Three Views of Millie DeeganMEMORIES OF AUNT MILLIE
By her niece, Joan Barker
Aunt Millie's true love in life was her sports. She was involved in softball and baseball as a young child. Her dad was her coach and she found nothing more enjoyable than swinging a bat with the boys in her Brooklyn neighborhood. She excelled in Track and Field in high school and won numerous awards and secured many records. She played softball and became known as the Babe Ruth of girl's softball after she slugged a homerun in Madison Square Garden for a record 250 feet the same evening Babe Ruth hit a homerun too! She played professional ball in the AAGPBL for 10 years playing second base for the famous Rockford Peaches for six years and then joining the Fort Wayne Daises and finally the Kenosha Comets before retiring from the game. She was connected with the Arians softball team in Linden NJ where she and Toots managed and coached and played for 22 years. Even in her twilight years she enjoyed golf and spectator sports. I believe most of what Aunt Millie learned about life came from her experiences in Sports. I am submitting the following poem I found in the AAGPBL newsletter as a special tribute to Aunt Millie. I feel this poem reflects her life very well indeed.
Reflection by Fern Price
Finally, I have been working busily over the last year, with lots of help from Aunt Millie, to record for posterity our family's history. Although the book was not complete, I am happy to say that Aunt Millie was able to see an almost completed version on my recent visit in June. Therefore I am so pleased that she knew before her death that her story, along with her family's, would not go untold.
Aunt Millie left the future generations a legacy that we should all be greatful for. Namely her photos of her life and her family's lives, including all of us kids and great nieces and nephews, are an incredible gift to us all. In addition, her interest in her ancestors and her extensive record keeping has made my job in tracing the family history so much easier.
MEMORIES OF MY GREAT AUNT
Imagine a group of boys playing baseball in Brooklyn, NY during the Great Depression. They play ball day in and day out all summer long. They use their neighbor's pie plates as bases, and have one bat to share between the teams. When the bat splits, they nail it back together. They also have one baseball that someone had bought them for a nickel. By the end of the very first game, the cover has ripped off & they repeatedly tape it back together for the rest of the summer.
Now imagine that there is one kid who far exceeds the ability of everyone else. This player hits harder, throws farther, and reacts fastest than the rest. But there is something else that distinguishes this individual: she is a girl.
This is how my Great Aunt Mildred Deegan first learned the game of baseball.
Although coming from humble beginnings, Millie excelled in sports and played professional baseball in the AAGPBL from 1943-1952. At a time when women were supposed to stay at home to cook and clean, my great aunt played ball. She was truly a pioneer for women, and an incredible inspiration to me.
Mille was first recognized for her achievement in sports in HS. Her mother told her that college would not be financially possible for her, so Millie devoted her time and energy to sports. She excelled at every sport she tried, and broke 43 track and field records.
When she graduated in 1937, Millie joined the Americanettes. One night in 1939, she hit a home run 250 feet, breaking a record at Madison Square Garden. Babe Ruth happened to be there the same night and was so impressed that he met her and posed for a picture. This earned her the nickname, "The Babe Ruth of Girls' Softball" from the local press.
In 1943, Millie became one of the original players of the AAGPBL. Many of you may be familiar with the movie A League of Their Own, which talks about this league. My aunt played for ten years, six with the Rockford Peaches, the team featured in the movie.
Millie was quite a talker and told me many stories about her experiences in the league. She always said that the movie was pretty accurate. For example, the girls really did have to go to charm school and always had to wear make-up and dresses, on and off the field. Slacks were never permitted. Also, they could not use profanity or smoke.
Curfew was enforced by the team's chaperone, and was 2 hours after the game finished or 11:30 if the game was rained out. The first fine for being late was $5, the second time, they were fined $10, and the third time resulted in a ten day suspension. My aunt was never fined, but probably only because she never got caught.
Another favorite story of Millie's was a time when she went with her teammates to a nearby lake the day before a game. The manager warned the girls not to get sunburned, and said he would fine them $25 if they did. Of course, my aunt got burnt to a crisp, but managed to conceal it during the game. However, at one point, she hit a triple and had to stand on third base right in front of the dug out. The manager, who was already suspecting that something was up, came over to her & slapped her hard on the back. She fell over in pain, but was able to get up, finish the game & avoid the fine.
All in all, my aunt was a phenomenal woman. After pro ball, she worked as a secretary, and coached the Arians for 20 years. She inspired many girls, including myself, to be active in sports and to follow their dreams. She was an extraordinary role model to all who knew her.
Millie was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in 1992. After her death, this past July, I was honored to receive her Hall of Fame ring.
My aunt's vivacity for life and sports will live on with her family and friends through all the amazing stories she has told us over the years. I feel so fortunate and blessed to have known such an inspirational woman.
Mildred Deegan's Sports Accomplishments
Mildred was born in Brooklyn and spent most of her childhood, with the boys in her Gravesend Beach neighborhood. As she grew up, they taught her well. At the age of ten, one of the older boys, who was a Golden Glove champ, taught her how to protect herself. Most of her battles happened during baseball games.
From 1933-1937 she earned 43 awards in High School Track and Field. She excelled in most sports and some of her high school records have never been broken. She trained for the Olympics, in Discus, Javelin, Shot-Putt, and Baseball Throw. In 1934 at the age of 14 she played with the Brooklyn Bloomer Girls Baseball Team.
Mildred played second base in Madison Square Garden, in New York, on the Americanettes from 1938-1939. In 1939, her batting average was .406. The Americanettes played teams from all over the country. They also played in a league which consisted of two N.Y. teams, two teams that played in the Boston Garden, and two teams that played in the Atlantic City Convention Hall.
In 1939 Mildred was the guest of the Mayor of New York, F. LaGuardia, at the opening day of the N.Y. World's Fair. She toured the Fair Grounds in a Sports Parade, in a convertible with the following celebrities, Col. Kilpatrick, president of Madison Square Garden, Lowell Thomas, news commentator, and Bob Ripley, of the believe it or not Ripley Fame. The sign on the convertible read, "Millie Deegan, Babe Ruth of Girls Softball".
From 1943 to 1952, Millie played Professional Baseball in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, in the Mid-West. She played second base for the Rockford Peaches.
In 1943 she worked out in Bear Mountain, NY with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Leo Durocher and some of the players, especially Mickey Owens, were greatly impressed with her workout.
In 1956, Millie became a part of the Arians Softball Team from Linden, New Jersey. She remained with the team for 22 years. She was a player for one year and then became the coach and field manager for the team until her retirement to Florida.
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