Thursday, July 18, 2019

On This Day - the Chicks Wow 'Em at Wrigley

Seventy-five years ago today, the Milwaukee Chicks were enjoying a quick break between the first and season halves of the 1944 All-American Girls Professional Ball League season.

The Chicks had gotten off to a slow start, plagued with a series of injuries. But as the first half of the season drew to a close, the injured players started returning to the diamond and the Chicks clawed their way to a record of 31-27, good for third place in the league. The winners of each half of the season would face off in the postseason championship series, and the Kenosha Comets had secured their playoff spot with the first-half flag. However, with the Chicks healthy and hitting their stride, they hoped to make a good run at the second-half title.

First things first, however, and before they could start their second-half campaign they had an All-Star game to play. Well, not an All-Star game itself, but a different showcase for the league.

There had been an All-Star Game in the league's inaugural season. Held at Wrigley Field on July 1, 1943, the near-sellout crowd saw a game of "Wisconsin Versus the World", with a team comprised of the best players from Racine and Kenosha squaring off against their compatriots from South Bend and Rockford. This was also notable for being the first night game at Wrigley, held under temporary lights brought in for the occasion.

For 1944, the All-Star format was scrapped in favor of a pair of exhibition games. The Milwaukee Chicks were chosen to compete, leading off in a contest with the South Bend Blue Sox. The second game was to feature the other two Wisconsin teams, Racine versus Kenosha, all in a benefit for the American Red Cross.

And while we don't have a handy photo of either game, at least this picture, taken during a Cubs/Giants game just ten days earlier, gives us a great sense of what the ballpark looked like at the time.

Heritage Auctions

The Milwaukee papers differed somewhat in their assessment of the crowd, but they agreed that the event itself was a success. First up was the morning Milwaukee Sentinel, which estimated 20,000 in attendance as the Chicks beat the Blue Sox by a score of 20-11.

20,000 Witness Win of Chicks

CHICAGO, July 18 (Special)

Shortstop Pat Keagle and Center Fielder Vickie Panos stole the show here tonight at Wrigley field when the Milwaukee Chicks defeated the South Bend Blue Sox, 20 to 11, in an All-American Girls' Ball league exhibition game played before over 20,000 fans.

The Chicks' infielder rapped out line drive triples her first two times to the plate. Holding an 8 to 7 lead going into the last of the sixth the Chicks counted 11 times that inning to clinch the verdict at the expense of Catherine Bennett, losing pitcher.
What an exciting game that must have been.

That afternoon, the Journal offered a ever-so-slightly less rosy estimate of the crowd, but not the game itself.

16,000 Watch Schnitts Win

Beat South Bend, 20-11

Journal Special Correspondence

Chicago. Ill. – The Milwaukee Schnitts put on a slugging exhibition for 16,000 spectators at Wrigley field Tuesday night in the All-American Girls Professional Ball league Red Cross show. The Schnitts defeated South Bend, 20-11, getting 16 hits off Kay Bennett, while Sylvia Wronski held the losers to 13. Pat Keagle of Milwaukee hit two triples. The Schnitts made 11 runs in the sixth inning.

Racine and Kenosha played the second game, which was called after three and one-half innings with the score tied at 6, so that the teams could make trains.
The capacity of Wrigley Field was just over 38,000. Even a crowd of 16,000 would have looked pretty good in that park.

The Chicks most certainly had to make a train home; they had a big event at Borchert Field planned for the following evening, an event the likes of which nobody in baseball had ever seen before.

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