In the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, manager Tom Hanks berated one of his weeping players with this admonition: “There’s no crying in baseball.” Well, perhaps not on the field of play but on Saturday, Sept. 22, there may be a whole lot of tears when the surviving members of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) reunite in Syracuse for their annual meeting.
Slated to appear at the event are actresses Patti Pelton, who played Marbleann Wilkenson, and Megan Cavanagh, who took the role of plain jane Marla Hooch. Also in attendance will be league president Lois Youngen, who played from 1951 to 1954. The league operated from 1943 to 1954 as a way to fill the void left when Major League Baseball saw many of its players fighting in World War II.
“This year, being the 20th anniversary of the film, as well as the 40th anniversary of Title IX, this reunion is especially important to us,” said Youngen from her home in Eugene, Ore. “And we’re losing so many of our players: They’re dying. At almost 79, I’m one of the youngest. We had about 240 players listed in our 2008 directory, and this year we’re down to about 140.”
Youngen played catcher and outfielder for the Fort Wayne Daisies before being traded to the South Bend Blue Sox. “I caught one of two perfect games pitched during the overhand era,” she noted, “in South Bend. The game was pitched by Jean Faut, who was one of the league’s best players. Women’s baseball first started as underhand, like softball, contrary to what you see in the film. I enjoyed every minute of my years in the league, even the travel on the bus. And I made enough money to pay for college.”
After graduating from Kent State University, Youngen spent her entire career at the University of Oregon, working in the department of physical activity and recreation services; at her retirement, she was head of the department. She is finishing up her fourth year as president of the AAGPBL, and a new head of the organization will be elected this weekend.
This year marks the second time the women will gather in the Salt City; the last reunion here was in 2003. This year’s version is being organized by Syracusan Shelley McCann, a fan of the movie, who also loves baseball and history. She was laid off from her job in February, and she’s been so busy with organizing, she hasn’t been able to seek another job.
“I chose not to look for work while I was getting this together,” McCann said. “I don’t know how I would have pulled this all together if I had a job.”
Like a lot of folks, she discovered the league after the film was released—a 20-year commemorative Blu-ray DVD is due in October from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “In 1999, I started looking up information on the Internet,” she said, “and I called one of the ladies and found out they were going to Cooperstown, so I made a trip there and introduced myself.”
While the members of the league will be conducting business here, there will be plenty for fans. On Saturday, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., the players will be signing autographs. Player introductions will precede a softball game between younger members of the AAGPBL, such as McCann, and Wings Over Syracuse, a local women’s softball team. Nadia Diaz, 11, who struck out 19 batters during a Southside American Little League game in June, is throwing out the first pitch.
Many of the former players, including Youngen, will either coach, umpire, heckle or be bat girls. “I have a broken left arm, so I will probably be coaching third base,” she said.
The players will be visiting Cooperstown once again, where a Women in Baseball exhibit explains their playing days. Those who have seen the movie will remember its ending, when a similar reunion was held at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, Youngen noted, the film has been instrumental in keeping the league’s memory alive. “As long as they keep showing that movie, which they seem to do a lot on cable, we are marketable,” she said.
The women especially depend on sales of memorabilia, T-shirts, hats and silent auction tickets to help finance their annual meetings. Youngen further appreciates what the movie, directed by Penny Marshall and also starring Geena Davis and Madonna, has meant to the league. “I can’t tell you how great it has been to ride the coattails of that film,” Youngen added. “I never though that somebody would make a film about us—we even made Penny Marshall an honorary member. If it hadn’t been for the film, people wouldn’t have known we ever existed.”
McCann urged fans to get to Alliance Bank Stadium, 1 Tex Simone Drive, for what will likely be the players’ last appearance in Syracuse. Tickets cost $5 for adults, with children 10 and younger getting in free. For more information, call 256-4262. The league’s website, aagpbl.org, contains comprehensive information about the players, as well as a way to contact them.
“Visit the website,” urged Youngen. “Write to the ballplayers and come out to the ballpark and get to know our history because we are interested in keeping our legacy alive after we’re gone. We think we were a pretty unique part of Americana in the 1940s and 1950s. We do get tired of people telling us, ‘Oh, it’s great to meet another softball player.’ Lest people think we weren’t really all that good, let me add that we were really skilled baseball players.”