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September 27, 2012

In a 'League of Their Own'

 It all began just like in the movie “A League of Their Own” for All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player Maybelle Blair.

  Blair, who pitched for the Peoria Redwings in 1948, said a scout just happened to see her playing ball in a nearby field.

  “He asked if I wanted to play professionally,” Blair said. “I told him there was not such a thing, but he said, ‘Oh yes there is and I will pay you money.”’

  Blair said he told the scout that her mother would never allow her to play. But they went back to her house, she said, to talk to her mother about the opportunity.

The first thing out of her mother’s mouth, according to Blair, was, “‘My daughter is not leaving this house. There is no way.”’

 Blair said the scout then said she would get paid $65 a week, which changed her mother’s mind quickly. According to Blair, her mother told her father to go crank up the car because she was going to go pack Blair’s suitcase and put her on the next train. Blaire said she was 17 at the time and was going to be making more money than her father.

   “I was very popular at the house then,” she said. “It was a dream that I always wanted, but never thought could occur. But we made it and today I am still digging out gravel from sliding because we did not wear sliding pads or anything like that like the prima donna baseball players do. We did it, we played hurt. We didn’t break our finger nails and complain. We played. We were out there on crutches and everything else.”

 “We enjoyed every minute of it though because we loved the game,” she added. “We would have played the game without money.”

  Blair was one of about 50 members of the AAGPBL who visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Friday as part of reunion festivities.

  The reunion, which included a charity softball game at Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse concluded on Sunday.

  It has been 58 years or more since the ladies played professional ball together, but they still gather each year. Many of the women’s achievements are on display as part of the Hall of Fame’s Diamond Dreams exhibit. The exhibit is on the second floor of the museum and salutes the role women have played in baseball at every level.

  Although these women were not the first to hit the diamond, (there were college clubs and Bloomer Girls teams before them for example), they pioneered a trail, both on the field and off, for generations of athletes to follow. They became the inspiration for the film “A League of Their Own.” A few scenes from the movie, which was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1992, were filmed in Cooperstown.

  The film taught America “there is no crying in baseball,” and will be debuting on Blu-ray Oct. 16 — just a week before the 2012 World Series.

  The AAGPBL started in 1943 when World War II threatened to shut down Major League Baseball. It was formed in the Midwest states by Chicago Cubs’ owner Philip Wrigley. The women who played came from all over the country.

  The last time members of the AAGPBL were in Cooperstown as a group was in 2003. Blair said she had been to Cooperstown before and loves it.

  “It’s a lot of fun, and we are having one heck of a nice time,” she said about this year’s gathering. “We love it here in Cooperstown.”

  “We have a reunion every year, and we see each other, and we get older, and half of us are dying off like flies because we are at that age, but we are still having a lot of fun,” she continued.

  Blair said she never thought that women would ever be a part of the Hall of Fame, but it happened. It is the greatest honor in the world to be a part of the museum, she added.

  The exhibit brings back memories, Blair said, adding, “It is so wonderful to see.”

  Mary Moore, who played second base for the Springfield Sallies in 1950 and then was drafted to the Battle Creek Belles, said she and the other members of the league played ball because they loved it.

  “We were getting paid for it and traveling all over the country, seeing the country and things like that,” she said.

  “We played in Yankee Stadium before the Yankees, met Joe DiMaggio and Casey Stengel. You couldn’t ask for anything more. It was exciting, and yet we never dreamed anything like this would ever happen.”

  The women are good ambassadors, said Moore, who added that many of the women are still active in baseball through coaching, playing and encouraging girls to follow their dreams and not to give up.

  This year’s reunion is an especially big deal for the group, according to Moore, because of the anniversary of “A League of Their Own.” She said the film put a spotlight on the league and on women ballplayers.

  Moore said she had been to Cooperstown two or three times, including the year director Penny Marshall and a few of the actors from the film were in town for a dedication of a statue.

  “It is great being back,” she said. “You brag about it to everybody. When you tell people you are going to the Hall of Fame, they just look at you enviously and wish they could be there too.”

  Moore said the reunion has included such activities as a reception night, a fun night with a pool tournament and singalong and informal gatherings. It’s all about getting together and having a good time, she said.

  “When we made friends way back when, we stayed friends,” she said. “We are all like family, and we are always so glad to see everybody every year and get together and talk about old times. It is like you never even left.”

  Also in attendance was actress Megan Cavanagh, who played Marla Hooch in “A League of Their Own.” She said being able to play baseball was a requirement when trying out for a role in the film. At the time of casting, she said, she had no idea there was a real league of woman. She said her mother was a librarian, so she tried to go to the library to look up information about the league and couldn’t find anything.

  “I was shocked,” she said.

  She was not sure the movie would be a success while it was being shot, she said, because the subject was so different, although she conceded that she thought it might be a hit based on the cast.

  Cavanagh said she knew the story of the women’s league needed to be told.

  “I was so amazingly happy to be a part of that,” she said. “I just felt so honored, and I still feel honored to be a part of this.”

  “A League of Their Own” was the actress’ first movie, and she credits the film with jumpstarting her career.

  “I have never had to have another job other than acting since,” she said. “It changed my life. It literally changed my life.”


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