The Women of Cooperstown
The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown hosted the fourth annual Mother's Day tribute to the women of professional baseball on Sunday, May 12, 2002 in the Grandstand Theater. Host Bruce Markusen spoke with six original members of the league, while the audience was allowed to ask questions following the interviews.
Participating at the round table were former standouts Mary Moore, Jane Mofet, Dolly White, Madeline English, Gloria Cordes, and Helen Steffes. After about 45 minutes of reminiscing of the way the game was played by these women, the audience, composed of members of the Friends of the Hall of Fame, asked many questions regarding these women's careers.
Mary Moore, who was participating in the roundtable for the first time, recalled her days as a second baseman with the Springfield Sallies and the Battle Creek Belles. Helen Steffes, another newcomer, reminisced on her days as one of the best defensive third basemen in the league and also the championship season of the Rockford Peaches in 1945.
Gloria Cordes wowed the crowd with her recollections of having struck out 369 players over five years, and her compiling of a career earned run average of 2.82 while playing for the Battle Creek Belles, the Kalamazoo Lassies, and the Racine Belles. Cordes also told me that during one season she had 24 complete games and an ERA. of 1.44. Most pitchers would pale in comparison to those numbers.
Jane Moffet told the story of how she actually became a player on accident. She attended the tryout camp with a friend who eagerly wanted to play, and after helping one of the coaches running the camp, he asked her why she was not playing. She confessed she had not intended to even be there, but was doing it as a favor for a friend. When he asked her to try out, she did, and she made the team. The friend, however, did not. She enjoyed four years as a catcher, first basemen, and outfielder.
Madeline English, who was simply a treat to listen to, remembered her career as three-time All Star third baseman that helped lead the Racine Belles to three pennants and two championships during her eight seasons. After her career, she went into teaching, and her hometown of Everett, MA will be opening a brand new school in the fall adorned with her name. She is the only woman in the history of the AAGPBL to be so honored, but is quick to point out that Mary Pratt, who was also in attendance in the audience, has a ballpark named after her in her hometown.
Finally, Dolly White not only discussed her career as one of the youngest players to play in the league, she joined at 14 years old, but she also talked about her work as the current president of the AAGPBL. While a player of seven seasons, White helped the Fort Wayne Daisies in winning two pennants, and once her playing career ended, she earned her doctorate from the University of Southern Mississippi. As president of the league, she helps to keep the league's history alive.
In the audience were four other members of the league. Mary Pratt, who played for the Rockford Peaches and Kenosha Comets, Dolly Konwinski, who went on to become a charter member on the professional bowling tour after her baseball career was cut short as a result of an automobile accident, Joanne McComb, a former member of the Springfield Sallies, and Sarah "Salty" Ferguson, who was a member of the Rockford Peaches, which was one of the teams depicted in the movie A League of Their Own.
A major reason for this growing love and admiration of the AAGPBL has been the lasting success of the movie A League of Their Own, which was conceived and put to film by director Penny Marshall of Laverne & Shirley television fame. Her idea to film a movie depicting the league and its players ten years ago has raised an awareness that even Dale Petroskey, President of the Hall of Fame, admits he did not have. The movie was a success then and has become a classic film today.
The film, starring a pre-Oscar Tom Hanks, music legend Madonna, television idol Rosie O'Donnell, Oscar winner Geena Davis, and comedian Jon Lovitz, produced two hours of memorable moments and catchy lines, including one of the most famous movie lines of all time: "There's no crying in baseball." There were many laughs throughout the film. Some examples include Lovitz's character yelling at a cow and making wisecracks too numerous to count. There were gut wrenching moments, too, such as when Tray Reiner's character "Betty Spaghetti" received a telegram from the War Department stating she had lost her husband in battle, reminding the viewers of the era in which these women played, World War II. The movie transcended many emotions and many triumphs, and none of it could have been accomplished without the terrific vision of Marshall.
On hand this Mother's Day Weekend in Cooperstown, were some members of that great movie. In addition to Marshall and Reiner, who is Marshall's daughter, were stars Garry Marshall (Penny's brother and a mega star in his own right), Lori Petty who played Kit Keller, and the wildly received Megan Cavanaugh who played Marla Hooch. All were present to commemorate the movie's tenth anniversary and to give Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark wonderful artifacts ranging from uniforms to tee shirts to baseballs from the movie. Clark informed the audience that the items would be prominently placed in the Hall of Fame's movie exhibit.
In addition to the regularly scheduled presentations, Marshall surprised Hall of Fame Chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark with other gifts as well. Included in the bag of goodies Marshall brought was a tee shirt the cast members had made to give to members of the crew. The tee shirt contained photographs of each person who was in the film and was autographed by many of them. Marshall promised to get the rest of the cast depicted on the shirt to sign it also.
Also included was a movie jersey that Marshall had made for members of the cast, an Elliot doll resembling a member of the Rockford Peaches, a signed movie tee shirt from Marshall, a Rockford Peaches jersey, and two different tee shirts with the line, "There's no crying in baseball!"
The true treasure, however, was a homemade scrapbook that the former players had put together to give out at their reunion of the All American Girl's Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The scrapbook contained numerous photos and mementoes relating to their lives in the game.
The Hall of Fame's Baseball in the Movies exhibit benefited tremendously from these donations. Ms. Clark, beaming at the sight of all of these new treasures, exclaimed "It's just like Christmas!" She was right.
After the presentations, the cast held a question and answer session for Members of the Hall of Fame. It was during this session that a question from someone in the audience asked whether or not the original members of the league were consulted during the film's making. Penny summed it up the best when she pointed to the front row and said that these women, there were ten former players in attendance, "Were the soul of the movie!" It could not have been said any better.
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