip: “But you don’t need to go to college to learn that!”

Clark: This meant in the early years that players attended charm school and were required to abide by such League rules as “Always appear in feminine attire when not actively engaged in practice or playing ball,” “Boyish bobs are not permissible,” and “Lipstick should always be on.”

Radio clip: “Lipstick is your exclamation point. Be sure that your lipstick harmonizes with your rouge and your nail polish, and check with any reds in your costume to see that everything is in key…Be sure you put your best face forward!

Clark: These rules of conduct were established as a form of what sociologist Jan Felshin has dubbed “Apologetic behavior.”  This is a term used frequently when discussing women’s sport in the 20th century and describes the compensatory behavior required of women when they engage in a social transgression, i.e. since women were engaging in the traditionally masculine sport of baseball, they must apologize or compensate for this by emphasizing their femininity.

Radio clip: “Jean bunts it.  The squeeze is on!  Tiby Eisen slides home with a run and a nicely bruised leg. Better a bruise than long pants, eh, gals?”

Clark: They did this through their skirted uniforms, the strict codes of conduct, and highlighting their traditional feminine accomplishments such as reading, horseback riding, and scrapbooking.  Mina Costin, a staff writer for the South Bend Tribune, described the new professional players as such:

Michella Marino [with old time radio effects]: “Time was when girl softball players were thought of as brawny, tough-looking and acting babes who couldn’t do anything but heave a ball and swing a bat.  But the members of South Bend’s new girls team are ladies, in appearance and character, without exception.”

Clark: She followed with a detailed description of the new star pitcher, Margaret (Sunny) Berger:

Marino [with old time radio effects]: “Sunny is a small, sun-tanned, blue-eyed blond, who looks like a college co-ed.”

Justin Clark: After describing Berger’s collegiate background and hobbies, which of course included her devotion to the Red Cross, Costin concluded the article with the following:

Marino [with old time radio effects]: “There you have Miss America, 1943. No, she’s not a bathing beauty—she’s a softball player, and a darn good one, too.”

Clark: Although men’s baseball integrated in 1947, the League never did.  Despite several Black female players trying out for the South Bend team in the early 1950s, sources suggest that Black women baseballers did not fit within the “All-American” standards set by the League, and none were ever officially on a team roster.  Wrigley emphasized white middle-class femininity and indeed embedded it into every aspect of his organization.  It was couched in language surrounding respectability, but race and sexuality certainly played into it.  In this instance, respectability meant white and heterosexual.

Historically, while much has been made of this emphasis on the player’s femininity, what is less often covered is their stellar athleticism, so let’s jump into our team at hand here, the South Bend Blue Sox, and their long road to back-to-back championships.

Radio clip: “Okay, gals. Play ball!”

Clark: In the spring of 1943, South Bend, with a population just over 100,000, was booming with its $13 million in defense contracts, shedding any last vestiges of the depression-era.  Corporations like Studebaker, a local automaker, and Bendix Aviation, had shifted production to meet wartime needs.  When the 15 new professional ball players assigned to the Blue Sox team stepped off the South Shore El from Chicago [train noise and horn] into their new host city, they were greeted by South Bend mayor Jesse Pavey and other local civic leaders.  The city was glad to have them [clapping], and the women were thrilled to be there.

The Fort Wayne Daisies –the only other team from the Hoosier state –joined the League in 1945.

Radio clip: “Two teams are working out—the Fort Wayne Daisies and the Racine Belles…”

Clark: While the AAGPBL was founded, in part, in response to the Second World War, the League peaked in the postwar period and remained in operation until after the 1954 season, because of its roots within host cities such as South Bend and Fort Wayne.

Community support for the League and their new team remained strong in South Bend. Local industrial, business, civic, and fraternal organization leaders expressed interest in supporting the team and contributed financially as guarantors to ensure the team’s stability and success for over a decade.

The South Bend Blue Sox began their tenure at Bendix Field, but relocated to the stadium at Playland Park for the 1946 season. Playland was centrally located, offered more seating, including a section of 2600 covered seats, and a brand new lighting system. Attendance dramatically increased over the next couple of seasons.

[Journalists reporting in background and photo bulbs going off]

Local newspaper coverage, or the lack thereof, could make or break a team, but the South Bend Tribune certainly aided the Blue Sox. [Journalism/newsroom noise] The Tribune reported on all their home and away games and provided box scores for the “Girls Pro League” just as they did with men’s professional baseball. This positive, regular coverage spurred attendance and helped develop a loyal following among residents.

Despite several solid seasons of play and a tie for the pennant in 1949, league and playoff championships continued to elude the Blue Sox. That all changed in 1951. Led by all-star pitcher Jean Faut and a strong veteran core, the team knew they had the talent to go the distance, and they set to work proving it.

[Crowd yelling “Yay!”]

The Sox had a good start but finished in third in the first part of the season; they went on a tear in the second half. In late July, the team won an impressive eleven games in a row, including a perfect game by Faut, the first of two she threw in her remarkable career. To date, there have been a total of 23 perfect games in Major League Baseball history. No pitcher in the league has ever thrown more than one. Paul Neville of the South Bend Tribune reported on Faut’s 1951 gem in the July 22nd issue of the paper, praising her as “a sturdy gal with a lot of heart, a fast ball that hops, and a curve that breaks off like a country road.” In August, the Blue Sox outdid themselves, winning sixteen in a row. The consistent, “sizzling” play by all members of the team propelled them to the top of the standings and saw them clinch their first outright league championship in nine seasons.

South Bend defeated Fort Wayne in the first round of the ’51 playoffs but fell two games behind to the Rockford Peaches in the title series. According to the South Bend Tribune,

Clark [using old time radio voice and effects]: “It looked like a hopeless proposition, trying to win three straight from Rockford, which was on a nine-game victory streak of its own.”

Clark: Needing a win, they handed the ball to their ace.

Clark [using old time radio voice and effects]: “It’s an old story with the South Bend Blue Sox but they’re counting on Jean Faut to pull them out of another jam at Playland Park.”

Clark: Faut and the team battled back, as they so often did, coming from behind in each of the last three games to win their first playoff championship. It was a long-time coming and the city was thrilled:

Clark [using old time radio voice and effects]: “The 1951 Blue Sox were a team that improved steadily as the season progressed. Their position in the standings at the end of the first half and then their top rung spot after the second half shows that they learned and put their new knowledge into use. They’ve brought great credit upon themselves and South Bend and for that we can only say, ‘Congratulations!’”

Clark: On the surface, South Bend looked primed to compete for the championship title again in 1952. The team boasted a strong roster that played well with each other, but off the field, tensions and outside pressures mounted, threatening to disrupt their work. Contract conflicts became a major point of contention. Several players demanded higher pay to reflect their experience and talent, but the League, already struggling financially, often refused to budge. The frustrations over pay cast a shadow over the season. The Blue Sox also learned they would be without fan-favorite shortstop Senaida “Shoo-Shoo” Wirth for the year when she announced that she was pregnant, another aspect of the AAGPBL that male leagues did not have to contend with.

Added to this, was a complicated set of player and leadership dynamics that the Blue Sox began to confront in 1951 and were exacerbated in the ’52 season. In January 1951, the Sox hired a new manager, former Minor Leaguer Karl Winsch. In addition to his role with the team, Winsch just so happened to be Faut’s husband and the father of their young son. The relationship made things tricky for Faut. Though Winsch reportedly never talked baseball with her at home, teammates were hesitant to confide in her during disputes with him, thus isolating Faut.

Despite these challenges, the Blue Sox started the 1952 season strong; [crowd noise] it looked like it would be a Hoosier battle through and through while they sought to fend off the Fort Wayne Daisies. Faut looked past the strained relationships and her husband’s inability to connect with his players and continued her dominance on the mound. But small fissures pulled at the team’s seams. In early June, Winsch let frustrations get the best of him and benched Charlene “Shorty” Pryer [background booing], the second baseman, and then abruptly suspended first baseman Janet “Pee Wee” Wiley for supporting Pryer and allegedly talking back to him. [crowd noise with spectator yelling, “Oh, come on!”] Winsch himself was suspended later that month when he challenged a call on the field and got into a brawl with the umpire. Some Blue Sox joined the melee, underscoring the physical aspect that was common in both male and female professional leagues. It was another distraction for the team during their close race with Fort Wayne.

Winsch continued to make changes to the lineup as the season progressed, much to the dismay of the team. These were experienced ballplayers who understood the strengths and weaknesses of their roster and weren’t afraid to question his calls. Finally, in late August, tensions erupted. Winsch called on Shorty Pryer to pinch run in the ninth inning of a close game against the Kalamazoo Lassies. Pryer, who had already taken off her spikes, took some time getting out to the base. The delay angered the short-tempered Winsch, who suspended her with just days left in the regular season. Several Blue Sox players appealed to Winsch to reconsider, stating that they needed the leading base-stealer and star-hitter in the lineup. Winsch refused to change his mind and challenged those who questioned him. Siding with their teammate, five additional players walked off the team. It was a devastating blow to a group that had struggled down the stretch and led to a reporter dubbing those remaining “The Dutiful Dozen.” South Bend ended the season in second, losing the league championship to their Hoosier rivals, Fort Wayne.

