SOUTH BEND ― The baby of the group, Lois Youngen, 88, quickly leads a Tribune press crew into a corner of the museum gallery and stabs a photo of a young woman who had pitched a perfect baseball game for the South Bend Blue Sox.
“She made me famous,” Youngen says, noting his own role as a catcher at the time.
But she’s eager to move on – the 4-0 victory over Fort Wayne in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. There is meeting and socializing to be done. And it is precious. So precious that she barely sees the newly refreshed permanent exhibit on women’s baseball league here at the History Museum.
Thirteen women who had all played in the league came from across the country – Oregon, California, New Jersey and in between – for a meeting in South Bend over the weekend.
They had broken down barriers for women. And a new Amazon Prime TV series, “A League of Their Own,” loosely based on the 1992 fictional film, is now telling stories within women’s baseball — including barriers of race and gender identity.
In fact, one of the women present, Maybelle Blair, 95, made national news at the show’s premiere on August 12 in New York when she appeared on stage as being gay her whole life.
For this dwindling group of brave girls, however, they are part of “family.” Maybe they were competitors. Or not at all. It never mattered. They bonded at every meeting.
From August 2015:Professional female baseball players gather and reminisce in South Bend
“Yes, I know I’m an important part of history, but it’s important to be with all these women,” Corky Carl, 90, who was a bat for the South Bend Blue Sox from 1945 to 1950, says. “My contacts with people everywhere is probably one of the most important things.”
The 1950 graduate of South Bend Central High School, who now lives in a suburb of Cleveland, says her kids were in college when they visited the Grand Canyon and she came across — again — people with whom the league had a connection.
The women hadn’t had a reunion since 2019, thanks to COVID. Going forward, they will consider this “year by year,” says AAGPBL Players Association president Rick Chapman. Two women could not come this year because they were sick. South Bend’s own legend, 101-year-old Betsy “Sockum” Jochum, who still lives here in the town where she played six years for the Blue Sox, came to a rally Thursday but not Friday.
“They try to keep the legacy and the story alive,” Chapman says. “We don’t want him to be lost again.”
February 2022:A 101st birthday for Betsy ‘Sochum’ Jochum and three deaths to note
The women’s stories were “lost history”, he says, until the reunion began in 1982, the year after his mother died. His catcher’s gear is fixed on a dummy in the gallery of the museum. Dorothy Mickey Maguire Chapman was among the top 60 players in the league’s freshman year, in 1943, when Philip Wrigley started the league as a way to fill Wrigley Field while Chicago Cubs players left to serve in World War II. She would play for Racine, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids and Muskegon.
Chapman, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., was among a total of 70 people who had gathered here, including family and friends.
Mary Moore, 90, who played from 1950 to 1952 for the Springfield Halls and the Battle Creek Belles, continued to play baseball until she was 78. quit before I kill myself over there.
“I love the game,” she says, now living in White Lake, Michigan.
On Friday, she joined the other women to watch the first episode of “A League of Their Own,” and came away with mixed feelings.
Like others, she appreciates the show’s efforts to raise awareness about race and gender identity, but, she says, those issues weren’t even on her mind at the time.
“At the time, we had no idea why there were no black people on the team,” she says of the fact that black people weren’t recruited into the teams. “We had some Cubans.”
Skin color, she said, didn’t matter to the players. And, in a time before television and social media, she says, most girls didn’t think about gender identity.
“We were 15, 16, 17,” she says. “We haven’t been exposed to anything like that at all.”
Regarding the salty language on the show, she says, “We didn’t swear like that.”
Carl, likewise, appreciates the show’s efforts to raise awareness of social issues, but has reservations about “too much alcohol” on the show. After baseball, Carl made a career of inspiring young athletes to do better while continuing to break down barriers. She became the first female athletic director in Minneapolis to oversee both men’s and women’s sports. His daughter is also a sports director now.
Executive producer Hallie Wierenga says she heard similar comments from women on Friday, as well as positive vibes about it. Those comments will be taken into account as new shows are made, she said, adding, “I welcome all constructive criticism.”
The show’s creators had spoken with the director of the 1992 film, Penny Marshall, but had also done extensive research on the league. This meant, in part, consulting the staff of the History Museum, as it holds the league’s national repository, containing the largest collection in the United States of baseballs, uniforms, albums and league memorabilia. .
The show, says Wierenga, is not meant to be a documentary. It aims to “tell a longer bench of stories” than the film could.
What about the language? Well, because historical films and sound clips can seem “anachronistic,” she says, “we wanted them to feel like they were women in their time.”
“We try to tell a spiritually authentic story about the league,” she says.
From June 2018:A team of their own in South Bend, 75 years later
true to themselves
At the meeting, each woman has her own story.
A Little League baseball diamond is named after Ann Petrovic where she lives in the small town of Aurora, in southern Indiana. Formerly Ann Meyer, she played for a year in the league when she was just 15, for Minneapolis and Kenosha, then continued for five years in another National Women’s Baseball League, based in Chicago. After that, it’s off to college, marriage, raising a family, and going to his local YMCA to stay in shape, not hitting balls anymore.
“I miss a lot of my friends,” she says as she gazes at a museum display filled with team photos. “When I see their photos, that’s when it comes back to you.”
Moore dons a sweatshirt that reads, “There’s no crying in baseball,” a line actor Tom Hanks’ character says to whiny players in the movie “A League Of Their Own.”
Moore attributes this to Hollywood.
“I don’t remember any of us crying,” she said. “Even when we hurt each other. … I broke my ankle and they took me off the pitch. I wasn’t crying. We were tough. You played tough.
Now, however, there may be tears. Shed for those they lost.
Find columnist Joseph Dits on Facebook at SBTOutdoorAdventures or 574-235-6158 or firstname.lastname@example.org