[This is the second half of a two-part interview with Clevelander Audrey Haine Daniels, who played for six seasons in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), including a season with Cleveland Indians legend Bill Wambsganss as manager.]
I knew a fair amount about Wambsganss’ time in the AAGPBL and Daniels’ career before I interviewed her. Wamby managed two seasons in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL)—the 1945 Fort Wayne Daisies and the 1948 Muskegon Lassies. Both were winning seasons. Daniels was a 17-year-old pitcher with the Fort Wayne Daisies. It was her second season in the AAGPBL.
These are the basic facts, ones which you could find on B-R Bullpen or Wikipedia. I sat down with Daniels because I was curious about what life was like as an AAGPBL player and how it was to play for a major league player turned manager. For most baseball fans, the 1992 film A League of Their Own is perhaps all they know of the league. Most (not all) of the AAGPBL managers were former major league players. Along with Wamby, a whole train of former players managed in the league for a year or two (or more), among them were Max Carey, Johnny Rawlings, Eddie Stumpf, and Jimmie Foxx (who is said to have been the inspiration for Tom Hanks’ Eddie Dugan character in A League of Their Own).
With the only unassisted triple play in World Series history under his belt, Wambsganss was, at the time, probably one of the better-known AAGPBL managers although Daniels notes “He never mentioned the 1920 World Series. He was a quiet person. I don’t ever remember him shouting.” That being said, I had to ask: Did she ever hear Bill Wambsganns say to a player “There’s no crying in baseball?” The answer is no. “He wasn’t that type of guy,” she says, noting that he never called out a player on the field or in front of other players. “He was calm. It was more that you didn’t want to disappoint him. I respected him a great deal. I can’t say that about all the managers.”
The lack of a manger yelling “There’s no crying in baseball” aside, Daniels says she thought A League of Their Own was “very accurate, even down to a player getting news of her husband’s demise. That actually happened. But they took a few liberties. The manager would never come into the locker room. He never did unless we were all ready to go out on the field.”
And about those short, skirt-like shorts (skorts?) that were the hallmark of the AAGPBL look? Daniels says she grew to like them because “They were special—no one else had them. Some girls did slide. They got these huge, huge strawberries on their legs.”
Daniels’ last encounter with Bill Wambsganss came decades after both of their baseball careers had ended. He was a Clevelander and lived in Lakewood in his retirement. Daniels and her family settled on Cleveland’s west side in the late 1960s. One day, after a round of golf, she stopped at a favorite restaurant with some friends. She noticed that a man in the restaurant looked familiar. It was her old manager, Bill Wamby. “I had to get up a bit of courage,” she says, “but I walked up and said, “Hi Bill. I don’t know if you’ll remember me.” He said “Oh yeah, I remember you, Audrey. You were a great at the jitterbug.” We talked about some of the other players—do you remember so and so? He looked great. We had a little chat.”
As Daniels and I talked through lunch that included the largest bowl of soup I’ve ever been served (When it arrived, Daniels wryly asked if I was going to call my family to come help me eat it.), she told me about Spring Training in Cuba in 1947. It was another big adventure. “How many of us had ever been in an airplane?” she asks. “And they weren’t these huge things—it was a small plane and we all had these helmets on.” The Brooklyn Dodgers also held their Spring Training in Cuba that year. Daniels notes proudly that the AAGPBL drew more people to watch their workouts than the Dodgers did.
The AAGPBL players were in Cuba on May Day, and weren’t allowed out of the hotel. “You know, it’s wild there on May Day,” Daniels says. But the players also “needed our Coca-Cola.” In a move reminiscent of passing your money down the row at the ballpark and having your drink passed back the same way, the AAGPBL players got a rope and a basket. They put some money in the basket and lowered it down to the street, where some kindly May Day revelers bought them their beloved cola and the players hauled it back up.
Daniels also spoke of her friend Vivian Kellogg, who played with her on the Minneapolis Millerettes and the Fort Wayne Daisies. During Daniels’ first Spring Training in the league, she roomed with Kellogg. “Viv was more experienced than I,” she says. “They were all going out, and they asked me to go. I was shy and said ‘Well no, I’ll stay in the room.’ The door was locked as soon as they walked out. But I got really scared.” To quell her fears, Daniels pushed the dresser in front of the door and went to sleep. Later the phone rang. It was Kellogg, saying, “Audrey, this is Viv. I’m trying to get in. The key works all right, but the door won’t open.” Daniels jumped out of bed and pulled the dresser just enough for Kellogg to get in the room. Then, she says, “I jumped back in bed and put the cover over me. The next morning, Viv and I pushed the dresser where it belonged. Of course, when I got downstairs with everybody else, everybody knew about the story. I never lived it down. Viv told it at every reunion we ever had.”
The AAGPBL holds annual reunions, most recently in Cooperstown last September. Daniels has attended most of them. Even if they never played on the same team, all of the former players hold in common the very rare experience of being women who have had the opportunity to play baseball for money. The friendships and bonds these women forged are for life.
At times, Daniels played against her best friend, Dottie (Ferguson) Key. “Dottie and I started together in Winnipeg and we were great friends throughout our lives,” she says fondly. “She and her husband Don were our best friends. They stood up for us at our wedding.” In the same breath, Daniels will tell you that she didn’t cut Key a break when pitching to her. “I pitched inside—as far inside as I could go. I hit her a few times. She got a hit off me the previous time, and I paid her back.” Key’s uniform that was the first in the Hall of Fame. It is her road uniform from the Rockford Peaches. Daniels adds, “Of course to be a Peach was the ultimate. I was a Peach.”
She still is.