A League of Their Own

A League of Their Own Blu-ray.
Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.

October 16 marks the release of the 20th anniversary, Blu-Ray edition of A League of Their Own, the 1992 Penny Marshall comedy about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), the WWII women's baseball league that existed fron 1943-1954.

As league alumnae Nancy Mudge Cato wrote me in a 2002 letter, the AAGPBL was "a unique wrinkle in time." Conceived as a distraction from the war, when many Major League players went off to fight, the League and its players made dramatic impacts on the history of baseball, women's rights, Title IX and the viability of modern day women's sports.

Despite this, the AAGPBL and its more than 600 alumnae were a little known, often overlooked, piece of history. As two-time all-star Lou Erickson Sauer wrote to me in a 2002 letter, "If it wasn't for the movie, we would be the best kept secret of World War II." 

A League of Their Own propelled the women of the AAGPBL to stardom. Best known for Tom Hank's line, "There's no crying in baseball," the movie — which starred Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell, Lori Petty, Jon Lovitz, Garry Marshall and others in the all-star cast – grossed more than $100 million, according to IMDB.com, was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards, and has proved a main stay on cable for nearly 20 years. 

Three Jewish women — Thelma "Tiby" Eisen, Anita Foss, and Blanche Schachter – played in the AAGPBL. A fourth alumnae — Margaret Wigiser — is the child of an Orthodox Jewish father, although she doesn't self-identify as Jewish.

Of the group, Eisen is by far the biggest star, and the only member of the group inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. A 5'4" speedster, Eisen led-off for much of her nine year career. An All-Star in 1946, Eisen won championships with Milwaukee Chicks and won a pennant in 1952 with the Fort Wayne Daisies. She finished with a career 3,706 at-bats, a .224 batting average and 674 stolen bases, second best in League history. Eisen ranks third all-time for career runs scored, with 591. 

Foss played 28 games at second base in 1948, and pitched three games in 1949. She finished her career with just five hits and five stolen bases.

Schachter played nine games at catcher for the Kenosha Comets in 1948 before a knee injury ended her career.

Wigiser, a utility outfielder, played 203 career games, over three seasons with the Minneapolis Millerettes (1944) and Rockford Peaches (1944, 1945, 1946). She won a championship with the Peaches in 1945. Wigiser blew out a knee in 1946 and finished her career with four home runs, 65 stolen bases and 88 RBI.

All of the Jewish women of the AAGPBL have baseball cards available to Jewish baseball collectors, and a host of other AAGPBL memorabilia exists.

In 1984, Sharon Roepke created a limited edition series of AAGBL ("All American Girls Baseball League") cards, issuing Red, Blue, Yellow and Green editions.

Tiby Eisen Roepke Card

Tiby Eisen Sharon Roepke Red Card. Photo courtesy of JewishSportsCollectibles.com.

Eisen's card is #7 in the Roepke Red AAGBL series, which contains just 20 cards. None of the other Jewish alumnae appear in the Blue (39 cards), the Yellow (26 cards) or the Green (20 cards) editions. Special Thanks to Tim Wiles at The National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum for his assistance in confirming this.

The Roepke AAGBL cards are, by far, the rarest of the AAGPBL pasteboard. My email to Ropeke about the specific number of cards printed has gone unreturned, as of this posting, but I assume the total print run was fairly limited by the fact that individual Roepke cards appear on eBay only sporadically.

I have seen several Red and Blue complete sets listed and sold over the years, but only one or two of the Green and Yellow complete issues. Expect to pay $30-$40 per set, or $3-$5 for unsigned cards and $8-$15 for signed singles.  

Wisconsin card dealer Larry Fritsch created a four-series, 421-card issue of AAGPBL cards in 1995-1996. All of the women are featured in Series 1 (#1-234) or Series 2 (#235-340) of the sets. Eisen is #57, Foss is #262, Schachter is #174 and Wigiser is #330.

Fristch sells the AAGPBL sets on the company's web site and through its catalogue. Series 1 sells for $39.95, Series 2 for $12.95. Individual cards can be found on Amazon.com, the Becket Marketplace and eBay (see below for specific links). 

Tiby Eisen Larry Fritsch Card  
Anita Foss Larry Fritsch Card 
Blanche Schachter Larry Fristch Card  
Margaret Wigiser Larry Fritsch Card

The four women are also included in the 2006 Jewish Major Leaguers card set. The cards feature the JML "wrapper" and use the Fritsch card images." Single cards sell for $4-8 each, depending on where you find them.

The Eisen (#28), Foss (#29) and Schachter (#30) JML cards are easy finds. One of the two Wigiser cards (#31/31A) is much rarer than the other, however, and the story behind Wigiser's inclusion in the set, at all, is fascinating.

Wigiser is the daughter an Orthodox Jewish father and Roman Catholic mother, according to her Wikipedia entry, and was identified as one of the League's Jewish players by Eisen in an article published by the Jewish Women's Archive.

Wigiser JML Card 31

Margaret Wigiser JML Card #31. Photo courtesy of JewishSportsCollectibles.com.

On the basis of three different scholarly sources indicating that Wigiser was Jewish, JML printed a card of Wigiser in the series (#31). Ms. Wigiser contacted JML soon after, told publisher Martin Abramwitz that she is, in fact, Catholic, and asked for her card to be removed from the set.

JML honored the request and issued an "Error Card" (#31A) explaining the situation. The back of Wigiser's "Error" card reads:

"How is this baseball card different from all other baseball cards [An obvious reference to the Passover sedar]?
 
You're probably wondering what happened to Card 31.

Wigiser Error Card 31A

Margaret Wigiser JML #31A. Photo courtesy of JewishSportsCollectibles.com.

Part of the history of baseball cards in America is that from time to time individual cards were removed late in the production or distribution process because of a serious error or a request by a player. The most famous reported instance of this is when all-time-great Honus Wagner, a non-smoker, demanded his image be removed from a card published by a tobacco company.

It's our turn to inadvertently honor this tradition.
Our card #31 was intended to honor Margaret Wigiser, the centerfielder [sic] on the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Our three scholarly sources all listed her as Jewish. As the set went to press and out to the public, we heard from Ms. Wigiser, who informed us that she is in fact a Catholic, and appropriately asked that we remove her card. We apologize for the error.
We believe this is the first time in the history of baseball cards in America that there has been a card explaining the absence of a card … so who knows, it could become a collector's item!"

I have been collecting AAGPBL autographs and memorabilia since 2000, and know of only one collector who has the original issue Wigiser JML card. I took a picture of the card at the 2007 AAGPBL Reunion in Rockford, Illinois.

Other copies of the errant card must, certainly, exist, though I've never seen them. In response to a query by email two years ago, Abramawitz told me that he had none available for sale, and I have not seen any listed on eBay, despite having a saved search for Margaret Wigiser for several years.

The women's cards are all available online through a variety of sources.

Eisen's Fristch and JML cards can be found in the Beckett Marketplace and Amazon.com, while shoppers will find only the Fristch cards eBay. Beyond her cards, an eBay search for Eisen items shows a signed first day cover and an autographed photo.

Anita Foss Custom Print Card

Anita Foss custom print card. Photo courtesy of Beckett Marketplace.

The Beckett Marketplace offers collectors the chance to buy Foss's Fristch and JML cards, along with a seemingly a custom printed Foss card, similar in design to the Roepke cards. eBay has the Fristch cards, the custom print card and several autographed photos. Amazon.com sellers offer Foss's JML and Fristch cards.

Schachter's Fristch cards can be purchased from the Beckett Marketplace. Her Fristch and JML cards can also be found on Amazon. I could find no other Schachter cards or memorabilia on eBay at the time of this posting, but patient collectors will find items listed periodically.

Amazon sells Wigiser's Fristch card. eBay sellers had Wigiser items listed at the time of this posting, but I have seen them offered for bid before.

Collectors who prefer to keep their memorabilia on the book shelf have access to dozens of books about the AAGPBL. These include The Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League: A Biographical Dictionary, The Origins And History of the All-american Girls Professional Baseball League, When Women Played Hardball, and the children's books A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
and Players In Pigtails, all of which are available on Amazon.com.

Tiby Eisen is featured in Dottie Wiltse Collins: Strikeout Queen of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the Encyclopedia of Women and Baseball, and the children's book Mickey & Me: A Baseball Card Adventure.

Other League of Their Own and AAGPBL memorabilia on eBay and Amazon.com. Popular search terms include "AAGPBL" (eBay, Amazon), the "All American Girls Professional Baseball League" (eBay, Amazon), and "A League of Their Own" (eBay, Amazon).

Of the four players, Eisen, Foss and Wigiser survive. Like many of the AAGPBL's players, all are generous in-person and through the mail signers. All of the former AAGPBL players are, however, of advanced age. They all signed for me via through-the-mail requests between 2001-2003, and again in 2009. I do not know what their inclinations are now, however.

Schachter died March 31, 2010, according to her obituary in the New York Times. Autographed Schachter cards can be found on eBay, if a collectors is patient and willing to spent $15-20.

Do you have any AAGPBL memorabilia in your Jewish baseball collection? Let JSC readers know by commenting below.