In the fall of 1942, government manpower demands for World War II jeopardized the existence of Major League Baseball. Philip K. Wrigley, chewing gum corporation executive and owner of the Chicago Cubs, responded immediately to the prospect of an empty Wrigley Field in the summer of 1943 by investigating what he could substitute for Major League Baseball in the event that the sport was postponed indefinitely. What he came up with was women's softball.
There were hundreds of women's amateur and semi-professional softball teams throughout the U.S. and Canada at the time, and women were taking men's places throughout the work force, from ship builders to bowling pin setters. What more natural thing than to substitute women for men on the ball field. Concerned about image and social acceptance for this venture, as well as the need for immediate action, Wrigley adopted a trustee, non-profit structure for its operation. The trustees included himself, Branch Rickey, and Paul Harper, a Cubs' lawyer. The trustee structure was associated with benevolent organizations such as churches, colleges, and hospitals. The non-profit nature of the organization projected Wrigley's concern for contributing to the war effort rather than exploiting it for personal gain.
Wrigley recognized that to organize the league within a few months, his office would have to recruit all the players. He perceived that the league could only succeed if players were assigned to teams in such a way that all teams would be competitive. He also knew the value of publicity and promotion. Centralized player procurement, centralized allocation of players to teams to equalize competition, and centralized publicity and promotion became hallmarks of League operations.
When it became evident that Major League Baseball would not be postponed in 1943, Wrigley did not abandon his newly created All-American Girls Softball League. Instead, he approached businessmen in four war production cities to help subsidize teams to provide entertainment for their baseball fans and war workers. Thus the All-American Girls Softball League began competition in Kenosha and Racine, Wisconsin, Rockford, Illinois, and South Bend, Indiana in the late spring of 1943. Wrigley assigned the organization and operation of his All-American Girls Softball League (AAGSBL) to Ken Sells, then an assistant to the Cubs' General Manager. Sells assumed the position of League President, and with the cooperation of the Cubs' scouting personnel throughout the U.S. and Canada, he recruited the best female softball players on the continent to play for the All-American League. Sells, under the auspices of the trustees, organized and operated the league subsidized by about $100,000 of Wrigley's money and an equal amount from local city guarantors who served as team boards of directors. Officially, they had no voice in league affairs, but were undoubtedly consulted by Sells' office.
In 1944, Wrigley enlarged the League, now known as the All-American Girls Professional Ball League (AAGPBL), to six teams. He placed the two new teams in Minneapolis and Milwaukee where they played in men's American Association minor league parks. He wanted to see if he could, in time, transplant the All-American League into Major League Parks when the men's teams were traveling. His ultimate aim was to keep Wrigley Field operational on an every day basis during the baseball season. The Minneapolis and Milwaukee teams were unsuccessful for various reasons, and by the end of the 1944 season, the end of World War II was in sight. No longer needing a substitute for Major League Baseball, and convinced that girls softball would not succeed in Major League parks, Wrigley decided to withdraw his involvement with the All-American Girls Professional Ball League. Fortunately, Arthur Meyerhoff, Wrigley's advertising agent, who had been instrumental in promoting and publicizing the league during its brief history, was convinced it had a future in the mid-sized cities it operated in successfully. He purchased the league from Wrigley for $10,000 and maintained Wrigley's innovations of centralized player procurement, allocation, publicity, and promotion.
The Management Corporation Administration, 1945-1950
Lacking the corporate funds at Wrigley's disposal, Meyerhoff created a Management Corporation to operate League affairs. The role of the Management Corporation was to promote and publicize the League, hire and assign officials, recruit players and managers, and generally manage the every day affairs of the League. In return, Management assessed teams a percentage of ticket sales to pay for expenses.
Meyerhoff acted as commissioner of the League and hired ex-major league great, Max Carey to serve as its first president. Carey served in this capacity from 1945 until he resigned at the end of the 1949 season. His assistant, Fred Leo, assumed the position of League President in 1950. Under the Management Corporation Administration, Meyerhoff established a League Board of Directors comprised of the League President and team presidents or their representatives. The League Board of Directors basically legislated game related aspects of League operations such as the allocation of players, the levying of fines, and the handling of protests. By establishing the League Board of Directors, Meyerhoff assured team directors a voice in League affairs.
During the tenure of the Management Corporation, the League expanded from six to ten teams. The transition of the game from softball to baseball was realized and the League name was changed to the All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBBL). Extensive League spring training excursions were organized in Pascagoula, Mississippi, Havana, Cuba, and Opalocka, Florida. Junior League Teams were established in most league cities, and a four team minor league was created in Chicago as the Chicago Girls Baseball League (CGBL). Post season exhibition teams toured through Cuba and parts of Central and South America, and rookie training teams toured through the South and East for two years.
All was well until team directors began to believe that Management's spending for publicity, promotion, and player procurement was excessive and outstripped their ability to continue subsidizing costs in the face of declining post war economic and social conditions. Team directors operated their teams on a non-profit basis. Any proceeds above costs were contributed to local youth recreation programs. As their economic returns shrank, team directors began to view Management's percentage of gate receipts as profit to Management at their expense. At the end of the 1950 season, they decided to buy out Meyerhoff and operate their teams independently.
When the Independent Team Owners reorganized after buying Meyerhoff out, they officially renamed the League the American Girls Baseball League (AGBL). Popularly, however, it continued to be referred to as the All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBBL). Under the administration of Independent Team Owners, each team assumed responsibility for its own publicity, promotion, and player procurement programs. Costs were cut drastically in these three areas which proved detrimental to the league in the long run.
The League Board of Directors was retained, and Fred Leo assumed the role of League Commissioner. Kenosha Team President, Judge Edward J. Ruetz, ascended to the position of League President. At the end of the 1951 season, Fred Leo resigned as League Commissioner, and Judge Ruetz assumed his position. Earle McCammon, representative of the Kalamazoo team, assumed the responsibilities of the League President. At the end of the 1952 season, Kenosha withdrew from the League and Judge Ruetz resigned as League Commissioner. McCammon stepped into the position and served as League Commissioner until the league disbanded at the end of the 1954 season. When McCammon became League Commissioner, Fort Wayne Team President Harold Van Orman apparently became League President, as his name was so signed on a League ball.
The Independent Team Owners Administration was characterized by decentralization of player procurement and training, abandonment of a centralized player allocation program whose aim was to equalize competition, and drastic reductions in publicity and promotional programs. The League shrank from eight teams in 1951 to five teams in 1954. Budgets were cut drastically as attendance dwindled in response to expanding recreational opportunities and the novelty of television, which captivated audiences on week nights and brought Major League Baseball into their homes on weekends. Recessions in the early 1950s made it more and more difficult for team directors to continue subsidizing teams operating in the red.
In trying to fix the problems they perceived inequitable in the Management Corporation Administration, Independent Team Owners unwittingly severely undercut the policies which were cornerstones of the League's original success and growth. Among these were centralized player procurement, training, and allocation, and profuse publicity and promotion. Nonetheless, they are to be commended for continuing operations four years longer than economic and social conditions warranted. Their teams had become a part of their communities' culture, and the decision to disband did not come easily.