Wednesday, January 9, 2019

AAGPBL Baseball Card - Vivian Anderson

We've previously seen a Fristch card remembering pitcher Sylvia Wronski, now she is joined by Vivian Anderson, the only other Milwaukee woman to play for her hometown AAGPL team.

Like the first card, this one is part of a set of All-American Girls Professional Baseball League cards produced in the mid-nineties by Larry Fritsch Cards, LLC of Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Born Vivian Sherrifs on April 21, 1921, she was an athlete from an early age, playing not only baseball but also basketball, field hockey, and football with local boys. Her parents made her give up football over injury concerns, but she continued her baseball career, playing in local baseball leagues by the time she was fourteen. There she would later meet Daniel Anderson, a coach who would become her husband in 1942. Daniel was also a a staff sergeant in the Army, and was shipped overseas shortly after their marriage.

Two years later, Anderson was signed out of the very popular West Allis League, where she had played with and against other local girls. The AAGPBL extensively scouted the league for talent, and she was invited to the league's 1944 spring training camp.

The AAGPBL was a league of nicknames, and she was no exception. She was known to her teammates as "Andy". With her husband in the service, Anderson lived with her parents during her time with the Schnitts.

Her season was cut short by an injury. On June 4, 1944, the Schnitts were in South Bend playing a double-header against the Blue Sox. She suffered a collision at third, trying to field the ball as the runner crashed into her.

"The baseball, someone sliding into the base, and me – all at one time – hit (my) fingers."

The contact smashed the index and middle fingers of her right hand, taking her out of the game.

The club was enduring a rash of injuries at the time, with four starters on the bench nursing various ailments. Pitcher Connie Wisniewski had a twisted knee, second baseman Alma Ziegler a twisted leg, and left fielder Thelma Eisen a sprained knee.

Anderson was initially diagnosed with a sprain, less serious than Wisniewski's twisted knee, and the Milwaukee Sentinel reported that all four women were expected to "return to action in a few days." The league cancelled its next game following the D-Day invasion of France, which should have given Anderson an extra day to recover.

When she was checked out by a doctor back in Milwaukee, however, the true extent of her injury was apparent. She had four fractures in the two fingers, and that was it for her season. The doctor—the same sawbones who had removed the toes of Brewers outfielder Hal Peck after his hunting accident—suggested smputating the fingers, but she balked at the suggestion and found physicians willing to use less extreme methods. Anderson was able to keep her fingers, but not her spot on the team.

Andy stayed with the club as a third-base coach for the next few months, where the large splint on her right hand couldn't stop her. A true teammate to the end, she stayed with the Schnitts all the way to the end of the season, traveling with them to Kenosha for the championship series, where they defeated the Kenosha Comets in seven games to take the AAGPBL championship.

Anderson never returned to the AAGPBL, but not even two permanently-crooked fingers could kill her love of baseball or keep her off the diamond. As the team moved to Michigan to become the Grand Rapids, she headed south to play professional fast-pitch for the Bluebirds in the Chicago National Girls Baseball League. She played two years in Chicago before coming back to Milwaukee to play professional and semi-pro ball before finally hanging up her spikes. She and Daniel divorced in 1946. She returned to her maiden name, and had a long professional career before retiring at the age of 89 in 2010.

She died in 2012, having lived long enough to see a resurgence of interest in her youthful career. She was one of five former player interviewed by students at the the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for their "Forgotten Champions" oral history project.

Andy is part of the "Women in Baseball" permanent exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown and was inducted into the Wall of Honor at Miller Park as part of its inaugural class in 2001. A lifelong resident of Milwaukee, she became a fixture on the local baseball scene, appearing at SABR conventions and telling stories. Much of what we know of the Schnitts, we know from her first-hand recollections.

Andy in her playing days and at an AAGPBL player panel discussion
at the 2001 SABR Convention in Milwaukee

Although her time on the Borchert Field diamond was short, she had an invaluable contribution in preserving the story of the AAGPBL in Milwaukee. For that, we will always be grateful.

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