Remembering Racine Belles of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
Not many members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League are still around today. The league lasted from 1943-'54, and was created by Phil Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, to keep ballparks busy after the U.S. had begun sending many of its Major League players to fight in World War II.
Twenty-five years ago, more Americans began learning about the league, when Hollywood released the movie, A League of Their Own. At that time, WUWM met three players from the old Racine Belles who had reconnected - Annastasia Batikis, Joyce Hill and Anna Mae Hutchison.
Today, Hill is 91, "Hutch" and "Stosh" are gone. Here is part of our 1992 conversation:
“You had a regular spring training just like the men do, and you had hours that you had to keep and because we were so different, they wanted us to make sure that we were very ladylike and not go out there looking like tomboys.
“So we got lessons in grooming and you learned how to put makeup on and you learned how to walk, and we wore the skirts and caps, and little pants underneath the skirts. “Some of us wore sliding pads, but you wore them a few times and you took them off – because they were in the way. You’d rather have the strawberry you got (from sliding),” Annastasia Batikis said.
“You would have done anything they said just to be able to play. How many would get an opportunity to play ball and get paid for it, in those days?
“I was making as much as I made at American Motors. I was making a dollar an hour working on airplane motors, and when I got my first (baseball) contract, it was like $45 a week, and that’s what I was making at American Motors. So why should I stay there, when I could go and do something I like?
“Besides, they paid all your expenses. When you traveled, they gave you meal money, except when you were in your hometown, then you lived with some family that took you in, and maybe you paid $5 a week for board,” Joyce Hill said.
Hill says the women played by the same rules and used the same equipment as the men, although the field was somewhat shortened.
“The fences weren’t quite as far as the men’s fences, but they were 300 feet or more to right and left (fields) and maybe 350-375 ft. to center,” Hill said.
“They always kept our base paths shorter than men’s regulation, and the pitching distance was shorter, so it would be girls’ baseball instead of regulation baseball,” added Anna Mae Hutchison.
“Another thing that’s important – our managers and coaches were all former big league ball players or had a lot of experience in the baseball field. We didn’t just have anybody as our coaches,” said Batikis.
“After we had spring training for a week or two, then we took a tour through the south and two different teams from the league would go through cities and play each other. Sometimes were were in parades. They treated us like we were heroes or some crazy thing, (even though) we didn’t feel like it,” Hill recalled.
Hill estimates that the league drew 5,000 fans to many of its games.
“We filled the stands most of the time, day and night. We played just about every night, and on Sundays, there were two games,” Batikis said.
“The girls who played in those days were terrific. The pitching, everything, was just super,” Hill said.
The athletes in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League also created their own song. It was nearly instant recall for the three Racine Belles, back in 1992:
“For we’re the members of the All-American League, we come from cities near and far. We’ve got Canadians, Irishmen and Swedes, we all for one, we’re one for all, we’re all Americans. “Each girl stands, her head so proudly high, her motto do or die, she’s not just the one to need or use an alibi. Chaperones are not too soft, they’re not too tough, our managers are on the ball. We’ve got a president who really knows his stuff, we’re all for one, we’re one for all, we’re all Americans.”