A League of My Own: Memoir of a Pitcher for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
Reviewed by David Marasco
by Patricia Brown
The most recent addition to the women in baseball bookshelf is Patricia Brown's "A League of My Own: Memoir of a Pitcher for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League". As the title suggests, this is an autobiography of a former player. Up until now, the book-length works on the League have all been by academics. This is the first by a writer who actually got dirt on her skirt. However, don't think this is just another jock's-eye view with the added twist of a woman writer; Brown earned four degrees after her playing days were done, and is highly respected in her field. This is well reflected in her writing. The book itself is divided into three sections, an autobiography, essays on the league and interviews with fellow members of the AAGPBL.
Brown, like countless young women before Title IX, had very limited opportunities in youth athletics. Growing up in Winthrop, Massachusetts, she was allowed to play sandlot baseball with the neighborhood boys mainly because her brothers demanded that she be given a chance. Not only did her brothers bring the equipment for the games, but one of the was also talented enough to play in the high minors of the Phillies system, so Brown was stuck in right and allowed to bat last. Eventually the other players came to respect her skills, but this opportunity vanished when the players got older and the other players gravitated to high school sports. Brown played high school sports as well, but felt that the opportunities for girls were lacking compared to those for boys.
Brown wished to go to college after graduating from high school, but didn't have the money. She found work as a typist and felt as if her dreams of baseball and higher education were fading away. Then, on the Fourth of July in 1948, she read a newspaper article about the AAGPBL. She sent a letter to Phil Wrigley claiming that she was a "female Ted Williams" and was eventually sent an invitation to a League tryout. After some starts and stops she eventually made the League. Sort of.
Brown played for the Chicago Colleens in 1950 and spent part of 1951 with Battle Creek. A quick check of the AAGPBL canon finds scant mention of the 1950 Colleens. In the 1948 the League unwisely expanded into Chicago and Springfield. The two teams didn't prosper and ended their seasons as permanent road teams. After that you will not find either squad in the League standings. But the two teams did not vanish into nothingness. They became touring teams, and barnstormed across the country playing each other. Since the AAGPBL had no farm system in the traditional sense, these teams were used by the League to give promising youngsters the playing time they needed to hone their skills. As the AAGPBL transitioned form softball to baseball over the years, this became a very important function, as rookies could not compete with the more experienced veterans. In addition, the touring teams were used to scout new talent in places where the AAGPBL did not traditionally have a presence. The touring teams were eliminated after 1950 as a cost-cutting maneuver, and no doubt this hurt the pipeline that supplied quality players to the League. Brown argues strongly that the touring teams should get more attention in the histories of the League. Since many of the names on the rosters of the touring teams are familiar, it's hard to disagree with her.
Brown gives a lively account of her 1950 season with the Colleens. They played almost 100 games on their tour, including matches in both Griffith and Yankee Stadium. It's this perspective on the League that makes the book unique. She tells her tales in an easy-going style. She may not have had long career in baseball, but it was certainly packed with interesting moments! Later in the book she give an annotated version of the League's Rules of Conduct. Again, that's a perspective that is fresh, funny, and hasn't been seen in many of the previous offerings in the field.
Every once in a while you wish that Brown made one extra step in her stories. In 1950 the touring teams traveled across the South and Brown got to see segregation first hand; this made her an ardent supporter of the Civil Rights movement. Yet there is no mention of the fact that the AAGPBL was itself segregated. I guess the powers behind the League decided that "ladylike" did not include integrated play. Much has been made of how hard it was to find quality players at the end of the League's history, but as far as I know, no offers were made to the likes of Toni Stone, Connie Morgan or Peanut Johnson. I wouldn't have expected Brown the player to make much noise about this (they would have put her on the first bus back to Massachusetts), but as a person reflecting back on past times she does miss an obvious contradiction. I don't think she is alone. Has there ever been an effort by the members of the League to reach out to their sisters across the Color Barrier? Has there ever been an invitation to an AAGPBL social event in recognition that they too played the game?
In 1951 Brown joined the Battle Creek Belles, but she was thinking about her future. She knew that she had to act soon on her college plans or they would never happen. She didn't spend the full summer with the Belles, but instead started her college hunt. With almost no money, Brown chose Suffolk University because she could commute there and not have to pay to live in a dorm. After a chat with the Dean of Admissions, she was granted a half-scholarship and a part-time job from the university. She worked her way through college, organized and coached the woman's basketball team and did well academically. The life lessons learned playing in the AAGPBL contributed to her success in college. After graduation she continued to compete in amateur athletics and also continued with her job in the Suffolk University library. She found that she was having problems with her role in the law library, so she went to Law School and passed the Bar in order to serve as a superior law librarian. She went on to also earn an MBA and a Masters in Theology! She spent the rest of her working life at Suffolk University as a valuable and respected member of their academic community. Her background as a law librarian shines through in this book. She has interesting in-depth discussions of the legal histories of both Title IX and Little League rulings. They provide an interesting counterpoint to her accounts from her playing days.
Following a chapter on the "rediscovery" of the AAGPBL after the movie "A League of Their Own", Brown shifts gears from biography mode. She spends roughly 20 pages on essays on the history of the League, and then moves on to interviews. Interviews with AAGPBL members have long been a feature at the TDA website. For the most part these women are very generous with their time and memories, and in addition they have lived very interesting lives after baseball. Therefore I was quite pleased to find 30 pages of interview with Brown's teammates. She also includes a chaperone, a voice that is often ignored in these studies. Brown's book is a strong offering because it was written by a player rather than an academic (though to be sure, her academic credentials are top notch), the addition of these long segment where other players could put their memories in their own words greatly strengthens this aspect of her book. It allows us to see the large range of players and experience that made up the League.
This book takes an interesting place on the bookshelf. It is not a proper league history. While there are some essays on how the league was formed and the arc of its lifetime, it really is one player's story. But it is her own story, and it is well told. Unlike many treatments that briefly mention that a player grew up playing the game with her brothers, this book clearly shows Brown's struggles as a child to play, and how her opportunities were limited, and the joy she had being able to play in the League. Then after her playing days were done, her successes in a male-dominated world are recounted. This book gives a flavor of the women who played in the league, their spirit and their times. Go out and buy this book.
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