Kurys, Sophie (1925—)
Kurys, Sophie (1925—)
Baseball player who played second base for the Racine Belles and had 1,114 stolen bases. Born Sophie Mary Kurys in Flint, Michigan, on May 14, 1925.
One of the original Racine Belles of the All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBL), Sophie "Flint Flash" Kurys stayed with the team throughout its eight-year existence and distinguished herself by smashing every stolen base record in the league. In 1946 alone, Kurys stole 201 bases in 203 attempts, a league record that was never broken. During the course of her career, the 5'5", 120-pound second baseman chalked up an impressive record of 1,114 stolen bases.
Kurys, a native of Flint, Michigan, began playing baseball at 14 and was a veteran third baseman and shortstop by the time she signed with the Racine Belles in 1943. Johnny Gottselig, the hockey-star manager of the Belles, originally assigned Kurys to the outfield, but when the second baseman was injured after a few games, he moved her to second where she remained for the rest of her career. During her rookie year, Kurys stole only 44 bases, but increased her record to 166 the following year, seven of them in one game. In 1945, Leo Murphy, a 25-year veteran of the minor leagues, took over managing the Belles, and immediately recognized that Kurys should be batting lead-off so as to maximize her chances to steal and move to scoring position. Kurys played in 105 games that year, stealing 115 bases to lead the league in steals for the second consecutive year. "You pretend that you're not taking a big lead," she said about her technique. "I never took a big lead right away. Of course, they knew I was going."
Kurys hit her stride in 1946, but her record 201 stolen bases was only part of the story. Playing in 113 games, she also scored a leaguehigh 117 runs and batted .286, second only to Dottie Kamenshek 's .316. She also had a record 93 walks and set a .973 fielding record for second base. In addition to Kurys' personal records, the league-leading Racine Belles won the best-of-five playoff series against the South Bend Blue Sox and moved on to compete in the Shaughnessy Series against the Rockford Peaches. The Belles won two games of the Shaughnessy Series at home, then dropped two of the three to Rockford. The seventh game, considered by some to have been one of the most dramatic games in baseball history, went a scoreless 14 innings. In the bottom of the fourteenth, Kurys, who had already stolen four bases in the game, led off with a single. While her teammate Betty Trezza was at the plate, Kurys stole third, and, as Trezza snapped a short single through the infield, headed for home, hooking a slide into the plate to score the winning (and only) run of the game. "It was such an exciting thing to see Sophie cross that plate," said teammate Joanne Winter . "I'll never forget it." Neither would the Belles' fans, who surged onto the field and carried Kurys off on their shoulders. For her record as leading scorer for the season, and leading hitter and scorer for the postseason series, Kurys was elected Player of the Year.
One serious drawback to Kurys' specialty was the pounding her legs took from sliding into base. Not only was the field brick-hard, but the women of the AAGBL were forced to play in skirts. "They thought that having skirts would show that we were extremely feminine," Kurys said, "but I think all of us would have rather played in standard uniforms." The women suffered from constant abrasions that bled into their clothing, making it torturous to undress at the end of the game. To solve the problem, the league provided the players with sliding pads, which were taped to the thigh and hung down unattractively from under their short skirts. After trying the pads, the women unanimously rejected them. "They were too cumbersome," explained Kurys. "So I took them off and took my chances with strawberries. I had strawberries on strawberries. Sometimes now, when I first get up in the morning, I have problems with my thighs."
Kurys played with the Belles until they lost their franchise in 1950, and was elected to the All-Star team for four consecutive seasons, from 1946 to 1949. In 1950, she stole 120 bases and hit seven home runs to tie the year-high record with Eleanor Callow. After the team disbanded, Kurys played professional softball in Chicago for three years. She then played for Arizona for one year before retiring from the game at age 33.
After baseball, Kurys accepted a partnership with the Racine manufacturer she had been associated with for many years. She stayed with the firm until 1972, when she retired to Arizona. A modest woman who never liked the limelight, Kurys was quick to point out that there is more than one person on a baseball team. "I like the team concept," she said once, explaining her passion for the game. "You're in there helping each other."
Gregorich, Barbara. Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1993.
Macy, Sue. A Whole New Ball Game. NY: Holt, 1993.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts