In the early years of the 1950’s baseball was booming in Kalamazoo. On any given summer night, teams from local businesses, groups of school kids, or professional barnstorming teams would be swinging their bats and hoping for home runs at parks and ball fields all over the city. But if you happened to head over to Lindstrom field on Portage Street, or later to CAA Field, (now Soisson-Rapacz Field) you might have seen something somewhat unexpected for the 50's. Girls playing baseball.
They were the Kalamazoo Lassies, a team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1950 until 1954. Phillip K. Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Chewing Gum, conceived the idea for the AAGPBL in 1942 as a failsafe plan to keep baseball going if the wartime draft shut down the men’s game. This never actually occurred, but nevertheless Wrigley’s “Girls” league prospered in small markets across the Midwest for 12 years. Cities like South Bend, Rockford, Kenosha, Racine, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, and eventually Kalamazoo, hosted a busy summer schedule of about 120 games. In addition to playing good quality ball the “girls” were expected to project a wholesome feminine image. This included wearing uniforms that consisted of a skirt worn over shorts and high stockings that nevertheless left a good portion of the leg bare. Players were also expected to follow long and complex rules of personal care and etiquette both on and off the field.
The Lassies Come to Kalamazoo
By the beginning of the 1950s, the AAGPBL was losing money and fans, and the teams and host cities were changing almost every year. This was a good thing for Kalamazoo as the city was granted the Lassies team on a trial basis when the city of Muskegon could no longer support them. The move took place in the middle of the season and the new Kalamazoo Lassies played their first game, still in their Muskegon uniforms, on 15 June 1950 at Lindstrom Field. A crowd of about 1,400 curious Kalamazooans turned out that night to see their team in action, but the result was an 8-2 loss to the defending league champion Rockford Peaches. The Kalamazoo nine posted their first victory the following night, a 10-2 rout led by the brilliant pitching of Doris Sams and the enthusiastic play of player-manager Bonnie Baker.
The End of the Lassies
The Lassies were one of the more popular teams in the AAGPBL routinely drawing crowds of over 1,000 spectators. The league was fading, however, due to a variety of factors including renewed interest in the men’s game and the rise of televised sports. On 6 September 1954, the Kalamazoo Lassies defeated the Fort Wayne Daisies 8-5 in the last AAGPBL game ever played. The Lassies were champions, but it was probably small consolation to a group of women who had devoted so much of their time and energy into making professional women’s sports an important and viable component of American culture.
The Lassies Today
Today the AAGPBL is represented by a players association that organizes and sponsors reunions and events for former players all across the nation. The players celebrated the 50th anniversary of their league in Kalamazoo in August of 2004. Since the release of the popular Hollywood film A League of Their Own in 1992, the AAGPBL has received a great deal of attention and most of its players couldn’t be happier. For the most part they liked the film, although Madonna “plays like a girl” according to Marion Hosbein of the South Bend Blue Sox. What most of these women love the most, however-- just like every ballplayer, is the chance to share stories about the days when they lived their dream and played the All-American game.