Touring the Bases With Barbara Gregorich
Barbara Gregorich is one of the best authorities on women in baseball and her book Women at Play is testament to that knowledge. Â Barbara has recently published a portion of her original research notes for Women at Play. This interview talks about her books and her experiences in baseball. Â The full, in-depth interview will appear on “Outta the Parkway,” the Seamheads Podcast Network show this Friday night at 7 pm eastern time.
Q. You started playing baseball rather than softball as is usually the case for young girls, how did that occur?
Barbara: I grew up in a working class town in northern Ohio and all there was was baseball. Â There was a big steel mill nearby and a lot of empty lots where kids played baseball. Â My uncle plowed up a field in a more rural area as well, and he laid out a standard little league field and we played there often tool. Â But girls played with boys. Â There was never an issue of girls not playing. Â We ruled ourselves and just chose sides and played as we decided. Â Â I was never even introduced to softball until I was 16 and by then it was too late. Â I loved baseball.
Q. Â In your book, Women at Play, many of the women who made a name for themselves in baseball were quite independent minded, is that a fair characterization?
Barbara: Yes, they were strong women many of whom came from rural backgrounds or lived on farms where they were required to take a very responsible role within the family. Â When I interviewed many of these women they came from that background, so when they wanted to play baseball, they had the independence to pursue it and that is just what they did.
Q. Â Maud Nelson, from the Bloomer Era of Women’s Baseball History, was a defining character in getting women started in the game, much the way Rube Foster was for the early Negro Leagues, could you tell us some of Maud’s history?
Barbara: Maud began playing baseball at a very early age, around 14, and she first played for Bloomer teams that were organized and run by men, but by 1911–when she was thirty–she began to form her own teams. Â By the time she was done in 1934 she had formed many, many teams that were then sold to other people, which is why I called her the Johnny Appleseed of women’s baseball. Â She gave many different women a chance to play baseball on those teams including Rose Gacioch who was herself so important a player on several women’s teams.
Q. Â Who were the other key figures from the Bloomer Era?
Barbara: Â Margaret Nable started the New York Bloomer Girl team that was the most professional and most successful of the Bloomer girl teams.
Q. Â In the modern era one of the women umpires, Pam Postema summed up some of the frustrations of women in baseball when she said, “it is easier for a female to become an astronaut, or cop, or fire fighter, or soldier, or Supreme Court Justice than it is to become a major league umpire.” Has there been any progress in this area?
Barbara: Since Pam left baseball there have been many women who have achieved success in the minor leagues, but no one has moved up to the Triple-A or major league level. Â I don’t follow the umpiring of women in baseball, but to my knowledge there have been no women beyond that level.
Q. Â I took my daughters to see the Silver Bullets play quite a few years ago and that occurred right after your first book was published. Â What happened to Julie Croteau who was one of the more well-known players from that team?
Barbara: Julie was a coach and manager at the college level and has retired and is married and raising a family.
Q. Â The ere of the All-American Girls Baseball League was captured in the movie, “A League of Their Own,” but there is so much more history about those teams. Â Who were some of the best real world characters from that era?
Barbara: Â They were all so wonderful to interview, so articulate and so knowledgeable. Jean Faut was one who remembered every pitch she ever threw and how she became a very strong pitcher. She attributed it to growing up on a farm and having to chop wood every day and that gave her wonderfully strong wrists and control. Â I remember Sophie Kurys who holds the record for most stolen bases in one season, I think it was 201 steals out of 203 attempts. She was wonderful to interview. They were so articulate about their baseball skills and where they stood as women. Then there was Rose Gacioch who I mentioned earlier. She spanned two different eras, playing both as a bloomer girl and then ten years later playing in the All-American Girls Baseball League. Â She saw that league evolve from softball into baseball and saw her skills change as well.
Q. What have you been doing to follow up on the careers of these women?
Barbara: I thought about donating all of my notes and interviews to the Baseball Hall of Fame and I intend to do that, but I decided to publish my research notes as I started updating them and realized they might be helpful to others. I had been contacted by so many people who wanted information and provided additional information on those players. So I decided to organize the original newspaper articles and provide them as research notes to Women at Play. Â I decided to self-publish that as an additional book and it came out several months ago asÂ Volume I, Research Notes, Women at Play and researchers have been contacting me and saying how helpful it is to learn how women lived, how they were treated in newspapers and how they were reported on at the time. I envision about three volumes total. I would like to publish all of my interviews with all of the people as well, but I am not certain about the copyright laws on interviews, so I will need to look into that before publishing those.
Q. Â One of my favorite figures was Toni Stone who actually played at a “professional” level with men, having played in the Negro Leagues just when they were beginning to fade. What were your talks with her like?
Barbara: She was taught to play in a baseball school in Minnesota by Gabby Street. There is an entire book about Toni Stone out called Curveball by Martha Ackmann about her career in New Orleans and with the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro Major Leagues, although I don’t think the Negro Leagues made those distinctions.
Q. There was so much resistance to women like Julie Croteau and Toni Stone who actually played with men, has anything happened to make that easier?
Barbara: Justine Siegal who runs “Baseball for All,” things are being made easier (use link to learn more). Â Justine made history this spring by pitching batting practice for five or six teams, one of which was the Cleveland Indians, in both Florida and Arizona. And of course there have been interesting things going on with women playing professional baseball like the Silver Bullets. Â But that team was always on the road and they had such a tough time. They could never train like they could if they had a gym of their own. Â Justine was a high school student at the time Women at Play was published and I remember a friend from Cleveland sent me a clipping about Justine the same time as the book was published.
Q. Does that mean there are leagues for women to play in this area? If someone like my girls wanted to play baseball where would they go to try out?
Barbara: There is the Little League experience and girls play at a high level competing at Cooperstown now in the championships. Then there are these non-professional leagues all around the country. And women play there well into their thirties and forties. Â And there is what Justine Segal and John Kovach are doing that allows women to play baseball how ever they want to, on either integrated teams or all-women teams. So I think the attempts by women to get into baseball is coming from all directions and I think it is stronger because of that.
Q. Are there women’s leagues in the Mid-Atlantic area?
Barbara: You can log onto the internet and google “women’s baseball” and the first couple of things will probably lead you to some of that. I think there are teams playing in the Virginia area.
Barbara was right. Â I found the following women’s baseball site Â in my searchÂ where girls and women can play the game we all love. And thanks to Barbara for sharing her knowledge of the game with me and so many others.