Flag conservation

Flag conservation
Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Thursday, October 18, 2018

AAGPBL: They Looked Like Ladies, But They Played Like Men

For baseball fans October usually means one thing, MLB playoffs!  While the rest of the world turns it’s attention towards the MLB, here in the studio we have been working with a baseball artifact from a different league, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Image 1: Betty Yahr's Rockford Peaches Cap (Before Treatment) 
(Photo Credit: Mark Schrodt)
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or AAGPBL for short, began in 1943 and played their final season in 1954.  Despite its relatively short tenure as an operating professional baseball league, the AAGPBL left a lasting impression on the landscape of baseball and pop culture for decades to come, including the Diamond Dreams exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the well known film A League of Their Own.

Professional baseball has long been a man’s sport; there are the occasional stories of women playing for exhibition, such as the story of Jackie Mitchell who famously struck out both Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in 1931.[1]  Another woman who left a mark on baseball was Effa Manley, an owner and executive for the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues.  To this day Manley remains the only female to ever be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.[2]  These women represent some of the rare instances of women being able to penetrate the male world of baseball.  However the onset of World War II created the opportunity for, even if temporarily, a much more prominent place for women in professional baseball.

As more and more young men headed into the armed services, concern about the impacts this would have on the sport of baseball led a few enterprising men to form a new professional baseball league for women.  Over the years the AAGPBL went through some name changes as well as variations to the playing rules, however by 1945 the league had taken the shape it remains most known for today, women playing professional baseball, using the rules of Major League Baseball, and most importantly overhand pitching (as opposed to the underhand pitching style softball is known for).[3]

Image 2: South Bend Blue Sox Player Betsy "Sockum" Jochum is pictured at 
bat during her baseball career[4]

Image 3: Sophie Kurys, star of the Racine Belles of the AAGPBL, 
slides into the bag[5]

Most people are familiar with the AAGPBL through its depiction in the film A League of Their Own.  This film tells the fictional story of the Rockford Peaches, their starting 9, and their head coach, Jimmy Dugan.  The film may be fiction, but it was inspired by the stories of the real women playing professional baseball in the 1940s.[6]  The Rockford Peaches, the team depicted in the film, was one of the first teams in the AAGPBL, playing in Rockford, Illinois.  The Peaches would be one of the few teams to play every season of the league’s existence.[7]
1946 was an exciting season for the Rockford Peaches as they made the playoffs and faced the Racine Belles in the league championship game.  The Peaches would end up losing to the Belles, finishing in 2ndplace for the season.[8]  Making her professional debut in 1946, playing outfield for the Peaches was Betty Yahr.[9]  Ultimately Yahr would only end up playing this one season for the Peaches as she decided to return home to Michigan at season’s end.[10]  Despite her short tenure in the AAGPBL, Yahr and her legacy remain an important part of the story of professional women baseball players.

Image 4: The 1946 Rockford Peaches Team Photo[11]
Back, L-R:  Bill Allington (Manager), Rose Gacioch, Dorothy Kamenshek, 
Dorothy Green, Dorothy Moon, Naomi Meier, Mildred Deegan, 
Helen Smith, Margaret Wigiser, Mildred Lundahl (Chaperone).
Front, L-R:  Betty Yahr, Dorothy Cook, Lee Surkowski, Helen Filarski, Olive Little, 
Margaret "Mobile" Holgerson, Dorothy Harrell. Carolyn Morris.

Image 5: Betty Yahr, Rockford Peaches 
Baseball Card[12]

In 2007, a relative of Yahr donated many items from her playing days to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to be used in their exhibit on women in baseball, Diamond Dreams.  Among the donated items was the cap Yahr wore while playing for the Rockford Peaches in 1946.[13]  As is often the case with game worn items, the cap showed signs of wear and damage.  The Hall of Fame funds its conservation efforts through crowd sourcing for individual artifacts, and recently Yahr’s cap met its fundraising goal for treatment.[14]  As a part of the treatment the cap was cleaned and holes were repaired. Additionally a custom mount was created for the cap to ensure it is properly supported, both in storage and while on display, to minimize new damage in the future, allowing fans to learn and appreciate the legacy of Betty Yahr, along with all the women of the AAGPBL, for years to come.

Image 6: Yahr's Cap (After Treatment) (Photo Credit: Mark Schrodt)
Image 7: Cap and Custom Mount (Photo Credit: Mark Schrodt)
If you would like to learn more about the history of women in professional baseball and the AAGPBL stop by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to visit the Diamond Dream exhibit and also check out the official AAGPBL website (www.aagpbl.org)

[1]Tony Horwitz, “The Woman Who (Maybe) Struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig,” Smithsonian Magazine(July 2013) https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-woman-who-maybe-struck-out-babe-ruth-and-lou-gehrig-4759182/.
[2]“Effa Manley,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/manley-effa.
[3]“League History,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/history/league-history.
[4]Margaret Fosmoe, “Women Pro Baseball Players Gather, Reminisce in South Bend,” South Bend Tribune(August 7, 2015) https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/history/women-pro-baseball-players-gather-reminisce-in-south-bend/article_218cc831-cdf2-5105-8b42-d15bee181766.html.
[5]Nicole Haase, “Women’s Baseball Trailblazers Reflect on the League, 75 Years After its Founding,” SBNation(May 30, 2018) https://www.sbnation.com/2018/5/30/17407798/women-baseball-trailblazers-reflect-aagpbl-75th-anniversary.
[6]“A League of Their Own,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_League_of_Their_Own.
[7]“Season Timeline,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/seasons.
[8]“1946 Season,”All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/seasons/1946.
[9]“Betty Yahr,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/profiles/betty-yahr/471.
[10]Alicia Meyer, “’We Saved Baseball’ Betty Yahr and the Rockford Peaches,” Rockford Retold, (October 29, 2015) http://www.rrstar.com/article/20151029/BLOGS/310299999.
[11]“About the Rockford Peaches,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/teams/rockford-peaches.
[12]“Betty Yahr,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/profiles/betty-yahr/471.
[13]“Pastime: Betty Yahr Cap, 1946,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, https://collection.baseballhall.org/PASTIME/betty-yahr-cap-1946-5.
[14]“Our Museum in Action,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, http://www.baseballhall.org/museuminaction.

No comments:

Post a Comment