Rockford Peaches (1940–1954)
Rockford Peaches (1940–1954)
Championship women's baseball team.
For 12 years, played in the All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBL, 1940–1954); won four AAGBL pennants (1945, 1948, 1949, and 1950).
In 1992, the glory days of the Rockford Peaches and the All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBL) was revisited in the Penny Marshall film A League of Their Own, starring Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell , and Tom Hanks as the burned-out baseball player who goads the Rockford, Illinois, team to several League pennants. Though it may have hedged a bit on accuracy, the movie brought back to life, however briefly, one of the great eras in American sports.
The Rockford Peaches were part of the AAGBL from its inception in 1943, and won four League championships in 12 years, all of them under the management of Bill Allington (played by Hanks), one of the more colorful characters in baseball. The team was at the bottom of the League standings in 1944, when Allington took over management duties. Having spent 20 years playing baseball in the minors, he had been coaching women's baseball since 1939 and had contributed some top players to the AAGBL. A no-nonsense manager who groomed his players in the basics of baseball, he turned the team around in a few short months. In September 1944, 3,133 fans braved unseasonably cold weather at Beyer Stadium (dubbed the "Peach Orchard" by sports writers) to watch Rockford hurler Carolyn Morris pitch a 9–0 nohitter against the visiting Blue Sox. Fans were so excited that they thrust $1, $5, and even $10 bills at the players for particularly savvy plays, while the women in turn handed out autographed photos to the fans.
Allington demanded complete dedication from his players, who included stars like Dorothy Kamenshek and Rose Gacioch . Although he drilled his players mercilessly and frequently was bitingly sarcastic, he also looked after them like a mother hen. When Dorothy Wiltse was playing for the Minneapolis
Millerettes and Allington was with the Peaches, she fell in the dugout and broke her coccyx bone, although she was unaware of the injury at the time. Allington noticed that something was wrong when she took the mound to pitch, and he saw to it that she was taken to a hospital. Gacioch recalls that when she began slowing down in right field, Allington turned her into a pitcher, benefiting the team, but also prolonging her career. "There's not so much ground to cover when you pitch," he told her.
The Rockford team hit their zenith in 1945, with a roster that included Jo Lenard, Kay Rohrer, Dottie Green, Betty Carveth, Helen Filarski , Dottie Kamenshek, Irene Kotowicz, Alva Jo Fisher, Millie Deegan, Olive Little, Dottie Ferguson, Jean Cione , Carolyn Morris, Rose Gacioch, and Snookie Harrell . They won their first League championship that year and were rewarded with a swelling fan base. The newspapers reported their games on the front page of the sports section, along with articles on major-league games. The Peaches won a second and third championship in 1948 and in 1949, although by that time attendance had already begun to decline.
In 1950, the Rockford Peaches went after their fourth championship, minus a few of their star players. (Rohrer left to play softball, Little retired to start a family, and Lenard, Deegan, and Cione had been traded.) Even fewer fans were in attendance, although those who showed were as enthusiastic as ever, jeering at the buses bringing rivals into town, and raising money to help out injured catcher Ruth Richard , who was confined to a leg cast for several months.
In 1951 and 1952, the Peaches lost the series championships to the South Bend Blue Sox. At the end of the '52 season, Allington left the team to manage elsewhere, possibly due to a salary dispute. Under new manager Johnny Rawlings, the team continued its decline. By June 1954, during the AAGBL's last year, they had slipped to last place in the league, which was down to only five teams. Often, less than 100 fans were on hand to watch the team play. "It was the same all around the Midwest," writes Barbara Gregorich , "as people turned to new recreational opportunities, bought new cars and drove them on newly constructed expressways to bigger cities, or sat home and watched television…. The All-American Girls Baseball League died while people were looking the other way."
Gregorich, Barbara. Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1993.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts