• Sam Gilman

Women Played First

It was women who were first paid to play the game of baseball. In the 140 years since, thousands more have made regular on-field appearances. By the 1930s, a black woman became one of the earliest female owners.

In 1867 John Lang assembled a team of African American women to play baseball as a purely entertainment team. Known as the Dolly Vardens, the women were paid to play baseball two years before the first men’s professional baseball club came into existence. By the 1890s women were playing baseball on their college teams.

In the 1920s the Bloomer teams featured women in all positions except for pitcher and catcher. Under the societal beliefs of the time women couldn’t handle these posts so they were reserved for men.

In the 1930s a black woman by the name of Frankie Dixon became one of the earliest female owners of a professional club.

From 1943-1954 as many as 900,000 people a year were watching the 600 women who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (A.A.G.P.B.L.). Founded by Philip Wrigley, the league’s history was the subject of the 1992 film, A League of Their Own.

In 1946 Sophie Kurys set a stolen base record that remains unmatched in any baseball league, having safely landed 201 times in 203 attempts. The current MLB record is 138. One of the league’s star pitchers Dottie Wiltse, with her doctor’s resounding approval, pitched the 48’ season six months pregnant.

From 1950-1952 there was a Japanese Girls Baseball League.

In 1984 former Atlanta Braves executive Bob Hope attempted to get a Class A all-women’s team into the Florida State League but was denied admittance. In 1990, in conjunction with Coors Brewing Company he created the Silver Bullets.

The first women’s professional baseball team since the end of the A.A.G.P.B.L., the Silver Bullets played 194 games in four seasons, from 1994–1997. Following the ’94 season players Lee Anne Ketcham and Julie Croteau signed with the A and AA men’s Hawaii Winter Baseball league. During this same period of time both the American Women’s Baseball Association (AWBA) and the American Women’s Baseball League (AWBL) were founded in 1988 and 1990 respectively. Finally, in 1994, it looked like Women’s baseball had found its feet.

The Women’s National Adult Baseball Association (WNABA) was formed with 16 teams playing a Women’s World Series in Arizona to end the season. In 1995 there were 100 teams in 16 states in the USA. In 2000 another league, the American Women’s Baseball League (AWBL) took a women’s baseball team to Japan to play against the Japanese women’s national team.

It was in 2001, that the first Women’s World Series was played. Unlike its male counterpart, this truly was a world-encompassing event with teams from Australia, Canada and Japan participating.

In 2003 women’s baseball became an official sport of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). This was the first time, in the history of the game, that a national organization began sanctioning and supporting women’s baseball. Finally, in 2004, the first-ever Women’s Baseball World Cup was played.

16-year old RHP Eri Yoshida becomes Japans first female minor leaguer for the Japanese Baseball League in 2008.

In 2009, the Girls Professional Baseball League is founded in Japan. 2013 marked the first year for all-women’s baseball in France.

That brings us to last season. In 2015, the MLB finally decided to open the field of play. They hired their first female coach in the history of the sport and named a woman to the international eligible player’s list.

With the Women’s World Cup set for September, it is likely that any major announcements for the future will come after the scouts have had their fill in the stands of South Korea.

Until then, Play Ball!