Reduced to twelve players, few fans gave the Blue Sox any chance at winning it all for a second consecutive year. Still, the team quickly defeated Grand Rapids in the first round and met Rockford again in the championship series. The Blue Sox lost the first two games, but played the latter under protest, arguing that Rockford had shortened the distance to the right field fence below the league requirement. The protest proved to be a crucial point in the series, and the final ruling went in the Blue Sox favor. While clinching a win in game three, South Bend learned that the two teams would replay the previous one, thus evening the series at one a piece. Another Rockford win gave the Peaches the edge. Once again, South Bend found itself in a must-win position. [crowd noise] Winsch decided to save Faut for the deciding game and went with Janet Rumsey on the mound against Rockford’s ace Rose Gacioch, already a two-time All-Star by this point. It was a nail-biter that saw the determined Blue Sox prevail 2-1 in ten innings. The South Bend Tribune reported:

Clark [using old time radio voice and effects]: “Out-hit, out-fielded, out-pitched, but never out-fought. That’s the Blue Sox story as the defending American Girls Baseball league champions trek off to Freeport, Illinois today for the final game of 1952.”

Clark: The Blue Sox handed the ball to Faut and let her work her magic. [crowd cheers] With a 20-2 record on the regular season and a stunning .93 ERA, she again demonstrated that she was among the best to ever play in the League. [bat hitting ball and crowd cheering] The Sox gave her an early lead with a run in the first, but it was a three-run third that helped tip the odds in the Blue Sox favor for the first time in weeks. Faut, a former batting champion, assisted not only on the mound, but at the plate too – belting out two triples, tallying two RBIs, and scoring a run herself after stealing home. [crowd cheers] Down 6-1 in the ninth inning, Rockford made one last push and rallied for a couple runs before Faut notched the last out. [crowd cheers] With the 6-3 win, the Blue Sox unexpectedly brought another championship title home to South Bend and showed the country that women possessed the same drive to compete and succeed as men in the pro leagues.

Clark [using old time radio voice and effects]: “Today the Blue Sox again reign as league champions. There is no attempt here to say that this South Bend team of a dozen players is the best in the league, or that girls’ baseball is the world’s greatest sport. But there is space here for a tribute to Winsch and his girls, who won the league playoffs on just one basis alone – determination, the will to win. These are but the trite phrases of athletic banquet speakers, but nonetheless apt and fitting in describing the success story of the Blue Sox.”

[Audio Clip of AAGBPL “Victory Song”]

Clark: Within the long history of women’s sports, there is also a long history of society demanding apologetic behavior. Women athletes have consistently done whatever it takes to compete—whether that’s playing baseball in a skirt with lipstick on or participating in a beauty contest at half-time of a basketball game. They’ve had to engage in this behavior—willingly or not—because American society has deemed femininity and athleticism at odds. Female athletes, amateur or professional, have had to constantly negotiate these components of their identities to make the case that they too deserve an equal chance to play. Because sports like baseball have been part of the masculine realm, men never have to justify their masculinity in the same way.

Gains for women have been made since the AAGPBL players’ time, particularly with the passing of Title IX in 1972 and the subsequent boom in women’s sports at the high school and collegiate levels, but sporting equality continues to evade women athletes. Professional women athletes are not paid anywhere near equal to male professional athletes, they do not get the same media coverage or endorsement deals, and as the most recent NCAA March Madness basketball tournament highlighted, access to facilities and equipment remain vastly inequitable. Despite this, women athletes continue to achieve greatness and sometimes even perfection.  Just as Faut excelled at the mound with her two perfect games for the South Bend Blue Sox, Hope Trautwein, a pitcher for the softball team from North Texas University, pitched the first-ever truly perfect game in NCAA D-1 history in April 2021, striking out every single batter that stepped to the plate over the course of seven innings. Just as in 1952, women athletes come to play. They continue to fight for the right that one day it’ll be on a level-playing field.

Once again, I’m Justin Clark, and this has been Talking Hoosier History.

Talking Hoosier History is a production of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. To view the historical sources, a full transcript, and links to the articles mentioned in this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top.

This episode of Talking Hoosier History was researched and written by IHB historian Casey Pfeiffer and IHB Deputy Director Dr. Michella Marino. Production and sound engineering by IHB historian Jill Weiss Simins. Quotations for this episode were read by Casey Pfeiffer, Michella Marino, and [old time radio voice] yours truly.

We’ll be back in two weeks with an episode of Giving Voice. In the meantime, find us on Facebook and Twitter at the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

[Blooper take ending: To the Blue So– . . . [jumbles words] . . . to the Blue Sox team. That’s hard to say!]

Show Notes

Books

Jim Sargent and Robert M. Gorman, The South Bend Blue Sox: A History of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Team and Its Players, 1943-1954, Forewords by Betsy Jochum, Sue Kidd, and Jean Faut, Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012.

Merrie A. Fidler, The Origins and History of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, Foreword by Jean Cione, Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006.

W.C. Madden, The Dutiful Dozen, Noblesville, IN:  Madden Publishing Co. Inc., 1997.

Newspapers

Cindy Boren, “North Texas pitcher throws a perfect game with a twist, striking out all 21 batters,” The Washington Post, April 12, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2021/04/12/hope-trautwein-perfect-game/

“Faut to Hurl in Final Tilt at Freeport,” South Bend Tribune, September 11, 1952, Accessed via Newspapers.com.

“Girl Softballers Hope to Develop Major League,” Associated Press, Ludington Daily News, June 9, 1943, Accessed via Newspapers.com.

“Girl Softball Players Stir Fans’ Interest,” United Press, South Bend Tribune, May 28, 1943, Accessed via Newspapers.com.

Joe Doyle, “According to Joe Doyle,” South Bend Tribune, September 12, 1952, Accessed via Newspapers.com.

Mina Costin, “Boys Have Gone to War; Now It’s the All-American Girl,” South Bend Tribune, May 27, 1943.

Paul Neville, “Sox Subdue Rockford Nine by 2-0 Score,” South Bend Tribune, July 22, 1951, Accessed via Newspapers.com.

Paul Neville, “On the Level,” South Bend Tribune, September 14, 1951, Accessed via Newspapers.com.

“Same Old Story! Jean Faut to Hurl Crucial Game for South Bend Sox,” South Bend Tribune, September 11, 1951, Accessed via Newspapers.com.

Online

Becky Sullivan, “Under Fire, The NCAA Apologizes And Unveils New Weight Room for Women’s Tournament,” NPR, March 20, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/03/20/979596524/under-fire-the-ncaa-apologizes-and-unveils-new-weight-room-for-womens-tournament

Chad Campbell and James Doubek, “Pitcher Hope Trautwein Throws a Perfect Game of All Strikeouts, NPR, April 13, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/04/13/986724329/pitcher-hope-trautwein-throws-a-perfect-game-of-all-strikeouts

Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Hon. Kenesaw M. Landis, January 15, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2002/spring/greenlight.html.

Gerald Balzer and Steven Culbertson, “When FDR Said ‘Play Ball’: President Called Baseball a Wartime Morale Booster, Prologue Magazine, Spring 2002,  https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2002/spring/greenlight.html.

“Ladies of the Little Diamond, TIME Magazine, June 14, 1943, Vol. 41, Issue 24, pg. 73-74, Accessed via Inspire Database.

“Rules of Conduct,” https://www.aagpbl.org/history/rules-of-conduct.

Music Credits

World Series Returns to the Capital!: A Look Back at the 1924 Fall Classic through Hoosier Hall of Famer Sam Rice

Video credit: “Calvin Coolidge and the Washington Senators’ 1924 World Series,” White House Historical Association.

Not since 1924 has a Major League Baseball team from the City of Washington, D.C. clinched a World Series championship. [1] That year, the Washington Senators defeated the New York Giants four games to three to claim the first World Series title for our nation’s capital, in part because of Indiana native, Sam Rice. [2] The Senators returned to the Series in 1925 and 1933, but lost each. No Washington-based Major League team has made it back to the Fall Classic since then. Until now. This week, the Washington Nationals face off against the Houston Astros as they try to bring another title back to the capital.

Washington’s ball club featured several future Hall of Famers during its championship runs in the 1920s and early 1930s. Most notable among them was pitching great Walter Johnson, but the roster also included lesser-known Hoosier outfielder Sam Rice, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963. [3]

“Sam Rice,” photograph, accessed National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.

Rice spent nineteen of his twenty seasons (1915-1933) on the Senators. When he hung up his bat and glove for the last time with the Cleveland Indians following the 1934 season, he had amassed a career .322 batting average and 2,987 hits, just thirteen shy of baseball’s coveted 3,000-mark. To date, only 32 players in the history of the sport have achieved more hits than him. [4] And yet, despite his impressive statistics, Rice’s name remains largely unknown among even some of baseball’s biggest fans. Many would argue that it was due to his lack of power compared to some of the big hitters of the time (he only hit 34 homeruns during his entire career). More than likely, it’s because he was just short of the 3,000 club. Regardless, Rice was a mainstay for Washington and helped lead the capital city to three World Series appearances in the twentieth century. He was a quiet, but consistent force at the plate throughout his twenty years, a threat on the bases well into his thirties, and one of the greatest outfielders in the American League at the time.

Signage in Morocco, Indiana. Photograph courtesy of Tim Myers, Newton County Economic Development.

Edgar Charles “Sam” Rice was born on a farm near the small town of Morocco, Indiana in 1890. His family moved between Newton County and Iroquois County, Illinois during his early years and Rice would eventually settle in Watseka, Illinois with his wife, Beulah Stam, and their two children. During the spring of 1912, he traveled to western Illinois to pitch for the Galesburg Pavers in the hopes of securing a spot on the minor league team’s regular roster. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed almost immediately. On April 21, 1912, while away with the team, Rice received word that a tornado had torn through eastern Illinois and western Indiana, tragically killing his wife, children, parents, and two of his three sisters. [5]  The tragedy clearly left its mark on him, but Rice rarely discussed it and few knew about this chapter of his life until decades later. With most of his family gone and no clear next step, he eventually enlisted in the Navy, serving aboard the USS New Hampshire. [6] During his service, the New Hamphire took part in the American intervention at Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Rice continued to play baseball with some of his fellow Navy men, and in the summer of 1914, while on furlough, he joined the Petersburg Goobers of the Virginia League. Impressed with his play, manager Heinie Busch and owner Dr. D.H. Leigh arranged for the purchase of his discharge from the Navy. He remained with the Goobers for the remainder of the season and for a good portion of the 1915 season, before Clark Griffith and the Washington Senators purchased his discharge in July 1915 at the age of 25. [7]

[Sam Rice, Washington AL (baseball)], 1916, accessed Library of Congress.
Rice struggled to excel on the mound in these early years, but made up for it at the plate. By July 1916, he officially moved from pitcher to right field where he would play the majority of his career. That season, his first full year in the Majors, Rice batted .299. It was one of only five seasons in which he did not bat over .300. He saw much more playing time in 1917 and made the most of it, securing 177 hits over the course of the season and 35 stolen bases. Like so many other young men of the period, he missed most of the 1918 season after being drafted into the Army, but came back even stronger after his service. [8] He led the American League in steals in 1920 with 63 and led the league in hits in 1924 and 1926 (216 in both seasons). Even more impressive, he finished in the top ten in both categories in twelve of his twenty seasons. [9] While it’s easy to get lost in the numbers, the statistics highlight the consistency with which Rice played most of his career.

Tampa Tribune, January 13, 1929, 12, accessed Newspapers.com

After a losing record during the 1923 season – and several previous disappointing seasons – few expected the Washington Senators to bounce back so well in 1924. With rookie manager Bucky Harris (who continued to play second base) at the helm, things finally fell into place for the Senators. After an average start, the team surged to the top of the rankings in mid-summer. By July 1, 1924, the Pittsburgh Daily Post suggested that they could be a “possible dark horse to win the flag,” noting:

Every American league fan is pulling for the Washington Senators to win the pennant, more out of sentiment than anything else. This team has been the underdog so long that the fans want them to win, not only the fans of the National capital, but in other American league cities. It would be a great thing for baseball if Washington could grab off a world’s series. [10]

The Senators battled the defending champion New York Yankees for control of the American League throughout August and September. During this remarkable stretch, Rice compiled a 31-game hitting streak, the longest in the Majors that season. [11] Within days of the streak ending, the Senators clinched the pennant to earn a spot in the World Series, where they would face the New York Giants.

Boston Globe, October 10, 1924, 24, accessed Newspapers.com.

On September 30th, a news article ran comparing the value of potential World Series players. In it, umpire Billy Evans described Rice as “one of the fastest men in the American League. Fine fielder, good baserunner, and dangerous batsman. . . A veteran who has played high-class consistent baseball throughout his career.” [12] Rice did not disappoint. He had two hits in Game 1 in which the Senators fell to the Giants 4-3 in 12 innings, and was one of the best hitters through the first three games of the series, going 5-for-11. [13] Though he struggled at the plate the remainder of the series, he made up for it in the field with several key defensive plays, including a homerun-robbing catch in Game 6 that helped save Washington’s season and force a Game 7. [14]

The series ended in similar fashion to how it started, with a spectacular 12-inning clash. The only difference was the victor. The Senators pushed the winning run across the plate in the bottom of the twelfth, defeating the Giants 4-3 to claim their first World Series championship.

Press and Sun-Bulletin [Binghamton, New York], October 11, 1924, 19, accessed Newspapers.com.

The wildest, most frenzied demonstration that ever followed a world’s series victory came with the winning run. Most of the vast crowd of 35,000 which included President Coolidge, swept down on the field in a joy mad outburst of enthusiasm over the climax to Washington’s first pennant victory−her first World title. [15] 

Press and Sun-Bulletin [Binghamton, New York], October 11, 1924, 19.
Washington looked to defend its title in 1925 when the team squared off against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Despite a valiant effort by Rice, in which he batted .364 and had an incredible, though controversial catch in Game 3 that remains part of baseball history lore, the Senators lost in seven games. [16] Rice continued to be a strong force at the plate and in the field into the early 1930s despite the fact that he was already in his forties. The Senators reached the Series again in 1933, but by that time Rice was nearing the end of his career. He made only one appearance at the plate, getting a hit. The Senators lost to the Giants in five games. Rice was released from the Senators after that season and played his last year with the Cleveland Indians. [17] After retiring from baseball, he and his wife operated a chicken farm in Ashton, Maryland. For years, reporters and former players such as Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb clamored for Rice’s entry into the Hall of Fame and criticized the selection committee for not voting him in. [18] Finally, in 1963, almost thirty years after he stopped playing, Rice was inducted. Today, he is one of ten Indiana-born men in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Sam Rice, Former Washington Ball Player on His Farm,” ca. 1938, accessed Library of Congress.

This week, America’s pastime has the opportunity to briefly unite the nation’s capital as it did in the 1920s and early 1930s, as the Washington Nationals try to return a World Series title to the city. As in 1924, Washington is considered the underdog, but this time to the favored Houston Astros. The Series is already spurring numerous articles recalling the 1924 season and more are sure to come. Sam Rice will be referenced, his name likely included among the list of strong outfielders and batters of that bygone team, but only today’s most devoted fans may recognize him. Nevertheless, Rice deserves the acclaim. As President Herbert Hoover wrote to him in July 1932: “You have given all of us who love baseball so much pleasure that you have rightly earned the honor of a ‘Sam Rice Day.’” [19] Rice earned the day and a whole lot more.

Evening News [Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania], September 24, 1924, 15, accessed Newspapers.com.
Sources Used:

Edgar Charles “Sam” Rice historical marker notes.

“Sam Rice,” accessed Baseball Reference.

Footnotes:

[1] The Washington Homestead Grays of the Negro National League clinched three Colored World Series titles for the capital city in 1943, 1944, and 1948. They were the last professional baseball team based in Washington, D.C. to compete in a World Series.

[2] Washington’s Major League Baseball team was officially named the Washington Nationals from 1905-1956, but was more commonly known as the Washington Senators during this time. For more on this and on the various franchises that played in Washington, D.C. over the years, see “Washington Senators,” accessed Baseball Reference. The current Washington Nationals franchise was established as the Montreal Expos in 1969 and moved to Washington, D.C. in 2005.

[3] “Sam Rice,” National Baseball Hall of Fame. Rice was actually one of seven Indiana-born men on the two teams’ rosters. The others included Nehf and Grover Hartley of the Giants, and Nemo Leibold, Pinky Hargrave, Ralph Miller, and By Speece of the Senators.

[4] “Career Leaders & Records for Hits,” accessed Baseball Reference.

[5] “Seven Victims at Home of Charles Rice and Two at the Home of Charles Smart,” Newton County Enterprise, April 25, 1912, 1.

[6] “Edgar Rice,” U.S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.

[7] “Sam Rice Gets His Name in Big League Score for the First Time,” Washington Herald [Washington, District of Columbia], August 8, 1915, 9.

[8] “Rice will Report Ready for Season,” Washington Times, January 27, 1919, 17.

[9] “Sam Rice,” accessed Baseball Reference.

[10] “Fans Pulling for Senators to Win Flag,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, July 1, 1924, 14.

[11] “Hitting Streak of Sam Rice Stopped,” Boston Globe, September 27, 1924, 8.

[12] “How World Series Rivals Stack Up,” Times Herald [Olean, New York], September 30, 1924, 17.

[13] “Sam Rice Boss Series Hitter with Big 455,” News-Messenger [Fremont, Ohio], October 7, 1924, 6

[14] “Big Moments in World Series Games,” Pittsburgh Press, October 18, 1924, 11.

[15] “Washington Wins First World Championship,” Palladium-Item [Richmond, Indiana], October 10, 1924, 1.

[16] “Rice Secret Revealed: He Did Catch It,” Cumberland News [Maryland], October 15, 1974, 8.

[17] “Sam Rice to Join Cleveland Indians,” Sandusky Register [Ohio], February 14, 1934, 7.

[18] “Hall of Fame Voting Unfair, Says Hornsby,” Daily Independent Journal [San Rafael, California], January 21, 1958, 9.

[19] “Hoover Congratulates Rice, of Senators, for Record of 17 Seasons n Big Leagues,” Tampa Tribune, July 20, 1932, 8.

For more information, see the entry on Sam Rice by Stephen Able of the Society for American Baseball Research or Jeff Carroll, Sam Rice: A Biography of the Washington Senators Hall of Famer, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2008).

 

The Fort Wayne Colored Giants

Larry Rubama, “Missing History Postcard Spurs Search For Forgotten Team,” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, September 20, 1998, 1, courtesy of Perspectives.

The Fort Wayne Colored Giants was the only black baseball team to represent the city of Fort Wayne for forty-two years, from 1907 to 1949. In that time period, baseball was a segregated team sport, with black athletes playing only on all black teams. The Colored Giants team was one of the premier black teams in northeast Indiana in that period. Other black Fort Wayne teams included the Black Diamonds (1916-1917), Dupee’s All-Nations (1919), Riddle’s All- Stars (1920-1922), the Cadillac Colored Giants (1921-1922), and the Fort Wayne Colored Pirates (1926-30s). Indiana had over thirty-seven traveling black teams, extending from West Baden in the south to South Bend in the north, and Evansville in the west to Fort Wayne in the east.

Young men with outstanding baseball skills comprised the Fort Wayne Colored Giants. These young men developed their baseball prowess playing sandlot, church ball, “pickup” baseball, and community ball. Young men would come play baseball from as far away as Marion and other black communities in northeast Indiana.  Fort Wayne newspapers advertised player recruitment and notices for team competitions. It also provided notification of both games and team and league scores.

Cities large and small adopted black baseball teams when they could find players and afford to do so. The teams vitalized and energized their communities, both black and white.  The teams were self-sufficient and team members were paid scanty sums. Community teams typically passed a hat around during the game where patrons would contribute whatever they could to help defray costs. Teams struggled to maintain their budgets and keep their key players. Some teams were very wealthy, such as the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the National Negro League. Others just made ends meet and vanished after a season or two. The Fort Wayne Colored Giants did manage to provide a stipend for their players.

African-American Historical Society in Fort Wayne, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Baseball was the cornerstone of many communities, both large and small. This was the heyday for black businesses and the black community.  Life revolved about church, neighborhoods, clubs, and organizations like the Phyllis Wheatly House, the former community center, which is now home to the Fort Wayne African African-American Museum.

The Giants’ home field was located in southeast Fort Wayne, where home and exhibition games took place. The team also played at Fort Wayne’s League Park, which was constructed in 1883, and in 1922 renamed Lincoln Life Field. The Fort Wayne Colored Giants played black teams such as the Toledo Mud Hens, the Indianapolis ABCs, the Chicago Giants, Saint Louis Stars, the Evansville White Sox, and Pittsburgh Homestead Grays of the Negro National League. The Giants team played ‘out of local area’ Indiana teams, including those from Lagrange, Decatur, Geneva, Uniondale, Marion, Huntertown, Evansville, La Otto, Ligonier, Hudson and North Manchester. They also played teams from Hicksville, Antwerp, Convoy, and Van Wert, Ohio.

The Colored Giants had standing rivalries with area white teams, such as the Fort Wayne Lincoln Lifers, the Columbia City Grays, the Roanoke Independents, the New Haven Visible Pumps, the Kendallville Reds, the Garrett K of Cs, and the Auburn Athletics.

Fort Wayne Sentinel, May 29, 1923, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Colored Giants team had multiple owners and managers over the years and these include: (1909) Mr. Harry Ellis, both owner and manager; (1916) Mr. L.B. Dupee, owner and Mr. George Wilson, manager; (1919) Mr. Bob Jones bought out Mr. L.B. Dupee and retained Mr. George Wilson as manager; (1920-1921) Mr. Bob Jones, owner and Mr. Johnson, manager; (1921- 1922) Mr. Bob Jones, owner and Mr. T.E. Lewis, manager; (1923-192) Mr. Moses Taylor, owner manager; and (1930-1949) no information on owners or managers was available.  The information presented was obtained from Fort Wayne newspaper articles of the period.

