Chicago Colleens-Shewbridge Field (Amos A. Stagg Stadium)
Backstory and Context
The All-American Girls
Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) operated from 1943 to 1954. The
AAGPBL lasted long past 1945, when the end of World War II led to a resumption of
normal life in the United States. The impetus of the league was a way for team
owners to generate revenue-especially teams in small
cities as many minor league teams saw many of their players
leaving baseball during the war years to serve n the military. Despite expectations, the league continued
for nearly a decade after the war owing to the quality of baseball and the
creative talents of league promoters.
The Chicago Colleens were one of the ten teams listed on the 1948 season AAGPBL roster. They were members of the Eastern Division and were managed by the former National League professional player Dave Bancroft aka "Beauty". Unfortunately for Bancroft, the Colleens were one of the worst teams in the league, finishing with a losing record of 47-76. As a result, the Colleens and the Springfield Sallies (another losing club) functioned as rookie development teams that traveled around the country playing each other and other teams in exhibition games. These teams toured in both 1949 and 1950 and primarily traveled in the South and East areas of the United States. Many official lists ignore both teams after 1948, but their existence in the league remained until 1950.4
These exhibition teams were used as a way to market the AAGPBL beyond the upper Midwest where most AAGPBL teams were located. These teams were used not just to train new rookie recruits and give them experience in the league, but to show other areas of the United States that women were in fact playing baseball. Like other AAGPBL teams, the athletes were expected to play well, but also present themselves as "proper women," - they all attended charm school and followed strict rules of etiquette.1
Fran Janssen stated in her interview with Jim Sargent, ”We traveled more than 10,000 miles in 1949 from Illinois to Texas, across the Gulf states and up to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We played in minor league parks in Tulsa and Baltimore, as well as in city parks, and we drew good crowds.. We rarely spent more than two nights in a town. We had to make fast trips." Fran estimated that the team played in about fifty cities from New York to Florida and throughout Midwest and Southern states in their first year as a traveling team.
Former player Patricia L Brown commented in her book, "A League of My Own," that by 1950, the team played more than 100 games in the U.S. in Canada, playing in a range of fields from poorly managed recreational fields to minor league parks.
The team was managed by Major League Hall of Fame shortstop, Dave Bancroft. From 1924 to 1927 Bancroft managed the Braves but only managed a 249-363 record before losing his job. He found work once again as a player-manager for the next few years before becoming a full-time manager for minor league teams such as the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association (1933), his hometown Sioux City Cowboys (1936), and the St. Cloud Rox (1947). The following year he became the manager of the Colleens. 5
Although many attribute the end of the war as the reason for the league's demise, the attendance peak occurred after the war's end; the league's ten teams collectively drew 910,000 fans in 1948. Thus, there existed an appreciation of women's baseball that went beyond "filling the void of men leaving for war." The league ended in 1954 due to many factors, such as decentralization of the league and a recession that prevented money being spent for promotion. 6
After the Colleens left, the field was used for serious sporting functions. Today, Shewbridge Field is known Amos Alonzo Stagg Stadium, named for the famous University of Chicago football coach. Stagg played football at Yale before coaching in Massachusetts at an institution that grew into Springfield College. James Naismith was mentored by coach Stagg, and would go on to become the inventor of basketball. In 1892, Stagg was hired by the University of Chicago to develop courses in physical education and also develop the university's football team.
Although the University of Chicago later discontinued its football team in order to concentrate their resources on academics, Stagg built the University of Chicago into one of the greatest football powerhouses in the first decades of the 20th century. Stagg complied a record of 242-112-27 while at the University of Chicago and led the Maroons to seven Big Ten Conference championships. During these years, Stagg developed many features of the game that increased its popularity among fans, such as the lateral pass and the reverse. He also created tackling dummies so that players could perfect their technique without suffering as many injuries. Stagg's influence on the game of football was so significant that Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne once claimed that "all football comes from Stagg."