The legacy of South Bend Blue Sox in the first women's professional baseball league

NOW: The legacy of South Bend Blue Sox in the first women’s professional baseball league

SOUTH BEND, Ind., --- The South Bend Blue Sox were a part of a league of their own, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940’s and 50’s that paved a way for women in sports.

In 1943, a new era of baseball born.

“The All-American girls professional baseball league, or AAGPBL got started in 1943, with the start of World War Two,” said Kristie Erickson, the Deputy Executive Director of The History Museum. “…a lot of men went off to war or they got drafted….and there was some concern that not being able to have baseball you know, that all American sport here in the United States would really affect morale and people back home.”

Phillip Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs at the time turning to women to form the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League to help sustain revenue and keep America’s pastime alive.

“He recruited women who played mostly softball in their neighborhood or in their region, and had them come to Wrigley Field for tryouts then formed for teams in in the league and had them play each other, which turned out to be very successful. So, expanded to actually 15 teams that played in 14 cities.”

“South Bend was one of the first four and it lasted for the entire 12 years. It was only one of two teams to make it for the entire time,” said Erickson.

The Blue Sox were one of best teams in the league for over a decade.

In 1951 they had the most wins in the season with 76 and they appeared in six playoff series, winning two league championship titles in 1951 and 52.

Playland Park was where that history was made, and baseball was played and the South Bend Blue Sox were a part of it all.

“The Blue Sox actually was one of the best teams right from the get go,” said Erickson. “…they had players like Jean Faut, who recently passed away. Jean Faut is the most outstanding female pitcher to ever live, most people consider that to be the case. And Jean out is the only person who played professional baseball to ever pitch to perfect games.”

Kristie Erickson is the Deputy Director of The History Museum in South Bend and the curator of the largest AAGPBL exhibit in the nation.

She says the legacies of Blue Sox players like Jean Faut, Dottie Schroeder and Betsy Jochum only live on through the walls of the museum’s exhibit -- historical markers like at Playland Park and Four Winds Field, but also the inspiration they’ve given to women in sports.

“In a time where women weren't doing much of anything, tells you something about our city of South Bend,” Deanna Gumpf, Notre Dame Head Softball Coach.

l Coach Deanna Gumpf says she’s felt that inspiration firsthand.

She’s led the Irish for more than two decades on the field and believes the south bend blue sox helped paved the way not only for her players to be successful but for women across all sports.

“Look at our opportunities. Look at you know, just all of the women's in sports across this world, not just our country. And to think where it all started, right here in south bend. It's pretty special,” said Coach Gumpf.

Although the AAGPBL is now more widely known since the recent amazon spinoff series from the hit 1992 movie A League of Their Own, starring Geena Davis, Rosie Odonnell, Madonna, and Tom Hanks as their caustic coach Coach Gumpf, Kristie Erickson still believe it’s important to highlight the sports history made right here at home.

“I think people started to appreciate the fact that women could compete, and they could, you know, get dirty, and they could fight out there,” said Gumpf.

“…you know, you really want kids, young women to come in here and kind of see these women who did something unusual at the time, and who broke those barriers, and who challenged the ideal of what people thought women could do, and hopefully go back to their own lives,” added Erickson.

The women’s league ended in 1954, but one South Bend Blue Sox player is still living in the city to this day.

102-year-old Betsy Jochum nicked named “Sockum Jochum” who won the league’s batting title in 1944.

If you’d like to learn more about the league visit The History Museum in South Bend.

They are the national repository for the AAGPBL and has had their exhibit going for more than two decades.

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