The Albertans of the All-American League

By JOE McFARLAND

They came from all across the globe to play the game they loved.

Between 1943 and 1954, more than 600 women took to the field as members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

In 1998, the Canadian contingent was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Originally, 64 were honoured but that number was later revised to 68. the AAGPBL website lists ten who came from Alberta.

According to the AAGPBL website, ten were noted to be from Alberta and had varied degrees of success. Some were born in Alberta, others were recruited from here and a few came back afterwards to call this province home.

In honour of International Women’s Day, we wanted to single out all of the players who have connections to our province and give you a brief history on their contributions to the game of baseball.

Penny O’Brian Cooke (Peanuts)

Born in September 1919 in Smoky Lake, Cooke was actually born “Mary Harriet Marteniuk” and had a fascinating journey in baseball. It took her to Edmonton, Lloydminster and Saskatoon before she made her way south to star for the expansion Fort Wayne Daisies in 1945. She played as Penny O’Brian and claimed it was the best year of her life. In 83 games, she hit .216 with a home run, 23 runs batted in and she stole 43 bases. She returned to Canada at the end of the season and called Lethbridge, Edmonton and North Vancouver home. The speedster passed away in April 2010.

Betty Carveth Dunn

Her story became well-known across this province in 2017 when the 91-year-old was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame. Like Cooke, Betty Carveth Dunn made her way to the AAGPBL in 1945, splitting it with the Rockford Peaches and Fort Wayne Daisies. Despite a 4-11 record, the Grande Prairie native posted a blistering 2.28 earned-run average. Always involved in the Edmonton baseball scene, Carveth Dunn was also the first woman to coach Little League baseball in the capital. “I loved playing ball,” she told the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones. “I just loved it. And to get paid for something you loved to do, you had to go and do it.” She passed away in January 2019.

Helen Nicol Fox (Nickie)

She might be the most-decorated Alberta product to play in the AAGPBL. Helen Nicol Fox was also the longest-tenured player from this province, as she was with the Kenosha Comets from 1943-1947 and then the Rockford Peaches from 1947-1952. The Ardley product holds many pitching records, including an unbelievable rookie campaign, where she went 31-8 with a 1.81 ERA, striking out 220 batters over 348 innings. In her second season, she went 17-11 with a 0.93 ERA and tossed a no-hitter and four one-hitters. “I just love the game,” Nicol told the Arizona Republic in September 2019. “It taught me a lesson that if I put my mind to it and I try hard, I can survive. And I played ten years professional.” At the time, the 99-year-old was a patient of Hospice of the Valley.

READ MORE: Fantastic Mrs. Fox

Olga Grant

Not a whole lot is known about Olga Grant. According to the AAGPBL, the Calgary native played in 21 games for the Milwaukee Chicks in 1944, hitting .247 with six runs batted in and nine stolen bases.

Marjorie Hanna

Like Grant, Marjorie Hanna was a Calgary product. She made one appearance for the Kenosha Comets in 1944, posting a 9.00 ERA in three innings of work. She allowed four hits and eight walks and was credited with a loss. “Miss Hanna made her debut against the Minneapolis Millers in the second game of the double-header Memorial Day,” the Kenosha News reported on June 1, 1944. “But was ineffective and appeared too unseasoned at this time for the caliber of pitching needed to win in the All-American League.” Few other details are noted about her life after baseball.

Martha Rommelaere Manning (Marty)

Just like her days in the AAGPBL, Martha Rommelaere Manning was no stranger to the road as she was growing up. Born in Deloraine, Manitoba, she grew up on a family farm near LaFleche, Saskatchewan before moving to Moose Jaw at the age of 17. She was originally ignored by AAGPBL scouts until she was named Most Valuable Player with an Edmonton team and won a trip to South Bend, Indiana to try out. During the 1950 season, she played for the Chicago Colleens, Kenosha Comets and Springfield Sallies, hitting .225 with 25 runs batted in and 18 stolen bases. Manning passed away in May 2011.

Kay Heim McDaniel (Heimie)

Another one of the Edmonton-area women to make an impression on the AAGPBL, Kay Heim McDaniel was thought of a defensive specialist behind the plate. While she didn’t hit well, she was lauded for her ability to call the right pitches and had a strong arm. The Athabasca native was a member of the Kenosha Comets in the inaugural 1943 season, hitting .117 with eight RBIs and six stolen bases. The following season, she improved her average to .181 with a home run, ten RBIs and 19 stolen bases before fracturing her ankle midseason. She returned home and moved with her family to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1948. That is where she stayed until her death in 2015 at the age of 97.

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Annabelle Thompson McFarlane (Annie)

Another one of the original AAGPBL members in the first season of 1943, Anne Jane Thompson McFarlane was a workhorse on the mound for the Racine Belles. Sporting the No. 9, she captured an 11-15 record with a 3.51 earned-run average while pitching in over 223 innings over 32 games. She passed away in Edmonton in August 1983.

VickiePanos

Vickie Panos

When many baseball fans think of speed in baseball, they may think back to Rickey Henderson and his amazing 130 stolen bases in 1982. Believe it or not, he had nothing on a woman by the name of Vickie Panos. Like Manning, Panos was born in Saskatchewan (Moose Jaw) but had made her way to Edmonton to play baseball. She was recruited for the AAGPBL for the 1944 season and made a major impact. With the Milwaukee Chicks and South Bend Blue Sox, Panos stole 141 bases and scored 83 runs in 115 games. Both were actually second-most in the league, with Sophie Kurys stealing 166 bases and scoring 87 runs. Panos also mustered a .263 batting average with 31 RBIs that season, as the Chicks went on to win the AAGPBL title over Kenosha. Panos passed away in Brisbane, Australia in April 1986.

Lucella MacLean Ross (Lu)

Another of the originals to head south of the border for the first AAGPBL season in 1943, Lucella MacLean Ross spent two seasons with the South Bend Blue Sox. The Lloydminster product hit .206 with 22 RBIs and 44 stolen bases in 70 games her first season. She followed that up with a .197 campaign in 1944, recording three RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 31 games. She wasn’t done with the sport afterwards though, as she went to the National Girls Baseball League in Chicago to play for several teams between 1946 and 1952, returning to her hometown in 1959 where she was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame. The namesake of the MacLean-Ross Cup passed away in June 2012.

A few other women made Alberta their home after their time in the AAGPBL. Mildred McCauley (Warwick) played for the Rockford Peaches in 1943-1944 before moving to this province, where she played for the Edmonton Mortons softball team. She married New York Rangers goaltender Ken McAuley and went on to be inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and the Softball Alberta Hall of Fame for her contributions to the game here.

Fellow Saskatchewan product Agnes Holmes (Zurowski) and Ontario’s Muriel Coben also played for the Mortons upon their return to Canada. Both are also members of the Softball Alberta Hall of Fame.

All had a hand in helping to grow the women’s game into what it is today.

On this International Women’s Day, we salute all of the women who make our world a better place, both on and off the field.

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