Women ballplayers reminisce at FanFest
Inspiration for 'A League of Their Own' gather in Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH -- They had to wear lipstick, their skirts were to be short and charm school was a requirement. But the pioneering women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League were just ballplayers having a good time.
"Shoot, you just want to play, and now they were going to pay you to do it," said Dolly Brumfield-White, who played from 1947 to 1953. "What could be better?"
On Friday afternoon at the All-Star FanFest, seven of the women whose league inspired the movie "A League of Their Own" reminisced about that past they so cherish.
And in one of the day's most attended events, the inevitable query arose almost immediately in a question and answer session at "The Diamond" -- What did you guys think of the movie?
Loved it, they said. A few of them were even in it.
"It was awesome. We had our premiere right here in Pittsburgh," said Sarah "Salty" Ferguson. "Your face comes up on the screen and it's awesome. The kids say, 'Look, there's mom.'"
What about the famous line spouted off by loutish manager Jimmy Dugan (played by Tom Hanks) -- "Are you crying? There's no crying, there's no crying in baseball!" Offensive? Nah. They laughed as the clip was being played on the video board in center field.
And they laughed again when the symposium's host asked which of them was Madonna's character based on. Five raised their hands.
If anything, the film made the women's lives seem more difficult than they were in reality. Sure, there were books to be balanced on heads, manners to be learned and etiquette guides to be read, but it wasn't all that bad, Ferguson said. Not with her chaperone, at least.
"They made the chaperones look bad," she said. "That was the only bad part of the movie. She had to be my mother, father and everything rolled into one. ... She was great."
The league was founded amid World War II in 1943. With many of the men overseas during the war, Major League Baseball executives attempted to keep the game in the public consciousness by forming a new professional league with women players.
Tryouts were held in dozens of metro areas before "Spring Training" was held in May at Chicago's Wrigley Field. Four teams made up the league's charter members -- the Rockford Peaches, the South Bend Blue Sox, the Racine Belles and the Kenosha Comets. Though some girls were as young as 15 when they signed on, the women said their families were largely supportive.
"I was my dad's son I guess," Ferguson joked. "Because my brother wasn't very athletic. ... [In football], he guarded the end of the bench and attacked the first guy that came for water."
The AAGPBL eventually expanded to 10 teams before folding in 1954.
But none of the women had anything but fond memories of their time more than a half century ago. They joked about Frances Vukovich's nickname, "Be-Bop" -- "Nobody wanted to room with me because I used to play my [jazz] music so loud," Vukovich said -- spoke of a new statue dedicated in their honor earlier this year at the Baseball Hall of Fame and acknowledged their fortune that such a league came along in a day that offered women few opportunities.
They parted by joining together in an entertaining chorus of the league's official song:
"Our 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,
Missed it? The women will be back for sessions on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.