Colorado Silver Bullets
Colorado Silver Bullets
American baseball team
Hitting the field for the first time in 1994, the Colorado Silver Bullets was the first women's professional baseball team in fifty years. The team, managed by Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, played men's amateur, college, and Olympic teams for four years. Facing taunts from some, but providing encouragement for the future of women in sports in others, the Silver Bullets represented the United States in tournaments around the world. Following a season that saw a brawl on the field and the eventual loss of its major sponsor, the team disbanded in 1997.
Robert Hope, a public relations manager for the Atlanta Braves, had a dream to establish a women's professional baseball team since 1984. He believed that women had a right and a desire to play professional baseball. His persistence in pitching the idea and the 1992 film A League of Their Own about women's baseball teams during World War II, which fostered acceptance of women in baseball, finally led to success.
In 1993, Coors Beverage Company, based in Colorado, agreed to sponsor Hope's team. Coincidentally, Coors had been searching for a way to venture into the women's sports market and to promote women's rights. With the help of Hope's agency, Hope-Beckham, and the team named after a Coors' advertising campaign, the Silver Bullets became a sports property for beer brand Coors Light.
With an infusion of $3 million from Coors to get the team started, Hope began forming his staff. He chose Phil Niekro, Baseball Hall of Fame member and former Atlanta Braves pitcher, as team manager. Like Hope, Niekro respected the game of baseball and believed in the drive and determination of women players. "Their attitude [about learning baseball] is absolutely the best I've ever seen," he told the Christian Science Monitor. Shereen Samonds was hired as general manager. She was the only female general manager in Double-A baseball and had been named the Rawlings' 1993 Female Executive of the Year.
Next came the selection of the team members. Most hopefuls had come from the realm of softball, since girls and women were still discouraged or banned from playing baseball. The invitation-only tryouts rounded up nearly 3,000 players nationwide, most having been All-American college softball players and all had been recommended by college coaches and scouts. In the end, twenty-four players were chosen.
First Women's Team Since the 1950s
On Mother's Day, May 8, 1994, the Colorado Silver Bullets played their first game. They became the first
pro women's baseball team since the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which began in 1943 and disbanded in 1954 when women were officially banned from playing professional baseball.
For a meager $20,000 salary per player, the Silver Bullets' members played against men's amateur, college, Olympic, semi-pro, and military teams, and represented the United States in tournaments around the world. Much media attention surrounded the women's team, which was featured in Newsweek, on NBC Nightly News, and other media. The team played fifty games per year, held in various cities from Jacksonville, Florida; San Diego, California; Fenway Park in Boston; and even China. Overall, sixty of the team's games were televised.
The Bullets started off unimpressively but progressively improved. They finished their first season with a 6-37 record, with a team batting average of .141 and scoring only eighty-three runs. By the next year they won eleven games, and in 1996, won eighteen games, which included a team record of three home runs that season. In 1997, they got their own field in Albany, New York, where they played fifteen of their fifty games. That same year, they finished above .500 for the first time with a final record of 23-22.
The Silver Bullets gained recognition for their pioneering achievements. The team was sanctioned by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, and in 1995 became part of the Women in Baseball exhibit in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The team held fund-raisers to fight domestic violence, and with the Southern League of Professional Baseball Clubs, which encourages amateur baseball leagues to let girls play, the Silver Bullets created the Give a Girl a Chance program.
Notable Silver Bullets Players
Bullets' pitcher Gina Satriano, daughter of Tom Satriano of the Boston Red Sox and the California Angels, was one of only two team members who previously had experience in baseball. In fact, her father once sued in California to allow Gina to play in the Little League. Gina commented, "Baseball is a game where size doesn't have to matter."
Kim Braatz hit the first-ever home run by a Silver Bullets player. Outfielder Tammy Holmes, a University of California—Berkeley, four-time All-American college basketball and volleyball player, became the first woman to hit two home runs in a season.
Pitcher Lee Anne Ketcham and first baseman Julie Croteau were the first women to sign with the men's Class A and AA Winter Baseball League in Hawaii. Croteau had made headlines in 1989 when she played first base for the otherwise-male Seahawks of St. Mary's College in Maryland, an NCAA Division III baseball team.
On June 4, 1996, Bullets pitcher Pam Davis became the first female to pitch on an affiliated men's professional team when the Class AA Jackson Suns played an exhibition game against the Australian Olympic Club. Davis pitched the fifth inning and struck out one batter.
Slow Downfall, But Still an Inspiration
The Bullets were recognized by Congress for their contributions to women's sports, and even Coors, for its efforts, received the Women's Sports Foundation's Pioneer Award. Dr. Donna Lopiano, president of the Women's Sports Foundation, and herself a Little League all-star pitcher, noted, "It is important not only for women to see women play baseball against men, but it is also important for men to see both women and men competing as equals on the sports field."
Unfortunately a brawl that erupted in 1996 and an inability to win many games were precursors to the team's downfall. After a pitcher for the all-male Americus Travelers team in Georgia spouted slurs against the Bullets and Bullets batter Kim Braatz was hit by a pitch, she charged the mound provoking a brawl involving both sides. Despite the media frenzy that resulted, team owner Hope lauded the incident as a reminder of the team's existence.
The next year, the Bullets eventually found it difficult to schedule games with men's teams. None of their games that year were televised. The decisive factor in the team's demise was the 1997 decision of Coors to pull its sponsorship of the team. Having invested more than $8 million in the team for the past four years, Coors claimed it did not have the money to continue. The novelty of an all-women's team seemed to have faded.
|Statistics represent the top three batters for each year.|
|1993||Team is officially recognized by the National Association of Professional Baseball Teams on December 10|
|1994||Plays first game on May 8|
|1997||Major League Baseball becomes a team sponsor|
|1997||In August, Coors withdraws as team sponsor and team disbands|
The Silver Bullets paved the way for women and girls who want to play baseball. The US Baseball Federation noted that there are twenty-one women's baseball associations and that roughly 300,000 women in all age ranges play baseball, from T-ball for young girls to women in senior leagues. Over one million women and girls now play softball, and as many as 50,000 women play in amateur baseball leagues in the US.
Kindred, Dave. The Colorado Silver Bullets for the Love of the Game: Women Who Go Toe-To-Toe with the Men. Atlanta, GA: Longstreet Press, 1995.
Sherrow, Victoria. Encyclopedia of Women and Sports. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Inc., 1996.
Atkin, Ross. "Women's baseball makes a pitch for Major League recognition" Christian Science Monitor (August 4, 1997): 13.
"Lady Slugger." Jet (October 14, 1996): 50.
Biography Resource Center, http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (January 20, 2003).
Colorado Silver Bullets, http://www.coloradosilverbullets.com (January 20, 2003).
Hope-Beckham Inc., http://www.hopebeckham.com/hbc_cr3.html (January 20, 2003).
Girl Tech, http://www.girltech.com/sports/sp_csb.html (January 20, 2003).
Nando Media, http://cgi.nando.net/newsroom/ap/bbo/1995/mlb/mlb/feat/archive/082197/mbl8957.html (January 20, 2003).
Sketch by Lorraine Savage
Awards and Accomplishments
|1995||Part of National Baseball Hall of Fame's Women in Baseball exhibit|
|1996||May 13, outfielder Tammy Holmes is first woman to hit two home runs in a season|
|1996||Selected as the national team by USA Baseball|
|1997||Bullets manager Phil Niekro inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame|