In a league of her own
Some of the most interesting stories are those that are unexpected. Such is the case with Audrey Daniels, a fellow Bay Village resident, whom I met in my Five Seasons water exercise class. As our group chatted over lunch after a recent class, Audrey, 85, shared something that had us all leaning forward in our seats, eager to hear more: her name is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Audrey was a star pitcher in the short-lived All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, made famous by the 1992 film, “A League of Their Own.” Her tale began in 1944 when then-16-year-old Audrey Haine was playing in a women’s softball league in her hometown of Winnipeg, Canada.
She was unaware that a year earlier, Philip K. Wrigley, heir to the Wrigley Gum fortune and owner of the Chicago Cubs, founded the women’s baseball league. It was during World War II and there was a shortage of young men. He sent scouts from the Cubs organization to recruit North America’s most talented female players. A scout noticed Audrey playing softball and asked one of the girls already under contract to call Audrey, tell her about the league and to ask her to sign on.
Audrey had never been more than 100 miles from home, she had never even eaten at a restaurant. It is hard to imagine now, but at the tender age of 16, Audrey took a chance and was offered a contract with the newly formed U.S. girls softball league that later became the first professional women’s baseball league. The weekly pay was $65, nearly double the average working man’s salary at the time.
“I was ready to sign and get that contract into the mail, but I had one big problem, and that was my mother,” Audrey recalled. “So I asked the player to come to my house to assure my mother that there was nothing to worry about. The player explained that the team was chaperoned and that they stayed at safe hotels. Finally, my mother agreed that I could go.”
So off she went to Chicago, Ill., to train and to eventually join one of the four teams as a pitcher. The league gradually moved from softball to baseball and became the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), Audrey pitched for several teams, including the Rockford Peaches, the team that was the focus of Penny Marshall’s film. Her nickname was Dimples.
Audrey told us of the long bus rides, staying in the best hotels after a game, then on to play the next game – sometimes going many days without much rest. “We played every day and double headers on Sundays. We averaged 206 miles by bus every three days” and she reminded us that buses had no air conditioning then.
Just as the movie depicted, each team had a chaperone and all of the girls attended charm classes during Spring Training. “The players made endless jokes about these classes,” Audrey said, “and the media had a field day with them.” They were taught the proper way to sit, walk, dress and apply makeup and instructed in table manners.
The players also had to abide by 15 rules of conduct during the season, or face fines and possible suspension from the league. Included were bans on liquor, obscene language and fraternizing with players on opposing teams (although “friendly discussions” in the hotel lobby were permissible). Skirts were to be no shorter than six inches above the knee, long hair cuts were preferable to short, and “lipstick should always be on.” Social engagements, living quarters, restaurants and curfews were all decided upon by the chaperone.
Audrey played in the league from 1944 to 1948, and again in 1951. She used a strong side-arm curve to pitch three no-hitters and had a winning record in five of her six seasons. She averaged a 3.50 ERA and struck out 493 batters in 167 games played.
“It was a sad day when we learned that the league was folding,” she said. The league began in 1943 and ended in 1954. “We all went our separate ways. We tucked away the memories of our playing days.”
Audrey married Austin “Bud” Daniels after the 1948 season, and give birth to the first of their six children. They have lived in Bay for 40 years, and she is proud to say that all six children graduated from Bay High School. Audrey still has her jacket and her glove, and the gleam in her eye when she talks about the girls and her baseball playing days.
If you have a chance to watch the movie “A League of Their Own,” you might see Audrey in various scenes as an extra, and then at the end, you will see her in the group picture of her team. In 1980, the team had a reunion in Chicago and over 100 players came. Since then they have had many reunions, and they are now joined by director of the film, Penny Marshall. This year they will meet in Cooperstown, where the names of the 553 women who played in the league are listed in the “Women in Baseball” display on the second floor of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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President of The Village Foundation. Semi retired lawyer. Resident of Bay for 29 years.