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The legendary game of baseball, the roar of the crowd, the crack of the bat, the hot dogs and peanuts, and most of all the excitement. America's pastime has had a long history filled with great moments, heroic players, and breakthroughs in our modern society. It all started in 1869 when the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings took the field. They were all male and would eventually be known as the first boys of summer. The first professional girls team was created six years later which in turn grew into more women's teams, but was overshadowed by the growing men's leagues and they eventually dwindled and faded away. The women knew they could play and compete at a level as high or higher than their counterparts and throughout the 20th century proved this by developing successful women's leagues and teams. These were strong determined women who believed in themselves and proved to the world that they were the girls of summer.
In 1870's women could not vote or own property, but they could play baseball. In 1875 the first professional girls baseball team was created. They wore uniforms that weighed almost thirty pounds, consisting of floor length skirts, underskirts, a long-sleeved high-necked blouse, and high button shoes. In the 1890's Amelia Bloomer developed a more practical uniform and in her honor the "Bloomer Girls" teams were created. The Bloomer Girls teams rarely played each other, but traveled across America challenging local town, semi-pro, and minor league men's teams. The Bloomer Girls won on frequent occasions, playing competitive ball. These teams gave women an excellent opportunity for employment, travel and adventure for anyone who could hit, field, slide, or catch. The Bloomer girls would eventually dwindle and disappear in 1934, and be replaced by professional softball teams. It was a less competitive game with shorter base paths, a bigger ball, no stealing, and underhand pitching.
In 1943 a man by the name of Phillip Wrigley received word from President Roosevelt that the Major League Baseball season would be suspended due to the manpower shortage caused by World War II. Phillip Wrigley wanted to keep baseball going through the wartime, and joined forces with several small town entrepreneurs and created the first official baseball league for women called the All American Girls Baseball League (AAGBL). Thirty scouts were hired to start looking for the best softball players all over the United States.
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Wrigley wanted to avoid a masculine image and made sure his girls were feminine looking with the proper etiquette of young ladies between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. Wrigley went so far as to set up a charm school for his players. The girls would learn the socially acceptable way to sit, walk and stand. They would learn how to take care of their hair, complexion, and how and when to use lipstick. The end result would create attractive, appealing young ladies who could entertain their audience. Wrigley also created a one piece uniform, that was pastel colored and had a short skirt. They wore belts and coordinated socks that extended to the knees. The girls were expected to wear make-up on the field and wear their hair long. They would look attractive to the point of being All-American ladies, but when players slid into bases and scraped their legs and butts, or when the weather got particularly cold, one had to wonder about the appropriateness of the uniforms.
Over six hundred women played in the AAGBL over twelve seasons. The last season was played in 1954. Television was brining men's Major league games into people's living rooms, and there just wasn't enough audience for the women's leagues to continue. The AAGBL changed forever the myth that women could not play baseball. In 1988 the AAGBL memorial was enshrined in Cooperstown, New York. Over 550 names are on a plaque titled "Women in Baseball."
In the years that followed after the end of the AAGBL, several women tried out to play minor league baseball with the men, but none were successful. Eventually women would be officially banned from minor league baseball, a ban that would last for forty years. Women who wanted to play professional ball had no choice but to play softball. In 1994, the Colorado Silver Bullets were formed, the first women's professional baseball team since the AAGBL. They were a touring team, traveling around the country playing men's college, amateur, semi-pro, and professional minor league teams. At the end of the 1997 season, the team's sponsor, Coors Light, announced it was ending its support. Reportedly, Coors was concerned that at a time when there was an upsurge in women's sports, Coors might be viewed as a women's beer.
Women will forever hold a piece of baseball in their hearts. They have proven over the last one hundred and thirty years that not only can they play the game of baseball, but can do so at the same level as men. Through the up's and down's, women have fought their way back into baseball, thus leaving their mark on the game forever. As history has shown, women's baseball will rise again, bigger and better than ever and we will all be there this time to support and cheer our girls on.