Obit of the Day: Inaugural Member of the AAGPBL
Mary Nesbitt Wisham was playing baseball with a men’s team in Chattanooga, Tennessee when a scout invited her to tryout for a new women’s baseball league. The 18-year-old high schooler took a train to Wrigley Field, one of only 280 women in the country invited to attend.
Mrs. Wisham was one of the first 60 players selected to play in the inaugural season of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). And what a season it was for her and her Racine Belles. A left-handed pitcher with a impressive knuckleball*, Mrs. Wisham pitched 47 games and won 26 of them against only 13 losses, earning a spot on the AAGPBL’s first all-star team. The Belles would go on to win the first-ever AAGPBL championship, defeating the Kenosha Comets three games to none.
Switching off between the mound and first base during her first three seasons, she was a dual threat. Between 1943 and 1945, she won 65 games while posting a 2.43 earned run average. She also led the league in batting in 1945 with a .319 average.
She took the 1946 season off after marrying Vester Wisham, the Racine Belles’ bus driver, but was coaxed back in 1947 with the promise of a $500 bonus (about $5200 today).
When she returned she joined the Peoria Redwings, an expansion team that joined the league in 1946. Her best season was 1948 when she hit .292, with 24 doubles and 64 stolen bases leading the Redwings to their only winning season and playoff appearance.
After another season off in 1949 (OOTD could not determine the reason), Mrs. Wisham returned for 1950 season but only played in 49 games - while hitting .340. She was pregnant with her first child and retired from the game.
After leaving the AAGPBL, Mrs. Wisham became a school bus driver in Putnam County, Florida. She continued to play in softball leagues. In 1975 she and her daughter, Mary Elizabeth Wisham, were players on the Kentucky state championship team and would end up finishing ninth in the women’s fastpitch national championship. Mary Nesbitt Wisham was 50 years old at the time.
Mrs. Wisham, who never considered herself a part of history (“I never give it a thought. I was just thrilled to death because I love to play ball and did pretty well I thought.”) died on November 17, 2013 at the age of 88.
(Image of Mary Nesbitt Wisham as a member of the Peoria Redwings, circa 1947-1950, is courtesy of AAGPBL.org)
Other members of the AAGPBL featured on Obit of the Day:
Doris Sams - Threw a perfect game
Obit of the Day: League of Their Own Chaperone
When the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) began play in 1943 they not only wanted talented ballplayers who looked good playing in skirts. The league had to make sure that their players behaved appropriately and were models of decorum. So, unlike their male counterparts in the American and National Leagues, the AAGPBL players had team chaperones.
The chaperones would not only keep wary eyes on potential suitors for their wards but they became “surrogate mothers” who helped find housing, delivered paychecks and even arranged team transportation. According to league rules:
4. All social engagements must be approved by chaperone. Legitimate requests for dates can be allowed by chaperones.
6. All living quarters and eating places must be approved by the chaperones. No player shall change her residence without the permission of the chaperone.
One of these women was Helen Hannah Campbell who served as an AAGPBL chaperone from 1947-1951 with the Muskegon (MI) Lassies. She was hired after her father, James Hannah, a former Yankee teammate of Babe Ruth’s spoke with the league president.
She would stay with the Lassies until the outbreak of the Korean War in 1951. Mrs. Campbell had enlisted in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve in 1943 when the USMC finally allowed women to join. (According to Mrs. Campbell the commandant of the Marines “didn’t want skirts with his male Marines.”) She would serve in the Corps for thirty-two years retiring in 1976 as a gunnery sergeant.
Mrs. Campbell, who was a high school classmate of President Richard Nixon and a docent at his presidential library in Yorba Linda, CA, passed away on March 24, 2013 at the age of 97.
(Image of Helen Hannah Campbell in her chaperone uniform, circa 1947-1951, is courtesy of sportsartifacts.com)
Other members of the AAGPBL
Pepper Paire Davis - Consultant on A League of Their Own
Sophie Kunys - All-time stolen base leader in the AAGPBL
Doris Sams - Threw a perfect game
Obit of the Day: “The Flint Flash”
Sophie Kurys stole. A lot. During her nine seasons in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, she swiped 1114 bases*. (The record for Major League Baseball is 1406 by Rickey Henderson - in 25 seasons.) In 1946, Ms. Kurys would steal 201 bases^, score 117 runs, and hit .286, good enough for Player of the Year.
