The History of NYWBA
Women have been playing baseball in the New York metropolitan area almost as long as baseball itself has been in existence. Shortly after the first professional men’s teams formed in the late 1860s, women began forming various recreational “baseball” clubs. Then in 1910, ballplayers Dan Whalen, Joe Manning, and Eddie Manning formed the New York Bloomer Girls, a team that was to have many successes in the following 23 years. Aside from Staten Island, where the majority of players lived, the Bloomer Girls hailed from Manhattan, Brooklyn, what is now Queens, as well as several New Jersey cities and Philadelphia.
By 1920, a young candy-store owner who had pitched her way onto the team 6 years earlier was named manager of the New York organization. Her name was Margaret Nabel. Unlike the All American Girls Professional Baseball League of the 1940s and 50s, Bloomer Girls teams from the 1920s regularly carried two or three men on their rosters. The men would usually serve as catcher, third base, or center field. The New York Bloomer Girls were no different, and they originally had men playing at catcher and shortstop. Not long after Nabel became manager of the team, she decided to relegate both catching and pitching duties to the men. However, it soon became clear that she should to allow the female pitchers to pitch too, not only because they deserved to, but because the fans really wanted to see them play. And she did.
In the early 1920s, the New York Bloomer Girls were the team to beat. Nabel organized a challenge series against the Philadelphia Girls A.C. in 1923, which the New Yorkers went on to win 21-13. The team also traveled a bit further in order to stir up fans and more competition. In 1931, the New York Bloomer Girls played before a capacity crowd in Chattanooga, Tennessee, against the Lookout Juniors, a men’s team. The women lost 7-4, but had won the hearts of many. Unfortunately, the Depression era took a toll on the Bloomer Girls, and they were dissolved at the end of the 1933 season.
During the 1930s, a number of female baseball players went on to be extremely successful, playing on various men’s teams. For the most part, however, women had started to be routed into softball instead. By 1943 a new All-American Girls Softball League was formed. Started largely to provide entertainment for baseball fans whose beloved heros had gone off to war, the league would eventually shift gears and become the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. This was the league depicted in the film A League of Their Own. Although the AAGPBL teams were all based in the midwest, more than a dozen players who made the teams hailed from New York City and State. They included Kathryn Beare (Syracuse), Muriel Bevis (Corona), Gloria Cordes (Staten Island), Mildred Deegan (Brooklyn), Marie Kruckel (Bronx), Nancy Mudge (Bridgeport), Joanne Ogned (Johnson City), Margaret Russo (Milton), Blanche Schachter (Brooklyn), Lillian Shadic (Hillsdale), Gene Travis (Mt. Vernon), Betty Trezza (Brooklyn), and Margaret Wigiser (Brooklyn). Sadly the league struggled after WWII, and it was forced to fold in 1954.
Across the country, as in New York, girls and women since then have been urged to play only softball, not baseball. But that hasn’t stopped women from loving and taking part in the American pastime. In 1972, Bernice Gera became the first woman to umpire in the New York-Penn minor leagues. And in 1974, a parents group took legal action to ensure the rights of girls to play in Little League. Twenty years later, the Colorado Silver Bullets national women’s team was formed, as was the new National Adult Baseball Association. A New York affiliate of that league came into being around that time and lasted three years.
Finally in 2001, a group of players and coaches from greater New York decided it was time to bring women’s baseball back to the Big Apple. They established the New York Women’s Baseball Association for all levels of play. That same year, the league fielded a travel team called the New York Traffic to compete against teams from other cities. In 2002, the Traffic dissolved, but the NYWBA was formally incorporated in New York State. The first All-Star game was held later that year at St. John’s University. By 2003, the league was comprised of three full teams and roughly 70 players. The league was also awarded 501 (c) status as a not-for-profit organization. Players currently hail from all five boroughs of New York City (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island) as well as parts of Long Island and Westchester County.