Baseball

AAGPBL Stars Belong in the Hall of Fame

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The baseball historian knows the story well. At the height of the Second World War, Philip Wrigley and others in baseball organized a women’s major league. Talented females, previously denied the opportunity to play the national pastime professionally, flocked to the new league. For 12 glorious seasons, the stars of the Rockford Peaches, SouthBend Blue Sox, Grand Rapids Chicks, and 12 other clubs entertained crowds and provided a setting for female players to ply their athletic trade.

The typical baseball fan has perhaps passing familiarity with this history. Thanks to a star-studded cast and a compelling screenplay, the movie A League of Their Own brought the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League into mainstream culture.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum installed a permanent exhibit of the AAGPBL in the museum. Records, artifacts, and testimonials are meticulously curated. One can get a sense of the league and its place in history by touring the museum.

However, individual players have not yet been considered for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame itself. The time to honor the all-time greats of the AAGPBL is now.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Are Distinct

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is simultaneously two entities in one. The Museum tells the overall story of baseball, from its earliest days to the present, joy, warts, and all. The Museum may highlight certain players, but that is not its reason for existence. Instead, interesting artifacts, overarching narratives, and entertaining displays are used to chronicle the history of the game.

The Hall of Fame itself serves a distinct purpose. This hallowed hall displays plaques of those players who a supermajority of voters deemed worthy of inclusion based on their “record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

In other words, whereas the Museum tells the story of baseball through artifacts, exhibitions, and narratives, the Hall of Fame tells the story of baseball through the greatest to have played or contributed to the game.

As long as the best female players remain outside of this Hall, the institution is incomplete.

Female Players Deserve Consideration

The Hall of Fame has certain rules governing eligibility for consideration. To be eligible for consideration for the Hall of Fame, a player must have played at least ten seasons of major league baseball. So two chief hurdles present themselves: (a) ten or more seasons of play and (b) in a major league.

After reviewing the records of career batting, fielding, and pitching leaders, this author identified 18 players among that cohort that pass or nearly pass the first requirement. Fourteen AAGPBL stars completed ten or more seasons in the female circuit, easily passing the first hurdle.

Another four donned cleats in nine campaigns. This latter group ought to be considered by applying the Joss Exception. Addie Joss was a star player for the Cleveland Naps, but he succumbed to tuberculosis after his ninth season. The Hall of Fame passed a special resolution exempting Joss from the ten-year requirement and subsequently inducted him into the Hall. A similar resolution should be considered for those female players with nine years under their belts. Three of the four could not complete their tenth year because the league folded, and the other (Betty Whiting) was not yet 18 years old during the league’s first season.

The second hurdle is arguably more difficult to cross. A major league is typically defined as “the highest-ranking league in a particular professional sport.” More specifically to baseball, the Society for American Baseball Research used the following criteria when identifying seven Negro Leagues of major league status:

The group’s criteria in determining major-league status was: a league of high quality, containing a large number of the best available baseball players, with a defined set of teams and a defined roster of players. Teams should have played a set schedule, with the league maintaining standings and records, some of which may no longer be available.

The AAGPBL was a league of high quality, containing a large number of the best available baseball players. The best female athletes from across the continent participated in the league throughout its existence. The teams were set (usually numbering six in a season) with defined rosters of players. The teams had set schedules, the league maintained standings and records, of which nearly all are available.

Of course, some fans might argue that the AAGPBL did not include a large number of the best available players. These fans would likely state that the male leagues, White and Black, contained the best players. As such, the star players of the AAGPBL, no matter their level of excellence compared to their league peers, should be excluded from consideration.

This line of thinking is too limited and misses the mark. The key interpretation is to read the best players available to mean the best players available to compete in a league. Black players were prohibited to play in the White American and National Leagues, yet the pre-1947 seasons are considered major. White players did not compete in the Negro Leagues, yet seven of these leagues pre-1949 are recognized as major. So, too, were women effectively barred from competing in the American and National Leagues (and Negro Leagues during their major-league-level run). Thus, the AAGPBL did feature the best available players.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame offers a more inclusive and superior model. Stars of the Women’s National Basketball Association, just like the stars of the National Basketball Association, are annually given consideration for induction. To date, 26 women have been inducted.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame would be wise to adopt a similar approach. Additionally, making female players in the top female leagues eligible for consideration might help to increase the popularity of the national pastime and cultivate a modern-day AAGPBL. Such a development would further enhance the popularity of baseball among all genders in the years ahead.

Stars for Inclusion

Providing consideration for AAGPBL does not guarantee induction. Approximately 455 individuals took the field in the AAGPBL. Using the standard of approximately one percent of Major League Baseball players in the Hall, that comes to four to five spots for the AAGPBL. Just as for MLB players, this percentage should be used as a guidepost rather than a strict quota.

Using a weighted ranking system of those 18 statistical leaders, one can start to get a picture of who those four or five might be. This homemade stat, KWAR (Kropifko Weighted Average Ranking), attempts to give an overall score based on career rank in several key categories. Given that the league has a finite history, this ranking tool is perhaps easier to use consistently than for MLB.

KWAR is very much still a statistic in development and quite rudimentary. While Baseball-Reference and Fan Graphs should be commended for their many efforts, the sites unfortunately do not include AAGPBL stats. If either wins above replacement-creating institutions will include the league, then KWAR can go the way of the dodo. As is, the limited KWAR will have to suffice as an initial measuring tool for AAGPBL stars.

Essentially, KWAR combines a player’s career rank in several key statistical categories, adds those ranks, and divides by the number of categories being considered. Current categories include on-base percentage, hits, home runs, slugging percentage, total bases, stolen bases, fielding percentage, earned run average, walks-plus-hits per inning pitched, strikeouts, strikeouts per walk, and runs against. A one-point bonus is applied to each pennant captured by the player’s team. The lower the score the better.

So our KWAR leaders are:

PlayerKWAR
Dorothy Kamenshek2.4
Sophie Kurys4.4
Elizabeth Mahon9.0
Helen Nicol Fox9.7
Kay Blumetta12.0
Nancy Warren12.7
Dorothy Schroeder12.9
Lefty Applegren14.2
Rose Gacioch14.5
Connie Wisniewski16.0
Dodie Barr17.5
Jane Stoll17.7
Lois Florreich22.1
Jo Lenard23.6
Jean Cione24.2
Fern Shollenberger28.4
Millie Deegan29.8
Betty Whiting32.9
Lavonne Paire34.4

While very much open to arguments for others or against these candidates, this author leans toward Golden Haller Dorothy Kamenshek, Sophie Kurys, Helen Nicol Fox, and two-way star Connie Wisniewski as Hall-worthy.

Next steps

You can help change the Hall of Fame for the better. Share this article, write your own pieces, and create a viral movement. Tweet at the Hall (@baseballhall) and the official AAGPBL page (@AAGPBL) with the hashtag #AAGPBL4HOF calling for the induction of AAGPBL stars to the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame cannot tell the story of baseball through the game’s greatest players without the best of this league in that place of honor.


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Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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