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Celebrating Manitoba women in baseball

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/07/2021 (551 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The week of July 25-31 is being celebrated as Women in Baseball Week, an event that recognizes women’s contributions to the sport around the globe.

In recent years, more women have become umpires, broadcasters, scouts and team executives. In November 2020, Kim Ng became the first female general manager in Major League Baseball when she was appointed by the Miami Marlins. She served a long apprenticeship, having spent 21 years in the front office of three teams and nine more as a MLB senior vice-president.  

Winnipeg Goldeyes fans will remember lefthander Ila Borders pitching in the Northern League between 1997 and 1999. When Borders got her first chance with the St. Paul Saints on May 31, 1997, she was thought to be the first female to play professional baseball. Not so, as it later was discovered that Lizzie Murphy and Lizzie Arlington had made brief appearances around a century earlier. Borders spent most of her Northern League career with the Duluth-Superior Dukes before ending it with the Madison Black Wolf.

Winnipeg Free Press photo archives Pitcher Dodie Barr is one of the AAGPBL greats in the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame.

In the summer of 1953, Toni Stone became the first full-time woman player when she was signed by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League. She took over second base after future Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron left the team to play for the Milwaukee Braves Northern League farm team in Eau Claire, Wisc. Winnipeg fans missed out on seeing Aaron in action as the Goldeyes didn’t join the Northern League until the next season.

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) is the best-known example of women’s baseball because of the 1992 movie A League of Their Own. The movie starred Tom Hanks as a grouchy manager and Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna as players with the Rockford Peaches. Wayne Gretzky’s wife, Janet Jones, had a small role as a Racine Belles pitcher. A TV series called A League of Their Own, with a different storyline, is being produced this summer in Pittsburgh. No word yet on when it will reach the small screen.  

Manitoba had a direct connection to the AAGPBL, as 11 of our best softball players went south to play. Olive (Bend) Little led the way when she was recruited for the first season in 1943. Considered to be one of the fastest pitchers in the game, she threw four no-hitters for the Peaches. Little retired after the 1945 season when the league switched from underhand to sidearm pitching. Dodie Barr pitched and played the outfield from 1943 to 1950, so she pitched underhand, then sidearm and, finally, starting in 1948, overhand when the league began using a regulation-sized baseball.

Another pitcher, Audrey (Haine) Daniels, was just 17 when she went to play for the Minneapolis Millers in 1944 and remained in the U.S. after her career ended in the early 1950s. Dorothy (Key) Ferguson helped the Peaches win the AAGPBL championship in 1945 when she played second base. She spent 10 years in the league primarily as an outfielder due to her speed. She supposedly was the basis for the May Mordabito character played by Madonna in the movie. Ferguson said that the players were much better behaved than the characters and that she would have been sent home if she had done what Madonna did.

Multi-sport athlete Evelyn (Wawryshyn) Moroz switched from school teaching in Flin Flon to ball-playing with the Kenosha Comets in 1946. In six seasons in the AAGPBL, the speedster stole 273 bases. Eleanor (Knudson) Callow played eight seasons in the league and, when it disbanded in 1954, she was second on the all-time list with 407 runs batted-in.

Ruth (Middleton) Gentry, who started her softball career at age 13 for the Institute Provista Athletic Club ( IPAC), played from 1950 to 1954 with the Chicago Colleens, Springfield Sallies and the Belles in Battle Creek and Muskegon. Those seven players are inducted members of the Manitoba Softball Hall of Fame.

The four other Manitobans who played in the AAGPBL were Dottie Hunter, Mary (Shastal) Kustra, Yolanda (Teillet) Schick and Doris (Shero) Witiuk. The 11 players were inducted into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame as a group in 1998 and the 68 Canadian players who played in the AAGPBL were recognized by the Canadian Baseball HOF that summer.

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