“There aren’t many people left who knew Bill Wamby,” says Audrey Haine Daniels. Indians fans know Bill Wambsganss (aka Wamby) as the Cleveland Indians second baseman from 1914-1924. And just about every baseball fan knows him as the only player to pull off an unassisted triple play in the World Series. Audrey Daniels knew him as the manager of the 1945 Fort Wayne Daisies, when she pitched for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).
I first met Audrey Daniels about two years, and although we’ve had met up a couple of times since then, I wanted the chance to talk to her specifically about her time in the AAGPBL. I finally managed to sit down with her and her daughter Cheryl for lunch a few weeks ago. At 85, Daniels moves more slowly than she used to, but she is far from frail and has a droll sense of humor and the firm handshake of a lifelong athlete. Maybe it’s because I have rather large hands myself (not quite oven mitts, but big), but one thing that always strikes me about Audrey are her hands—they are little larger than average, a little stronger than average. They are hands that made a teenager a professional ballplayer, pitched professionally for six years (including two no-hitters), raised six children, played golf for years, and still hold a baseball like the hand of a dear friend.
Daniels lives in Bay Village but grew up in rural Winnipeg, Manitoba. “Nobody taught me baseball,” she says. “I’m not trying to be smart about that. There was a baseball, and I threw it. We played out in the street. We were kids, 8, 9, 10 and that’s where you played—in the street. There were only a few cars. Nobody had a real ball—it was made out of string. The bat was whatever you could come up with. Sometimes maybe one of the kids whose father had a decent job would come up with a bat or a ball, but if they got called in for dinner, the bat went with them and the rest of us were left there hanging.”
Daniels (then Audrey Haine) played in a city recreational league, the St. Vital Tigerettes, which won the city championship. A woman named Dottie Hunter, who played in the AAGPBL’s inaugural season in 1943, contacted her. “She came over and explained to me and my mom about the league. It was interesting, but I didn’t have the courage. My older sister Dorothy said, “You’re going.” They offered me a contract. $65 a week to play baseball. [Note: The average U.S. salary in 1944 was $50 a week.] Plus you got meal money. I was scared stiff. I had never been more than 100 miles from home. I had never eaten a meal in a restaurant. But I went.” She was 16, which made her one of the youngest players in the AAGPBL. She recalls that maybe 20 or so players from western Canada collected in Winnipeg and boarded the train for Chicago. “We stayed in a hotel that was 40 stories high. You couldn’t get us away from the window. We were all standing there looking at the city of Chicago.”
She goes on to say, “Spring Training was really an eye-opener. To see all those people from California and they knew so much more about baseball. But we could throw a ball pretty fast too. Those of us from Western Canada kind of hung together.” After she mentioned “those California girls” a couple of times, I asked if the players from California were, well, snotty. Ever polite, she replied “I don’t know if I would call it snotty, but there was an air about them. Those California girls… There were cliques. We hardly talked the same language. They did know more about the game than I did, that’s for darn sure. The Midwestern and Eastern girls were more like us.”
At the end of the Chicago tryouts, if your name was on the sheet, you were on a team. Daniels was placed on the Minneapolis Millerettes. Her best pitch was a fastball. “Were you one of those kids who could just naturally throw really hard?” I asked. “I think there was a bit more to that pitch, but I really can’t explain it,” she replied.
Her first season, she pitched 230 innings (seriously, that’s a lot of innings) for a 4.85 ERA. The Millerettes were managed by former MLB player Bubber Jonnard. (No, he never played for the Indians; I just like the name Bubber Jonnard.) Nicknamed the Minneapolis Orphans, they played all their games on the road and finished 26.5 games out of first place, which is probably why the team was moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, the next season and former Cleveland Indian Bill Wambsganss became the team’s manager.
About Wambsganss, Daniels says “He was a really nice person. I can’t remember ever seeing him angry or shouting. I probably didn’t know about the unassisted triple play when I first met him. I just knew there was always somebody in charge. I respected him. I think everybody on that team had respect for Bill Wamby.”
“Did you call him ‘Coach?” I asked. “No,” she replied, “I think we just called him Bill.”
AAGPBL teams only had a manager and a female chaperone. There was no other coaching staff. As time went on, former players often took on the job of chaperone. Daniels notes that the chaperone was not formally there as an assistant coach but sometimes gave tips to the players.
“No one ever gave me pitching advice,” she says. ”That’s something I always felt they were neglectful about that. They coached some, but they never ever told me how to pitch or that I could be better.” As far as batting: “They didn’t care if the pitcher hit. We had hitters. I don’t remember any coaching advice… except get the ball over the plate probably. Wamby was just a really nice guy. I don’t think he was biding his time [by managing in the AAGPBL]. I’m sure he helped a lot of position players.”
With Wambsganss as manager, the Fort Wayne Daisies went 62-47 during the 1945 season, coming in second to the Rockford Peaches (67-43) in the six-team league. No unassisted triple plays, but a good season.
I’ll have more from Daniels, including her last encounter with Bill Wambsganss, in the second half of this interview.