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Grand Rapids Chicks in ‘A League of Their Own’

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By Dana Mate
Collegiate Staff Writer

Rosemary Stevenson, a member of a nearly extinct group, stands in the middle of the Lee High School gym speaking into a microphone to a crowd of no more then twenty. The small audience, holding pictures of Stevenson along with bats and balls signed by the seventy- five year-old baseball player, hangs on her every word. Flanking her on both sides are two women, Marilyn Jenkins and Doris Cook, adding in bits to her story and then taking their own turn to illuminate the fans.

Dana Mate / Collegiate

If you were to Google these names you wouldn’t come up with a lot, which is pretty unbelievable for a select group of women who changed the game of baseball forever in the 1940s and 1950s. The basis for a successful movie with an all-star cast, these women were the real life players in “A League of Their Own.”

As for the making of the movie, Stevenson along with 60 other former players tried out for a role in “A League of Their Own.” The women met with the actors and directors, but in the end none of the women that tried out were used in the film.

“We were concerned that it was being done as a comedy,” writes Stevenson in her book, “Don’t Die on Third.” “The league was never a comedy to me; we loved the sport and put our all into it. It wasn’t like the major leagues are today. They play for the money and endorsements. We never got paid that much. The characters’ backgrounds were obviously fictional, too. The movie portrayed a few things that I never saw during my season in the sun.”

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League or AAGPBL, formed in 1943 by Chicago Cubs’ owner Phillip Wrigley in anticipation of losing male players to the war, gave a new name to baseball.

“Will you hold our baby so we can get a picture with the two of you?” a young mother asks Stevenson with obvious admiration. “If you can just rub off some of your luck on her that would be great.”

Signing autographs and holding babies, Stevenson looks like she’s running for office, but like she will tell anyone who asks the only thing she ever wanted to do was run bases.

“We always had to wear a skirt or dress no matter where we went,” Stevenson said.

“We had to wear make-up, have our hair a certain length, and we were never to drink alcohol.”

These rules, along with other codes of conduct, were part of an agreement every woman had to concede to if they wanted to play in the professional baseball league.

Courtesy of Lee High School Archive

“I grew up on a farm,” Stevenson said. “I never wore anything but pants and never owned any make-up. It didn’t matter to me though; I would have done anything to play, we all would have.”

After a successful tryout, and just days after she graduated high school, Stevenson joined the Grand Rapids Chicks, one of three teams in Michigan. Other Michigan teams included the Muskegon Lassies and Battle Creek Belles.

Her career as a professional baseball player came to an abrupt end when the league disbanded in 1954 due to the return of men and crowd preference of the men’s league.

“We didn’t care how much money was in it like the pro’s do now,” Stevenson said. “It might be hard to look back at now, how sexist it was, but we wanted to play so badly.”

The women were not allowed to wear any sliding guards with the skirts so their legs would get cut up from the gravel when they slid.

“I always had huge scabs on my thighs from sliding into bases,” said Marilyn Jenkins, another Grand Rapids Chick. “They even made every base shorter by five feet and the ball was harder so it would fly farther.”

The crowd in Lee High School’s gymnasium, where the women are appearing as celebrities, is asked to sit down and watch a short film released by the AAGPBL to advertise for teams.

“The bases are shorter because everyone knows women don’t run as fast as men,” the narrator announces as a well-known fact. “Unless they’re chasing men that is.”

The audience in the gym looks to the women perhaps expecting to see a look of insult, or disgust, but the women don’t appear to notice the narrator. Instead they see the video of themselves hitting it out of the park and catching line drives, and remember a time when even in a skirt they were professional baseball players.

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