Very little is known about the team’s owners and managers, but the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette Newspaper did feature one. That was Moses Taylor, the longest serving owner and manager of the Colored Giants (1923 to 1929). The story of black baseball in Fort Wayne is a story of a family involved in the community and in baseball.  It is a story of a man, a visionary and an entrepreneur, who became the catalyst for the creation of a strong baseball team. His dream generated passion within a community and among a group of young black men. He set the stage for solid baseball play with major teams, both semi pro and local.

After a team bus broke down in 1929 in Pittsburgh, Mr. Taylor stayed and found a job.  He moved the rest of his family to Pittsburgh around 1930. Mr. Taylor utilized his experience with the Fort Wayne Colored Giants to form the Pittsburgh Mystics, as reported by his daughter Mrs. Lucille Taylor Wooden of Cleveland, Ohio.  This team played against the Pittsburgh Homestead Grays of the National Negro League.

Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 3, 1920, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Fort Wayne Colored Giants infused and energized the black community of Fort Wayne. The team established its mark in the city and in baseball.  The Fort Wayne Tincaps are the legacy of the Fort Wayne Colored Giants and the many white league teams of the era.  They all contributed to baseball history in Fort Wayne.  The Giants are one of the few Fort Wayne baseball teams, black or white, from that era (1907-1949) to be recognized in the 21st century via news media and with a plaque at Parkview Field.  They assume their proper place in the history of Fort Wayne as true contributors to the development of sports history in the Summit City.

Babe Ruth: A Big Hit in Fort Wayne

final babe
Bob Parker “cartoon” illustrating Babe Ruth blasting “a mighty 10th inning,” Michael C. Hawfield, Fort Wayne Sports Yesterday & Today (1994), p.18.

Legendary baseball player George “Babe” Ruth graced Fort Wayne with his presence during a personal visit on October 26, 1926. After putting on a show during at practice, he joined the Fort Wayne Lincoln Lifers, a semiprofessional team sponsored by Lincoln National Life Insurance Co., in a game against a very good Kips team. Ruth proceeded to put on a demonstration by playing every position except catcher. He topped the game off by hitting two balls out of the park. With the Bambino in their arsenal, the Lifers won 11 to 1.

LL
Lincoln Lifers “Pete” Dietrich and “Bud” Devilbiss, The Fort Wayne Sentinel, May 10, 1923, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.

Ruth returned to the Indiana town on May 6, 1927 with the New York Yankees to play an exhibition game against the Lifers. In his Fort Wayne Sports History, Blake Sebring wrote that the Yankees, who were in first place in the league, made the stop on their way to take on Chicago. The game took place at League Park, now called Headwaters Park, located between Calhoun and Clinton streets. A wooden structure was erected at the park in 1883. Rebuilt several times, the place received a major overhaul in 1908 with new grandstands and a grass infield. After the damage caused by the Great Flood of 1913, additional restoration was required. It was readied as a host park for semi-pro Central League teams, including the Lifers when they moved up to a minor league status.

That 1927 exhibition season, League Park’s grandstand was filled with more than 3,000 fans, occupying all sitting and standing room. Enthusiastic Fort Wayne fans streamed in, eager to witness high drama from Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the other Yankee legends. The fans were not disappointed, as they sensed Babe’s charge into the annals of American history.

headwaters
League Park, courtesy of ARCH Fort Wayne.

The regulation 9 innings were played.  The Lifers held the Yankees to a 3–3 tie in the 10th, with two out and a runner on first when “The Sultan of Swat,” another of Ruth’s appellations, came to the plate. He took two strikes and then in classic style belted the next pitch over the center field wall, landing on the roof of one of the city utility barns across Clinton Street. The hit enable the Yankees to defeat the Lifers 5-3. The stands emptied and adoring fans mobbed Babe.

babe and lou
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in their 1927 barnstorming uniforms, courtesy of Sports Illustrated, accessed The Midwest League Traveler.

It has been said that the Bambino often referred to that blow as possibly the hardest hit ball of his career. According to John Ankenbruck, after citing the official long hits by Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, one sportswriter declared that, Ruth hit a longer one in Fort Wayne, according to the Bambino’s version.

After the 1927 season, Ruth went on a barn storming tour, playing again at League Park. He belted a ball over the left-centerfield fence and claimed that the ball landed in a freight car that was passing the park at the time. Local baseball historians are quick to note that, if true, the ball would have had to clear the fence then make a right angle, travel another 600 feet to land on the railroad tracks. Even so, 1927 was a banner year for Fort Wayne baseball and Babe Ruth was on hand to help make it a big hit.