Weiss, Alta (1889–1964)
Weiss, Alta (1889–1964)
American baseball player and physician who pitched for two male semipro teams. Born on February 9, 1889, in Ragersville, Ohio; died on February 12, 1964, in Ragersville; second of three daughters of George Weiss (a physician) and Lucinda Weiss; graduated from Ragersville High School, 1908; attended Wooster Academy, 1908–10; graduated as a Doctor of Medicine from Starling College of Medicine (now Ohio State University Medical College), in Columbus, Ohio, in 1914; married John E. Hisrich (a gas station owner), in 1927 (separated around 1938); no children.
The second of three daughters of a Ragersville, Ohio, physician, baseball player Alta Weiss began pitching at the age of two, "hurling corncobs at the family cat with wristsnap and follow-through," writes Barbara Gregorich . Growing up, Weiss loved all outdoor sports and with her father's encouragement became an excellent shot with a rifle and shotgun. When she began getting serious about baseball, her father established a two-year high school so that she could play on its baseball team. He also built Weiss Ball Park, where she played with the town team. It would have been inconceivable for a young woman of Weiss' breeding to join any of the sexually integrated barnstorming teams that were beginning to spring up. Thus, if it had not been for her father, she might not have had a chance to pursue the sport.
In August 1907, while the Weisses were vacationing in Vermilion, Ohio, Alta became involved in a pick-up game with a group of local young men who were awed by the speed of her pitches. When the mayor of the town saw Weiss play, he suggested to the manager of the semipro Vermilion Independents that she might make an excellent addition to his team. The manager was reluctant to sign a woman, so the mayor arranged a game between two local teams and enlisted Weiss to pitch for one of them. After she struck out her 15th batter, the manager changed his mind and asked her to join the Independents.
On September 2, 1907, sporting a billowing, long blue skirt, Weiss played her first semipro game, pitching five innings and giving up four hits and one run. She played first base for the remainder of the game, which the Independents won 4–3. During the rest of the 1907 season, she pitched seven more games, each one attracting more and more fans to see the "Girl Wonder." In a 9–3 victory over the Sandusky Shamrocks, Weiss, it was reported, "allowed but seven hits, struck out five men, gave one base on balls, stole a base, scored a run and accepted her only fielding chance." At Cleveland's major league stadium, where the Independents played the Vacha All-Stars of Cleveland, Weiss received $100 for her appearance, an impressive sum for a semipro player of either gender. "She's in there with chimes and bells," wrote a reporter for the Cleveland Press. "She struck out the first batter. The next man drove a sizzling liner at her. She made a catch that increased the cheers threefold. It was a beauty that would do credit to any pitcher. Then she fanned the next batter, retiring the side."
Weiss ended her season with the Independents with a 5–3 record. During the off-season, her father built a heated gymnasium on his property, so she could throw practice pitches and lift
weights throughout the winter. Early in 1908, he went so far as to purchase a semipro team for her, the Weiss All-Stars. When they took the field for their first game, Weiss had given up her long skirt for a pair of bloomers "made so wide that the fullness gives a skirtlike effect," she explained, assuring all that her modesty was still intact. While the other players wore white uniforms, however, Weiss was dressed in maroon to stand out.
During the 1908–09 season, the All-Stars toured Ohio and Kentucky, playing for record crowds. Weiss, the star attraction, pitched five innings of each game, then retired to cover first base. During her second season, however, sportswriters began to note Weiss' shortcomings as well as her strengths. The Messenger-Graphic reported that she did a good job in the field, but when hitting, "she pushes the bat toward the ball, ungracefully and without force." Gregorich suggests that Weiss may have been ahead of her time, "a natural for the designated-hitter American League, in which pitchers do not bat at all."
Weiss' baseball career was curtailed all too soon. In the fall of 1908, she entered Wooster Academy and two years later began medical training at Starling College of Medicine in Columbus. She continued to make appearances on the mound up until 1910, after which she concentrated on her studies. She received her Doctor of Medicine in 1914, the only woman in her class. However, she apparently did not intend to devote her entire career to medicine. The Columbus Citizen announced that following graduation she would spend the summer practicing with her father, then planned to attend Harvard to train as a physical education teacher.
Weiss did return to Ragersville to work with her father, but never made it to Harvard. In 1915, she worked briefly as the resident physician at the girls' reformatory in Delaware, but found it such an ordeal that she had to quit after two months. During World War I, she took over the practice of an enlisted doctor in Sugarcreek, Ohio. "It was a rough experience," she recalled. "Scores of people were dying from the flu, and the roads were so bad in those days that the only way we could get around was by horse and buggy." She called the 1918–19 influenza pandemic one of the most distressing experiences of her life. "I don't think I ever had great enthusiasm for the profession after that."
In 1925, Weiss opened her own practice in Norwalk, Ohio, and two years later married John Hisrich, a Hagersville service station owner. (They would separate around 1936.) When her father died, Weiss took over his practice in Ragersville, where she lived for the remainder of her life. After her retirement, she frequently spent evenings sitting on her front porch, reading the paper and watching the local children play ball in the street. She gave one of them, a girl by the name of Lois Youngen , a baseball that she claimed was signed by Babe Ruth. "I don't know if it really was Ruth's signature or not," Youngen said, "but Alta signed the other side of it. It's her signature, I know, because I witnessed it." Youngen, who kept the baseball, went on to become a catcher for the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Baseball League. Alta Weiss died in 1964.
Gregorich, Barbara. Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1993.
——. "You Can't Play in Skirts: Alta Weiss, Baseball Player," in Timeline. July–August 1994.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts