Wednesday, May 1, 2019

On This Day - "Wisconsin Girl Ballplayers Tried Out"

Seventy-five years ago today, on this day in 1944, the All-American Girls Professional Ball League was preparing for its upcoming season, and its expansion into Milwaukee and Minneapolis. To find its new crop of players, they held tryouts across the Midwest, including two days' worth at our own Borchert Field.

Here's how the Milwaukee Journal covered those tryouts.

Wisconsin girl ballplayers tried out Saturday and Sunday at Borchert field for jobs in the new All-American Professional Ball league. The picture shows Jack Kloza of Milwaukee, who will manage a team in the league, checking the list with Marie Timm of West Allis, who coached on the Rockford (Ill.) club last season. Looking on are Jewell Sladek, 1423 W. Meinecke av., a catcher, and Marge Peters (right) of West Allis, who pitched for Rockford last year. Miss Sladek was the only girl signed, but contracts were offered Adeline Kerrar, shortstop, 405 S. 3rd st., and three pitchers, Mandalee Ahrndt, Route 2, Racine; Evelyn Terry, 1521 N. Franklyn pl., and Sylvian Wronski, 2867 N. Hubbard st. Sixty-eight girls appeared for tryouts. Those chosen will be sent to Peru, Ill., to train.
–Journal Staff
John Clarence "Nap" Kloza was a Polish-born ballplayer who had deep ties to Milwaukee. He came to the Cream City in 1931 as a 28-year old first baseman who had kicked around the lower minor leagues, mostly the Southern Association and Southeastern League. By August of 1931, he had worked his way into a spot with the Brewers' affiliate St. Louis Browns, where he spent part of the next two years. By 1933, he was back in Milwaukee, where he finished out his playing career with four more seasons in a Brewer uniform, including the 1936 Brewer team that won the American Association pennant. Kloza loved Milwaukee, perhaps in part due to the strong Polish community, and he stayed in town after his retirement. For 1944, he took over the Rockford Peaches from their inaugural manager Eddie Stumpf, another Milwaukeean and former Brewer.

Marie Timm, nicknamed "Marty", is here labeled a coach for the Rockford team. The AAGPBL Players Association website lists her instead as "chaperone", and the overlap in roles is interesting to me. One connotes on-field responsibilities and the other off-field. I wonder how much of the chaperones' portfolio falls under what we would recognize today as coaching?

As the caption notes, the two league officials are joined in the photo by three players from Milwaukee.

Pitcher Marge Peters was part of the league's inaugural class, hurling for the Rockford Peaches in 1943. After the Borchert Field tryouts, she reported back to the Peaches, where she worked with Kloza. She hung up her glove at the end of the 1944 season and returned to West Allis, where she lived for the rest of her life. She also had the best trading card pose in the entire Frisch set.

We've previously looked at Sylvia Wronski's career in the league; she impressed the AAGPBL coaches in Peru but not quite enough to land a spot on any of the league's six Opening Day rosters. Instead, Wronski was signed and then sent to the West Allis team in Milwaukee's suburban amateur leagues before being called up to the Milwaukee Chicks in late June, making her debut at Borchert Field on June 30, 1944. She was with the Chicks for the rest of the season, pitching in 17 games, but remained in Milwaukee as the team moved to Grand Rapids for 1945. The editor in me is rather tickled that the Journal got her more-difficult last name correct but misspelled her first.

The third player, Jewell Sladek, doesn't appear in the AAGPBL records. It appears that she did not make any Opening Day rosters either, but unlike Wronski never earned a mid-season callup.

And I'd like to also take a moment to credit the Journal for its coverage of the tryouts. The evening paper put its morning competitor, the Milwaukee Sentinel, to shame. This is great placement for the photo:

The Journal was long one of the league's best boosters.

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