Minneapolis Millerettes

By Stew Thornley
Author of On to Nicollet: The Glory and Fame of the Minneapolis Millers
Written in 1988

Of the Minnesota professional sports teams that have virtually written out of history—the Twin City Skippers, St. Paul Lights, Minnesota Buckskins—the least remembered team of them all may be the Minneapolis Millerettes. In 1944 the Millerettes competed, along with the Rockford Peaches, South Bend Blue Sox, Racine Belles, Milwaukee Chicks, and Kenosha Comets in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).

The founder, organizer, recruiter and promoter of the AAGPBL was Philip K. Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs. Wrigley was trying to do nothing more thin hedge his bets with the creation of the new league. The immediate future of men’s baseball was in doubt because of World War II. Wrigley saw girls’ baseball as a way to keep ball parks in use in the event the major leagues were forced to halt operations. “If we can put Rosie the Riveter in the factory,” reasoned P. K., “why can’t we put girls on the baseball diamond?”

The game they played in their initial season of 1943 was a baseball/softball hybrid. But as the years passed the bell got smaller and the diamond larger and pitching went from underhand to sidearm to full overhand.

Players were recruited from throughout the United States and Canada and included girls as young as 15 to women in their early 20s.

In addition to his other contributions, Phil Wrigley carefully created the image of the league. Included among the regimens of spring training was charm school, with a visit from guest instructor Helena Rubinstein to teach the ladies how to dress, walk, and talk—and most importantly, “how to attract the right kind of man.”

Special short-skirted uniforms with satin shorts were designed by Mrs. Wrigley, and each team in the league had a chaperone who was responsible for the conduct, care, and appearance of her ballplayers.

Traveling teams of female baseball players can be traced back to the 19th century. No evidence supports the charges, but those barnstormers were accused of practicing “a profession considerably older than baseball.” Wrigley wanted to make sure no such aspersions would ever be cast upon his players.

But there was no hiding that these girls and women were superb athletes. Many were national champions and record holders in basketball, softball, field hockey, speedskating, and many other sports. And despite the image that Wrigley tried to create, reporter Halsey Hall summed it up better as he described the opening of the Minneapolis Millerettes’ season: “Common courtesy and the sweet little niceties accorded ladies go by the boards next weekend at Nicollet Park.”

The Millerettes joined the league for the 1944 season and were managed by Claude Jonnard, a former hurler for the New York Giants and Toledo Mud Hens. (Others who managed in the AAGPBL include Hall of Famers Max Carey, Jimmy Foxx, and Dave “Beauty” Bancroft.)

Minneapolis’s leading hitter was right-fielder Helen Callaghan, who hit .287 with three home runs in 111 games. Callaghan would lead the league in hitting the following year. Baseball ran in her family. Callaghan’s sister, Margaret, was also a star in the league, and Helen’s son, Casey Candaele, is an infielder in the Montreal Expo organization.

The pitching rotation included Annabelle Lee, who would become the aunt of Bill Lee. In fact, the Spaceman credits Aunt Annabelle with teaching him how to pitch. (Bill’s other habits—including sprinkling marijuana in place of syrup on his pancakes—were learned elsewhere.)

Center field at Nicollet Park was filled by the “ground-covering, fly- catching genius” of Faye Dancer, a crowd-pleaser who was frequently seen turning somersaults in the outfield between pitches.

The 1944 season was divided into two halves. The Millerettes played respectable ball and hung close to first place in the season’s early weeks. But a slump that followed dropped them to the cellar, where they stayed, and they closed out the first half with a record of 23-36.

League historian Sharon Roepke characterized the play in the league as “few home runs—lots of squeeze plays.” And lots of stolen bases. In one game against the Millerettes, the Rockford Peaches stole eighteen bases; catcher Edna Frank threw out only one runner. (Two years later, Sophie “The Trophy” Kurys stole 201 bases—in 203 attempts .)

Runs were always at a premium. In mid-June Millerette hurler Dottie Wiltse held Racine hitless for the first 10-2/3 innings. She completed a six-hitter in 15 innings but was a 3-2 loser as she watched her mates strand 22 runners on base.

Early in the season’s second half, the Millerettes became known as the Orphans. Other teams complained of the long road trips to Minneapolis to play before small crowds. As a result, the Millerettes were ordered to play their remaining games on the road. Roepke and colleague Danielle Barber blame the Millerettes’ lack of support on a “hostile press.”

“The media was antagonistic in Minneapolis compared to other cities, where the outcome of games received banner headlines,” said Barber. [Despite the complaints and excuses, the Millerettes had received good coverage in the Minneapolis newspapers.]

The Millerettes became the Fort Wayne Daisies in 1945. With the core of players from Minneapolis, the Daisies later became the league’s dominant team.

The AAGPBL lasted 12 years, longer than some men’s major leagues. The players have been holding reunions since 1981. They now have a Players Association, which, along with Roepke, has been lobbying officials in Cooperstown for recognition and a permanent exhibit in the Hall of Fame.

A temporary display of women in baseball will open this year in Cooperstown.

Copyright 1988 Stew Thornley

Minneapolis Millers Yearly Standings

Notable Millers

Nicollet Park

Twin Cities Ballparks

Minnesota’s First Major League Baseball Game

The Beginning and End of Nicollet Park

Night Baseball in the Twin Cities

Millers Rivalry with St. Paul Saints

Protested Games Involving the Millers

Millers vs. Havana in 1959 Junior World Series

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