Western History & Genealogy Blog

Remember when professional baseball was an all-girls club?

Kenosha (Wisconsin) Comets pose with baseball Hall of Famer Connie Mack
1945 league manual
Fred Leo with game ball, circa 1950

Back in the day, women played professional baseball.

As another baseball season winds down, and Todd Helton's retirement this week has Rockies fans soaking up the nostalgia of Helton's amazing run as Colorado's favorite first baseman, it seems appropriate to highlight a little gem of baseball history in the Western History/Genealogy archive.

Fred Leo might be best known in Denver for his sports broadcasting career; he was the first to do play-by-play coverage on the air for the Denver Broncos. But early in his career, Leo worked in radio in Chicago. When WWII broke out, Major League Baseball found itself in danger of losing players to the war effort, prompting the formation of a new league that would draw spectators and keep baseball alive. Fred Leo and others worked with Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey and Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley, to establish the All American Girls Softball League.

The league gained momentum, growing from six teams to ten, drawing crowds across the Midwest and Eastern U.S., even playing exhibition games in Cuba and South America. In 1944 the league changed its name to the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) and in 1950, Fred Leo became the League President.

Made up of semi-pro softball players, teams formed in many mid-sized cities. The players weren't in fact girls at all, but young adult women (though I wonder if anyone raised an eyebrow about the league's name then - it was the 1950s, remember.) Teams like the Kenosha Comets, Racine Belles, South Bend Blue Sox and Rockford Peaches realized a level of professional athletic opportunity not previously known in women's baseball, or softball.

Budget cuts, and the emerging popularity of TV which brought Major League Baseball into people's homes led to the demise of the AAGPBL in 1954. The movie A League of Their Own brought the women players' story to a new audience in 1992.

To see what else is in The Fred Leo Papers, check out our online finding aid or come visit the library to see the collection for yourself. The AAGPBL Player's Association website also provides a comprehensive record of former players, teams and stats.

Thanks to the author for

Thanks to the author for shining a light on this frequently overlooked chapter of baseball history. Women have been playing baseball in the USA for at least the last hundred and fifty years, and fine treatises such as Jean Ardell's "Breaking Into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime," Barbara Gregorich's meticulously researched "Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball," or any of Dorothy Seymour Mills' groundbreaking "Baseball" series ("The Early Years," "The Golden Years," and "The People's Game") offer ample evidence of women's integral roles in developing and fostering the growth of the game as we know it today. This brief look at Fred Leo's role in the AAGPBL is a refreshing perspective on the mostly male-dominated realm of our beautiful National Pastime, which is truly a game meant to be played and enjoyed by everyone, regardless of gender.

And thank you for your

And thank you for your comments and suggestions for further reading!

I imagine there is lots more opportunity for future scholarship on the topic of the AAGPBL and women in baseball.