ROCKFORD, IL — They not only saw the movie A League of Their Own, Maybelle Blair and Shirley Burkovich lived it by playing in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Burkovich grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania playing sandlot ball with boys near her home.
“I was the only girl in my neighborhood that played,” she said. “They liked me. I was pretty good.”
Scouts agreed when they saw her perform at a tryout camp.
“A couple weeks later I got a telegram saying for me to report to spring training in Indiana,” said Burkovich. “Well my dad and my brother and I we were all happy. Oh boy we were going to play baseball!”
Burkovich played three years in the league. The last year was in 1951. She was a Rockford Peach. One thing she remembers the most about that time was the crowd support for the team.
“Oh, I would say Rockford had the best fan base that I can remember. They were so supportive.”
She also remembers fondly Peaches manager Bill Allington.
“I learned more in that one year with Bill Allington about baseball. The first thing Bill Allington did was give me a rule book and he said, ‘Read it’. And that’s the way Bill was. You better know those rules.
Maybelle Blair grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood, California.
“I came from a baseball family,” said Blair. “My father had enough cousins and brothers that they had their own team, and my mother told me she was the best ballplayer in Texas.”
“How I got my foot in the door (of the AAGPBL) was I was playing softball in Inglewood and a scout came out just like in the movie and said, ‘Hey Maybelle, we want you to go play ball.”
To make that happen Maybelle and the scout had to convince Maybelle’s mother to let her go play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
“She (her mother) says, ‘I’m telling you you’re just wasting your time’. He (the scout) says, ‘Mrs. Blair you don’t understand. We’re going to pay her $55 a week.’ My mother looked at my father and said, ‘George go crank up the car. I’m packing her suitcase. She’s out of here!”
Blair’s parents expected Blair to send some of that money she made playing ball back home. That never happened.
“Well the girls taught me how to play poker on the bus and guess who lost all their money?,” said Blair.
Blair played briefly in the league, not with the Peaches but with the Peoria Redwings.
“The most fondest thing I had was putting on that uniform. I thought I was the cutest girl that God ever made. Then when I saw the field I said, ‘Maybelle, you made it!”
Both women are fans of the movie A League of Their Own. They say for the most part it’s an accurate depiction of what the league was like.
“That movie to me was about 90 percent (accurate),” said Blair. “If you take out all the Hollywood stuff like Tom Hanks coming into the dressing room, they wouldn’t let a manger come in a girls dressing room. No way.”
“I thought Penny Marshall did an excellent job of portraying the way it was,” said Burkovich. “As far as telling the story, the bus rides, the camaraderie of the girls that was all true.”
Both women are in Rockford this week for the Baseball For All all-girls tournament. Blair and Burkovich spend many days during the year traveling around the country making appearances, promoting women’s and girls baseball and keeping the memory of their former league alive.