The Other Team
(originally appeared in Boston baseball July 2018)
Has a women ever hit a ball over the Green Monster?
Someone asked me that the other day, and I had to say “I have no idea.” As far as I can tell, the answer is “No,” but I think it’s high time someone receive that opportunity (You’re welcome, Sox PR Department. Think that would raise some money for charity and get some attention???). The Coors-sponsored, all-female Colorado Silver Bullets did play at Fenway in 1994 and had the opportunity, but were shut out 6-0 by the Boston Park League All-Stars. But as Linda Pizzuti takes on an ownership stake, it got me thinking that women have not been widely recognized for their role in the history of this team.
Oh, they’re there. In fact they’ve been here all along. Here’s just a start:
Lizzie Murphy didn’t play for the Red Sox, but she is likely the first woman known to play in Fenway Park, appearing in a charity All-Star game in 1922, playing first base and helping her team beat the Red Sox 3-2. Credited by some as the first professional woman ballplayer, Murphy, a Rhode Islander, had a long career playing semi-pro ball throughout New England.
Isabella Stewart Gardiner was one of Boston’s grand dames, a philanthropist and art collector who smoked cigarettes, drove too fast and didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. After husband Jack died in 1898, Gardiner beat the Red Sox to the Fenway by nine years, building the house-turned-museum that bears her name. She also became a frequent and very recognizable visitor to both the Huntington Avenue Grounds and Fenway Park. After the Sox won the 1912 World Series, she created a scandal when she attended a Symphony Hall concert wearing ''a white band around her head and on it the words, 'Oh you Red Sox' in red letters.''
Marie Brenner made history in 1979, covering the Red Sox for the Boston Herald, the first woman to do so on a regular basis. Given the assignment by editor Don Forst to take an “anthropological approach” to her task and told “For God’s sake, don’t write about the game,” Brenner fulfilled her assignment, capturing the “25 cabs” atmosphere of the club as well as any male reporter at the time. Her 1980 Esquire story “Confessions of a Rookie in Pearls,” appears in my Red Sox anthology “Impossible Dreams.”
Lib Dooley taught Phys. Ed. and Health in Boston city schools for nearly four decades and was mainstay in the box seats at Fenway Park for 55 years, watching more than 4,000 games. A self-described “friend of the Red Sox,” she passed out cookies and candies to her favorite players. Her father was famously a member of Nuf Ced McGreevey’s Royal Rooters and Dooley herself was a member of the BoSox club. She was also known to be a special friend of Ted Williams.
Speaking of Ted, he’s the reason I’ve chosen to include only one player’s wife, Ted’s first partner, Doris Soule. In January of 1954 she filed for divorce, alleging among other things that Ted had struck her. When the couple failed to settle over the next year, Ted decided to retire from baseball after the 1954 season rather than share a new contract with his Ex. Two days after the divorce became final, on May 13, 1955, Ted unretired and signed a contract for $98,000, stiffing Doris out of the new contract and the Red Sox out of a month of play. All because of money. I wonder if this story will make that “American Masters” documentary that’s in the works?
Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee, aka “The Spaceman” always credited his aunt, Annabelle Lee, of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, with teaching him how to pitch. She played seven years in the AAGPBL, even twirling a perfect game. A self-described “junkball pitcher,” Ms. Lee was not, however, responsible for teaching her nephew the infamous eephus pitch that Tony Perez sent into orbit in the 1975 World Series.
Elaine Weddington Steward was a pioneer in several capacities. Named Boston’s assistant GM in 1990, primarily performing legal and contract work, at the time Steward was first black woman and only the second minority to hold an executive position of any kind in major league baseball, something that is both hard to believe today, and well, not so hard to believe. She now serves as an attorney for MLB.
Jean Yawkey is one of only a handful of women to own a major league team, taking over the Red Sox after her husband died in 1975. While the Sox mostly remained competitive for much of her tenure, she made the same mistake her husband did, turning over most day-to-day management of the team to others, namely men like Heywood Sullivan and John Harrington.
Ms. Pizzuti, take note: Maybe she should have done it herself.
Glenn Stout’s next book with Richard Johnson, The PATS: An Illustrated History, is due out in November. See glennstout.net. He is also the author of Young Woman & the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, soon to be a major motion picture.