These S.A. players in a league of their own


As the 2022 baseball season winds down, a new streaming series about the World War II women’s professional league has been released. “A League of Their Own” provides a deeper and more modern take on the subject than the 1992 film that bears the same title.

I’m intrigued for many reasons: The league is a minor character in my women’s sports history book about Trinity University; it provided a bridge to the Title IX legislation signed 50 years ago. The daughter of one of my college classmates has a small role in the series. And one of the players was San Antonio legend Alva Jo Fischer, a name familiar to me as a former city league softball player.

Before Title IX forced schools to offer women’s sports, female athletes had to look elsewhere for competition. An early option was the industrial leagues sponsored by male business owners, who sought to improve employee “welfare” while also burnishing their brand. One 1926 report listed several sports offered these women, including Kitten ball.

The good news? Kitten ball was mercifully renamed diamond ball — and then softball. The bad news? Physical education leaders of the era discouraged any activity they considered unladylike. Few had fond feelings about these leagues. Said one, according to historian Mary Jo Festle, “I don’t think the world needs (more) highly aggressive, competitive, tough-minded women.”

However, demands during World War II brought women into the workforce and sparked the idea of a women’s league. Since most male players were deployed, chewing gum mogul Philip K. Wrigley founded the All American Girls Professional Baseball league, or AAGPBL, in 1943 to fill the diamonds.

Players were recruited from amateur leagues across the country to compete on teams based in the Midwest. Notably, the players weren’t just judged by their athletic talent; they were also graded on a “girl next door” image that would lure male fans. Players were provided make-up kits and took mandated charm school courses for the “Lipstick League.”

Those lucky and talented (and attractive) enough to make the league competed under rules that incorporated some aspects of baseball and softball. Two players were from San Antonio.

Ruth Lessing was a real-life “Rosie the Riveter,” working in engine repair at Kelly Field and playing league baseball when she was discovered. The Jefferson High school graduate, nicknamed “Tex” by her teammates, competed on three AAGPBL teams before an injury ended her career in 1949.

The other was Fischer, a pitching prodigy. At 11 she was named most valuable player at the state tournament, and she pitched multiple no-hitters before turning 15. The Brackenridge graduate joined the Rockford Peaches in 1945, helping them to that year’s league title. Her final four seasons were with the Muskegon Lassies. She also went by “Tex,” a nickname that followed her back home.

While the AAGPBL continued to draw fans after the war, the experiment ended in 1954, partly a victim of decentralization and overexpansion. Major League Baseball banned women’s contracts, and the players were banished to the sidelines. Three decades after its demise, the league was memorialized with a permanent exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Fischer returned to San Antonio after her father’s death but continued playing in fast-pitch leagues while working for the city’s Parks & Recreation Department. One teammate on Fischer’s state champion Pepsi-Cola squad in the early 1960s was 14-year-old Emilie Burrer, another local sports prodigy. Burrer later won the state 4A tennis title for Jefferson and was a four-time collegiate tennis champion while at Trinity.



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