Amy Applegren, a resident at Washington Christian Village, was a professional athlete who never sweated a drop.

“The players did not sweat, they glistened or glowed,” said Eleanor Rudolph, a long-time friend and caregiver of Applegren, who, at age 82, is no longer able to communicate.

Amy Applegren, a resident at Washington Christian Village, was a professional athlete who never sweated a drop.

“The players did not sweat, they glistened or glowed,” said Eleanor Rudolph, a long-time friend and caregiver of Applegren, who, at age 82, is no longer able to communicate.

Applegren, a Peoria native, played for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1944 to 1953.

She and Rudolph met at a reunion for the Caterpillar Dieselettes. Applegren played on the team before becoming a professional player.

In 1942, Phillip Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs’ Major League Baseball franchise, worried the draft for World War II would cause the collapse of Major League baseball. Although this fear never became reality, the AAGPBL emerged in the spring of 1943 as a non-profit organization meant to keep baseball parks in use while men were away at war. It was not until 1950 that individuals were able to buy teams.

The league lasted for 12 seasons from 1943-54, and Applegren played in all but the first and last seasons.

The Rockford Peaches signed Applegren in 1944 at age 17. Rudolph thinks Applegren was paid about $75 a week to play.

She had already played a season with the Peaches when she graduated from Peoria Manual High School in 1945.

According to her official AAGPBL baseball card, Applegren was 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighed 125 pounds, batted right and threw left when she was in the league.

She pitched and played first base for the Rockford Peaches from 1944-45 and 1950-52, the Muskegon Lassies from 1946-49, and she ended her baseball career with the South Bend Blue Sox in 1953.

During her 10 seasons playing, Applegren saw the rules of the game become more similar to standard men’s baseball rules and further from traditional women’s softball rules.

When she started pitching in 1943, it was with a 12-inch ball and a 40-foot distance from the mound to home plate. The next year, the regulation ball size shrank to 11-and-one-half inches.

The pitching distance changed mid-season in 1945 to 42 feet. In 1946, the ball shrank again to a circumference of 11 inches, and the pitching distance was increased to 43 feet. In 1948, the pitching mound was 50 feet from home plate, and the pitchers were finally allowed to pitch overhand.

When Applegren finished her baseball career in 1953, the ball was 10 inches in circumference and the pitching mound was 56 feet from home plate.

Recently, Rudolph found, among Applegren’s baseball memorabilia, six pages of notes Applegren wrote about her time as a professional baseball player. Rudolph does not know when Applegren wrote them.

“The teams played between 110 and 126 games a year—eight games a week (six nights and a doubleheader on Sunday),” Applegren wrote.

 Below this she noted, “In 1948, attendance topped the million mark. Players were immensely popular throughout the Midwest.”

A game on Labor Day in March 1947 had 6,548 people in attendance. Applegren also noted a game on July 31, 1946, when her team, the Muskegon Lassies, played the Grand Rapids Chicks and Applegren pitched a no-hitter.

“We didn’t realize at the time what pioneers we were, but we were really out there as forerunners as far as women’s sports were concerned. We didn’t think of ourselves as pioneers,” Applegren wrote.

As forerunners of women’s sports, the more than 600 female athletes in the AAGPBL were held to certain standards that would make current female athletes scoff.

According to the AAGPBL Web site, players were fined $5 if they violated any of the following rules: “Always appear in feminine attire when not actively engaged in practice or playing ball …
Boyish bobs are not permissible, and, in general, your hair should be well-groomed at all times with longer hair preferable to short hair cuts. Lipstick should always be on … All social engagements must be approved by chaperone … Players will not be allowed to drive their cars past their city’s limits without the special permission of their manager …”

In addition to following strict rules, the women were also required to attend charm school, where they were told to be “clean and wholesome in appearance” and “polite and considerate in daily contacts.”

The charm school guide also included a list of items to keep in their “All-American Girls’ Baseball League Beauty Kit” and suggested beauty routines for after games, morning and night.

 As attendance rates suggest, the AAGPBL grew in popularity over the years.

“We used to have some good fans that would follow us from city to city, especially on weekends. They just couldn’t do enough for us. They would often take us out to eat or invite us to their house for dinner,” Applegren wrote.

There was, however, some criticism from people.

“Although I did not play professional baseball, just from being on the Caterpillar Dieselettes, I know there was a stigma to being a female athlete. People called us tomboys, and that was a real insult then,” Rudolph said.

Rudolph said a lot of women used the money they made from baseball to attend school.

“They would go pro because they could play in the summer, get paid and go to school in the fall. Probably about 75 percent of them ended up being school teachers,” Rudolph said.

When Applegren’s professional baseball days were over, she returned to Peoria and worked as a data entry clerk for insurance benefits. She had pitched a total of 205 games and played a total of 386 games.

When the women of the AAGPBL were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988, Applegren and her family made the trip to Cooperstown, New York.

Writing about the event, Applegren said, “When you concede both the pioneer nature of the AAGPBL and the league’s high caliber of play, it seems only fitting the AAGPBL be accorded such a place of honor in the history of our national pastime.”

Rudolph said one of the things Applegren liked the most about the league was the camaraderie of all the players during the years they played, as well as after the league ended in 1954.

“They still hold reunions every year and put out a quarterly magazine to update everyone on the remaining players’ lives,” Rudolph said.

Applegren will turn 83 years old Monday. In order to honor her contribution to women’s professional baseball, Washington Christian Village will show a documentary on the league, as well as films showing its induction into the Hall of Fame 1 to 3 p.m. Friday.  Applegren’s collection of programs from all the teams and her original glove will be among other memorabilia displayed. Ballpark favorites, hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts and lemonade, will be served.