Ms. Kurys would play eight seasons at second base with the Racine (WI) Belles (1943-1950) and one season with the Battle Creek (MI) Belles (1952). (There is no record on why she missed the 1951 season). She was selected for three All-Star games (1946-1948) and won two AAGPBL championships in 1943 and 1946 - when, according to reports, she scored the winning run in the 14th inning.
Random note 1: Ms. Kunys did all this sliding in a short skirt because it was determined that long pants, standard in men’s baseball, would not be feminine enough.
In 1987 she was inducted into the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame. She passed away at the age of 86 on February 10, 2013 in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she has lived for forty years.
Random note 2: She was sometimes called “Tina Cobb,” in homage to Ty Cobb who was the (modern) career leader in stolen bases for MLB until 1977.
(Image is copyright The Northern Indiana Historical Society)
* During Ms. Kurys’ time in the AAGPBL the distance between bases started at 65 feet and was eventually lengthened to 72 feet. The distance in MLB is 90 feet between bases.
^ To put this in perspective, Rickey Henderson has the MLB record for stolen bases in a season with 130. He was caught stealing 42 times - a 76% success rate. Ms. Kurys stole 201 bases in 203 attempts - a 99% success rate. So not only did Ms. Kurys steal nearly every time she was on base, the opposing team knew she would, and they still couldn’t stop her. Incredible.
A week before Ms. Kunys died another AAGPBL legend passed away: Pepper Paire Davis.
Rickey Henderson is the Sophie Kurys of MLB.
Obit of the Day: A League of Her Own in A League of Their Own
Lavonne “Pepper” Paire Davis loved baseball. So when she was 18 she jumped at the chance to join Philip K. Wrigley’s All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the spring of 1944. Davis, a catcher by trade was first assigned to the Minneapolis Millerettes and would spend the next ten seasons in the AAGPBL.
A defensive specialist with a .997 lifetime fielding percentage (meaning that she made all by 0.3% of all plays she handled behind the plate), she would win a championship in 1946 with the Racine Belles and finish second three other times (1951-1953). Hitting only .225 over her career, Mrs. Davis had 400 runs batted in, good for fourth all time.
But Mrs. Davis’ contribution to the AAGPBL went beyond the diamond. She was the co-writer of the league’s official “Victory Song” along with Nalda “Bird” Phillips. The song was performed during the film.
Mrs. Davis’ experiences and personality also earned her the role of technical advisor for A League of Their Own. The lead character, “Dottie Hinson,” played by Geena Davis was a composite of Mrs. Davis and two other stars of the AAGPBL: Dorothy Kamenshek and Dottie Schroeder.
“Pepper” Paire Davis, who published her memoir Dirt in the Skirt in 2009, passed away on February 3, 2013 at the age of 88.
(Image is courtesy of www.sportsartifacts.com - you can buy the photo for $40.)
Other members of the AAGPBL on Obit of the Day:
Doris Sams - Threw a perfect game
Obit of the Day: A League She Owned
Doris “Sammye” Sams was a no-doubt-about star of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Ms. Sams who entered the league in 1946 would play for eight seasons on for the Muskegon and Kalamazoo (Michigan) Lassies. She was a dual threat both on the mound and in the batter’s box. She was elected to the All-Star team in six of eight seasons. She earned two Player of the Year awards in 1947 and 1949. In the former season she threw the third perfect game in AAGPBL history* for Muskegon. Ironically, her best season on the mound was 1948 when she won 18 games, had a 1.54 ERA and struck out 117 in 268 innings.
Ms. Sams hit over .300 in her final four seasons as player. And in 1952, she would lead the league in home runs, with twelve. She would retire one year later after hitting .314 in the 1953 season. (You can find her complete playing record here
At her peak, Ms. Sams earned $4000 per year between her playing contract and endorsements which included an appearance on the back cover of the 1948 Dell baseball guide. (The player on the front was some guy named Ted Williams.)
Ms. Sams, who had no immediate survivors, died at the age of 85 from complications due to Alzheimer’s.
Random note: Before turning to baseball, Ms. Sams was a marbles and badminton champion in Knoxville, Tennessee.
(Image of Doris Sams, circa 1946-1950, is courtesy of the Washington <i>Examiner</i>.)
* According to baseball-reference.com, five perfect games were thrown in the AAGPBL by four different women: Annabelle Lee, 1944; Carolyn Morris, 1945; Doris Sams, 1947; and Jean Faut, 1951 & 1953.
(Source: The New York Times)