A few weeks ago two ninth grade honor students emailed me, asking if I would grant them an interview about “women’s baseball during World War II.” I said yes and the two girls sent me a list of five questions, chief among them the lead question: “What is the legacy that these women who played hard ball have left behind?”
Even though I found it a bit odd that the two students never once used the name All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or even the acronym AAGPBL, I nevertheless understood who they were talking about. And it was easy for me to answer this question because a year ago the AAGPBL annual reunion was held at Wrigley Field to commemorate the 70th anniversary of women playing baseball in a professional league, and I was asked to address the hundreds of attendees. The subject of my talk was the same as the students’ question: What is the legacy of the AAGPB?
Here is how I replied to the students:
The legacy that the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League has handed down is twofold. First, they have handed down the knowledge that women can play professional baseball and that women have played professional baseball in the United States. Along with this part of the legacy come all the specifics of what the players and teams accomplished during their twelve years of existence, including player achievements, team rivalries, their world series games (called the Shaughnessy Cup), the umpires, the managers (most of them former major league players), and the fans both young and old.
The second part of the legacy the AAGPBL has handed down is that if you want the world to remember what you’ve accomplished, you must organize yourselves into a group which will do all it can to preserve knowledge of the accomplishments and pass that knowledge and inspiration on to future generations.
Some time in the early 1980s, after the AAGPBL seemed forgotten, the former players got together to form the AAGPBL Players Association: their main purpose in forming the organization was to preserve the knowledge of what they had done. The Players Association has been phenomenally successful. Thanks partly — maybe mainly — to the Association, there is a display case about women in baseball at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Penny Marshall made the movie, A League of Their Own. Others have made documentaries. Books have been written about the AAGPBL. The players have gone to schools and to conferences across the country and spoken and answered questions.
The women who formed the AAGPBL Players Association held their first reunion in 1982, the same year that William P. Kinsella wrote his best-known novel, Shoeless Joe. Concepts of construction and legacies must have been floating through the cosmos that year. In Shoeless Joe Kinsella wrote: “If you build it, he will come.” The players of the AAGPBL must have believed, “If we build it, they will come.” So they built it (the Players Association) and the public came.
The players sensed the same truth Kinsella did. If you don’t build, you erect nothing: if you do build, you may achieve results that surpass your expectations. The players organized and started building the Players Association in 1987 — in so doing they assured that their legacy would survive.
Midwesterners of the 1940s-50s who lived in the cities the League played in were fortunate to see these baseball players in action. Citizens of the world today are fortunate that the women of that League were analyzers, organizers, and creators as well as baseball players.