Sometimes, there is crying in baseball. Mary Pratt, an original member of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, died at the age of 101 on May 6, according to an obituary posted in the Boston Globe. During her time as a professional baseball player, Pratt was a rarity, a left-handed pitcher (throwing overhand!), who played with Rockford and the Kenosha Comets from 1943 to 1947. The AAGPBL and Pratt’s first team, the Rockford Peaches, were immortalized in the 1992 film A League of Their Own.
The AAGPBL was born during WWII as a result of the draft and Phillip K. Wrigley’s fear that baseball would collapse with no players and no games to be played, a sensation to which the current MLB can relate. The league was originally a softball league but was changed to a baseball league in 1943 to distinguish it from existing softball leagues, according to the AAGPBL’s website. Overhand pitching and a smaller ball (two of the more noticeable differences between baseball and softball) were also introduced soon after the first season to set the league apart. The league operated until 1954 and may still be the most significant stride for women in American professional sports. There would not be a nationally-recognized professional softball league for women until 1976 with the inaugural season of the International Women’s Professional Softball Association.
Although Pratt will be remembered most for her contributions to baseball while on the field, she remained an advocate for women’s sport throughout her entire life. A curator for The Sports Museum of Boston referred to Pratt as a “walking, talking example of how Title IX came about,” in a statement to the Boston Globe. Before the equal pay lawsuits that mark women’s sports history today, Mary Pratt spent her college years playing on intramural leagues competing with and against men her own age. Pratt played basketball, baseball, softball, field hockey, and lacrosse; officiating in all of these sports during her teaching and coaching career which spanned over 40 years. In a biography written for the AAGPBL, Pratt mentioned playing an active role “in the local and state associations, serving in leadership roles, at every level,” after the creation of Title IX.
What began as a money grab by Wrigley turned into the first litmus test for the nation’s interest in women’s sports. By the end of the war, game attendance for the AAGPBL had reached 450, 313. Mary Pratt, the last known member of the original Rockford Peaches leaves behind an incredible legacy. In a statement to the Globe in 2001, Pratt said of her career, “My life is just a good example that if you have desire, there isn’t anything in this world you can’t do.”