Fandom in the 40's: the integrating functions of All American Girls Professional Baseball League.
As the 1900's began, mass spectator sport served functions apart from providing an escape for an urban population. Spectator sports came to reaffirm ideals and values of an America which was quickly becoming a booming economy. Baseball, the quintessential American sport became a symbol for many people in society. Attendance at baseball events provided individuals with a sense of cohesion and group membership, reaffirming the ideals and values of a productive society (Petryszak, 1978).
During World War II (1940-1945), baseball became particularly vital to the American spirit, being viewed by many, including President Roosevelt, as important for sustaining the nation's morale. Many talented and promising players entered the service and the level of play began to decline. Although not of the highest quality, baseball campaigns of 1942-1945 were exciting enough to sustain moderate public interest in the game. Due to the low quality of play however, fan criticism increased steadily (Voigt, 1983).
With the golden age of baseball in danger, P.K. Wrigley and Branch Rickey began the All American Girls Baseball League (AAGBL). Beginning in 1942 and lasting until 1954, the League afforded talented women athletes the chance to play professional baseball. Crowds averaged 2,500, but sometimes surpassed 6,000 spectators (Becker, 1982). In 1944, the AAGBL staged a doubleheader in Wrigley field, with nearly 20,000 fans attending the event (AAGPBL Thank you night, Meyerhoff files, 1944). What created or prompted this unique phenomenon of the committed sports fan to the AAGBL? Was it the war years when people needed an escape, had little money, and many male baseball leagues were unable to exist? Was it a change in women's roles as they moved into the world of work outside the home? Was it the exceptional skill and talent of the women athletes? As Hagan (1955) stated, "Those who missed seeing a girls' baseball league game, perhaps forever, really missed something" (Kalamazoo Gazette).
The purpose of this study was to explore the phenomenon of a committed sports fan of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. A profile of an AAGPBL fan was established identifying attributes of the League and characteristics of fans, which allowed for its success for 12 seasons. Secondary purposes were; (a) to develop a model of the AAGPBL sports fan with respect to previously established theories of committed sports fans; and (b) to draw a relationship between the lack of success of professional women's team sports in the United States today.
Theoretical Basis of Sport for Fans
Enthusiastic sports followers have long experienced the impact of the event which they are watching. It has been suggested that few people who watch sporting events are merely spectators, but rather are participants in a ritualistic sense. While the typical viewer falls somewhere between the observer and fanatic, millions of individuals are wrapped up and consumed by sport enthusiasm (Lawther, 1951; Mihalich, 1982; Novak, 1976).
Theories of the persuasiveness of spectator sports appeal have been researched and postulated over the years, representing collections of ideas by numerous individuals (Duncan, 1983; Sloan, 1979; Smith, 1974; Smith, 1988). These theories include: (a) stress and simulation; (b) entertainment and aesthetic; (c) basking in reflected glory; (d) aggression and catharsis; and (e) achievement seeking.
Stress and stimulation seeking theory
Individuals who do not experience tension, risk, or stress in their everyday lives seek to fulfill this need through the acceptable avenue of sports. Sports allows spectators to seek arousal by becoming involved with the crowd (Elias & Dunning, 1989). Simply being a member of the 1970; Klausner, 1968; Sloan, crowd and cheering wildly for one's team can satisfy this stress seeking behavior (Harris, 1973).
Many researchers (Beisser, 1967; Maslow, 1970; Snyder & Spreitzer, 1983) have agreed that sport is partially pursued for the pleasure it provides the spectator. The entertainment value of sport is thought to be related to one's overall socialization experience. The environment, including significant others, such as parents, friends, and culture are critical elements in the socialization process.
Encouraging others to become imbued with the sports feeling is a part of the socialization process. The degree of consumer role socialization is a function of the influence of significant others as well as opportunities formed in these significant groups. Sports fans invariably watch or attend events with significant others, most often family members or close friends. This socialization factor has been reported to be capitalized upon by sports promoters who may create special event nights such as family night, children's night, booster night; or by forming special fan clubs to support local teams (McPherson, 1972; Often, 1975; Smith, 1974; Smith, 1988).
Research has suggested that some identification with a team is necessary in order to share in its outcomes. Individuals take credit for victory, yet avoid blame if failure occurs (Bradley, 1978). Individual needs for social approval, achievement and status are reported (Ogilvie & Tutko, 1963) to be basic to sport motives.
Basking in reflected glory
In sports as well as in other areas, people try to enhance their own image by associating themselves with winners (Lee, 1985; Schafer, 1969). This theory extends the achievement seeking theory. A team may actually be thought to represent a town or community. Team loyalties which are developed over the course of years provide spectators with a strong sense of stability. Rooney (1975) has suggested that the core of a sports region is the home team's field and the people in a given area who identify with a team constitute a fan region. Team loyalties which are formed over the course of years provide spectators with a strong sense of stability.
Numerous studies have been conducted to test the plenitude of theories of commitment and motivation by sports fans; however this study provides a unique view of a highly successful sport for women in an era where professional sports teams existed for men. In addition, the success of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, or any professional team sport for women, has yet to be replicated, thus furthering the extraordinary uniqueness of this phenomenon.
An open ended questionnaire was distributed to fans of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Questionnaires are suitable for obtaining a wide variety of information about individuals and open ended questions allow for a richness in complexity of opinions and attitudes (Caplowitz, 1983).
Questionnaire items were designed to ascertain specific information regarding fans' involvement with the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Areas explored were; (a) how individuals became socialized into the sport fan role; (b) reasons perceived for the continued league success over 12 seasons; and (c) attributes of the league which allowed for extensive and consistent fan support.
There were 13 cities throughout the mid-west where original franchises of the AAGBPL teams were located. To insure adequate representation of fans, advertisements and editorials were placed in newspapers in 10 of the 13 cities. Respondents were asked to contact one of the researchers in order to receive a packet which included a questionnaire, self-addressed stamped envelope, cover letter, and letter of consent from the Executive Board of the AAGPBL. In order for an individual to be identified as a potential respondent, he/she must have attended a minimum of three games per season for three of the 12 seasons. Two follow-up mailings were conducted to insure maximum return.
Upon receipt of questionnaires, each was assigned a number for easier tabulation of results. Responses were processed and categorized by individual questions. Within each question, a frequency distribution was recorded for each aspect of the question. All "yes," "no" or combination responses were categorized where appropriate. Measures of central tendencies and dispersion were recorded where appropriate. All relevant comments were noted. Data were then analyzed through a combination of typological analysis, constant comparison, clustering, and enumeration (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; LeCompte & Preissle, 1993; Miles & Huberman, 1984). The rationale for using a combination of data analyses was to facilitate a clearer understanding of the fans and their support for the AAGPBL, as well as a deeper understanding of this unique phenomenon.
Validity and Reliability of Research Instrument
The issue of validity in qualitative research has been defined and redefined by many individuals over the years. One approach to validity is to insure authenticity and soundness in design and to provide results in a convincing manner (LeCompte & Goetz, 1982). Smith (1990) promoted the validity of a study depended on the perspective or paradigm of the researcher. This included objectivity, receptiveness to criticism, and correspondence to some experience of reality in the study. Objectivity was further defined through previous research/writings by the investigators.
Reliability in qualitative designs is affected by the uniqueness of the situation in which the research is conducted. As human behavior and emotions are not stationary, exact replication is not highly possible. Clarity and specificity of questions, as well as asking respondents questions that were relevant to them and their AAGPBL experiences were utilized in order to ensure as carefully as possible the reliability of the instrument (Babbie, 1983).
Researchers attempted to ensure both reliability and validity as much as possible by carefully dividing participant responses into categories and continuously refining these categories throughout the analysis in order to provide ongoing and complete thematic results. Using the process of enumeration served to add supportive evidence for the validity of the categories and theoretical constructs being examined (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993).
A total of 112 questionnaires were distributed to fans of the All American Gids Professional Baseball League. Of these 112, 106 were returned and usable for a total response rate of 95%.
Current age of respondents ranged from 40 to 75. Figure 1 addresses the analysis of respondents current age. A majority of respondents were retired, however both current and previous occupations included a wide array of fields such as secretary, professor, accountant, and truck driver.
Respondents were asked ages they attended games, the number of games attended per season, and the number of seasons attended [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURES 2, 3, 4 OMITTED]. Although ages fans attended games ranges from 5 to 50, 72% of respondents attended games between the ages of 10-25.
Fifty-seven respondents supplied a specific number of games attended/season. Of this number, 74% attended from 3 - 20 games per season. Thirty-eight respondents reported attending all or the majority of home games. A majority (60%) of fans reported attending between three - six of the total 12 seasons. However, 10 respondents attended all 12 seasons.
Respondents were also asked if they had participated in sports as a child. It is interesting to note that 86 (81%) did participate in some type of sports activity. Baseball and softball topped the list of sports, although a variety of other sports were also mentioned.
Initial AAGPBL involvement
Respondents were asked how they first heard about the AAGPBL, who was most influential in their becoming a fan, and with whom they attended games (see Table 1). Many respondents (56%) indicated that they learned about the League through local newspapers or word of mouth. Others specifically identified parents, grandparents, friends, or significant others as their means of acquaintance with the League. In describing those who were most influential in becoming an AAGPBL fan, many (48%) indicated parents, friends, or siblings as primary socializing agents. Some fans (21%) noted that they were influenced by either their love of sports/baseball or by a specific AAGPBL player. Several fans who had attended games as children referred to the "Knot Hole Gang," a special group formed to allow children free admission to games.
"Mr. Buck...formed the 'Knot Hole Gang'...the Knotholers were comprised of poor youngsters who were allowed free admission to bleachers along the third baseline..." (Field notes).
Other socializing agents included relatives or spouse. Female respondents primarily reported attending games with friends (55%) and parents (38%), while male respondents largely indicated attending games with friends (44%).
Table 1 Initial AAGPBL Involvement Influence in becoming a fan(*) Males Females Parents/GP 10 (24%) 17 (26%) Siblings/ Spouse/ other relative 4 (10%) 10 (15%) Friends/ other players 8 (20%) 22 (34%) * Partial response list With whom fans attended games(*) Males Females Parents/GP 15 (37%) 25 (38%) Siblings/ Spouse/ other relative 20 (49%) 24 (37%) Friends 18 (44%) 36 (55%) * Partial response list
Questions regarding initial involvement in becoming an AAGPBL fan also included identification of which team fans supported and why. At its height, the League had ten teams. A total of eight teams were mentioned, indicating appropriate representation throughout the mid-west. Identification with the home town team (72%) accounted for the primary reason for team identification. Finally, fans were asked their reasons for attending AAGPBL games (see Table 2). At least in its initial stages, the AAGPBL played in a time in which travel was limited due to gas rationing during World War II. Why did fans initially attend games? A majority (58%) indicated reasons included the entertainment/recreational value as well as their love of sports/baseball. Others (38%) cited their desire to support the local team, their friendship with these talented and skilled players, and the low cost. The following quotes support the views of many fans.
Table 2 Reasons for Attending Games Loved sports/baseball 40 (30%) Entertainment/recreation 37 (28%) Talent/skill/action 14 (11%) Support local team 10 (8%) Friends with players 10 (8%) Jr. player/wanted to play 10 (8%) Bat girl/worked at park 7 (5%) Relative on team 2 (1%) NR 3 (2%) N = 133 Note: [greater than]1 response possible
"It was exciting! We knew all the players, all their records...We were among a band of fans who really cared." "We were strong supporters of events in our community...This was something affordable that we could do together."
"The games were exciting and I was at an impressionable age and really 'hero worshipped' all the players. I loved everything about being at the ball park." (Field notes).
Though the beginning of the League occurred during the World War II years, fans kept attending games well past the war's end.
Extended involvement as a fan of the AAGPBL
Initial involvement as a fan was promoted due to the entertainment value, excitement of attending games, and patriotic duty to one's community and country. However, following the end of World War II in 1945, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League sustained its popularity for nine additional seasons. In exploring reasons for this longevity, fans were asked if they traveled to away games, if they or their families supported players/teams other than game attendance, and why in their opinion the League was popular in the mid-west for 12 seasons.
Of the 106 respondents, 42 (40%) did travel to away games, although 22% of those individuals reported attending six or fewer away games. Many (65%) who attended away games did not recall how many.
Support for players by fans and families was reported by a limited number of respondents. Most (65%) did not support players in any additional ways, however of those (27%) who did, responses included players boarding with families and having players to their homes for meals, parties, or other social functions. This quote from a fan displays the excitement and involvement many felt.
'A group of us regularly attended games and always sat in the same place, each had a favorite player. After every game we bought our player a drink ... all the other gals liked Coke or 7up, but my player liked black coffee, so many a night I'd get scalded running to the locker room with hot coffee" (Field notes).
The talent and dedication of the AAGPBL players, as well as the unique entertainment void the League filled, aided in making the League popular for 12 seasons. When asked to describe the level of play, 93% of respondents indicated it was excellent, competitive, and very professional. Only two respondents suggested play was at a level of high school boys. Fans (59%) indicated the League was popular in the mid-west due to its novelty, player talent, and fans' love of sports (see Table 3). Other reasons equally noted (34%) were the limited access to travel and limited number of other sports to attend due to the war effort. However, when specifically asked why the AAGBPL lasted beyond the World War II years, the vast majority (85%) indicated the quality of play, the entertainment value, and identification fans had with local teams as crucial reasons (see Table 4). The following quotes from fans reflect the views of many respondents.
"It was a hometown feeling. You could relate to the players. We felt close to the League, like it was ours and we were a part of it." "Generally, franchises were not sold and remained in a community which developed loyal fan support ..."
"The quality of play - a pastime during the war years. The quality of play helped to extend the time past the war's end ..." (Field notes).
Table 3 Description of Level of Play High/competitive/excellent 101 (89%) Athletic/aggressive 4 (3%) High school boys class 2 (1%) NR 6 (5%) N = 113 Note: [greater than]1 response possible Table 4 Success of AAGPBL Quality of play 66 (57%) Entertainment/unique/filled void 32 (28%) Low cost 8 (7%) Ladies on/off field 6 (5%) Promoted/financed well 4 (3%) N = 116 Note: [greater than]1 response possible
Certainly, the AAGPBL provided unique, low cost, quality entertainment and sport for its fans. Though at first many fans looked upon the League as mere substitute for men's baseball, the promotional value and caliber of play prompted fans to continue to support the League well beyond the war years.
AAGPBL - a professional women's team sport
In addition to filling a void in baseball and providing quality entertainment, the AAGPBL succeeded in becoming the first and only women's successful professional baseball team. The type of hard-hitting, strong and powerful team sport play, though not totally new for women, was unique in its wide acceptance. Fans were asked if they attended men's professional baseball games during this same time period and if so, which they preferred watching. In addition, fans were asked why they believe the League ended.
A majority of fans, (57%) attended both men's and women's professional baseball games. When asked which they preferred watching, similar responses were noted for "both equally" and "women games," although more women (31/18) than men preferred watching women's baseball. Those who cited women's games as their preference, noted the love by the fans, and the excitement and enthusiasm of the players as reasons. Many of the female respondents suggested they could relate better to women players. Those fans who enjoyed attending both men's and women's games, cited their love for sport and baseball, regardless of the sex of players.
The ending of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League brought a closing of a special chapter in women's sport history (see Table 5). Responses to why fans believed the League ended included the popularity of television and men's baseball returning following World War II (55%). Others (23%) believed the novelty of the League had worn off. Still others suggested a lack of financial backing and a good farm system. However, others (22%) were uncertain as to why the League had ended.
Future of women's professional team sports
Few successes have been noted in professional women's team sports in recent years. In addressing this issue, fans were asked why, in their opinion, professional women's team sports have not been successful in recent years, and did they think a place existed for a women's professional baseball league today.
Some respondents (39%) indicated an oversaturation of men's sports and sports in general, combined with the money to be made in men's sports today, accounted for the lack of success of women's professional team sports. Other fans (48%) suggested women's sports were not well promoted nor developed [by television]. Further, there appeared to be limited fan interest in women's sports and less interest by women in competitive sports in general (see Table 6). The following quotes by two fans reflect the views of many others.
Table 5 Reasons Cited for Lack of Success of Professional Women's Team Sports Oversaturation of sports/men's sports/money 51 (39%) Lack of promotion/development of women athletes/ lack of fan interest 36 (27%) TV portrayal of women's sports 19 (14%) Limited interest by women in competitive sports 9 (7%) NR/DK 17 (13%) N = 132 Note: [greater than]1 response possible
"TV features big money players (men) in basketball, baseball, golf, and football. It appears that golf is the only sport that women's play competes with men. However, this is not a team sport. TV seems to dictate the success of a team or a sport."
"...in sports where avid fans want to see only the best performances, there are no women who remind one at once of Magic, Michael, Larry, or Babe." (Field notes).
Many respondents (38%) believed there is a place for women's professional baseball in today's society, although 42% either responded negatively or were uncertain. Those who indicated an affirmative response, cited the increased monetary and big business aspect of today's sports, ones which are "...far out of reach of most of us." Some fans indicated with the appropriate backing and promotion, women could be quite good. Those who were uncertain or responded negatively, suggested that women's sports were too far behind men's sports and that Americans would not settle for third rate sports.
Table 6 Reasons Cited for Lack of Success of Professional Oversaturation of sports/money 51 (39%) Lack of promotion/development of women athletes/lack of fan interest 36 (27%) portrayal of women's sports 19 (14%) Limited interest by women in competitive sports 9 (7%) NR/DK 17 (13%) N = 132 Note: [greater than]1 response possible
Relationship of fan profile to theory base
The fans of the All American Girls Baseball League became deeply involved in the game. For many, it became more than a pastime, it became a passion. The two theories of a committed sports fan which appear to best apply to fans of the AAGPBL are: (a) entertainment/aesthetic theory and (b) basking in reflected glory [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 5 OMITTED].
Attraction to AAGPBL games for many was initially based on the novelty and entertainment value. However, it was this entertainment, which could be enjoyed by the whole family, that encouraged many fans to consistently return. "We would warn them [fans] however, that they'll be interested, and that they'll return time and again. . . For, once initiated, it will become second nature to start for the baseball park when the local girls are home" (Henderson, 1947). Aesthetics, or high level of skill was also a critical factor in fans continuing to support the League for 12 seasons. Numerous descriptors by respondents alluded to the talent, professionalism, and consistently high caliber of play.
Socialization also appeared to be an important factor in the extensive fan support. Though many fans indicated they learned of the League through local newspapers, many others noted parents, and friends were extremely important in their becoming an AAGPBL fan. As many of those who responded attended games in their youth, adolescence, and young adulthood, the influence of significant others was particularly important. Many of those individuals were socialized into the role of sport consumer at an impressionable age and continued attending games for several seasons.
The impact of the fans' relationships with their home town team became quite intense, providing stability during a difficult era. During World War II, patriotism to country and community was extremely high. It was upon this notion that Wrigley in part, formed the AAGPBL The AAGPBL began as a non profit making organization, remaining so while P.K. Wrigley was at its head. Wrigley encouraged potential backers by informing them of their patriotic and civic duties. He proclaimed the League would be good for community, country and the war effort (Browne, 1993).
As teams developed a loyal following, fans grew to know and identify with players. As one fan noted, "We knew the Comets so well. When the team lost, it was more than just the home team losing. . ." Much of the core of the League's success can be attributed to this strong and stable identification with teams and players. As one sports reporter noted, "One could talk on and on concerning the value of the Lassies to the community. Yes, indeed, just leave it to the girls" (Bretting, 1947).
For a brief time, the girls of the All American Professional Baseball League provided exciting entertainment and a top notch brand of baseball for their fans. The purpose of this study was to explore this unique fan phenomenon. There is little doubt that the era in which the League existed had much to do with its success. There was little money for travel and other forms of entertainment were scarce. A strong need existed in the country for home and community identification. This was capitalized upon and helped to prompt at least the League's initial success. While potentially, it was fan curiosity and skepticism that brought many to the ball park, it was the appeal that kept them returning. As one sports reporter noted, "The 1946 season. . . opened in Muskegon with many skeptics we arrived early, to see 'glorified softball,' played by girls in abbreviated costumes, thereby heightening customer appeal. . . However, we've become a fan. . . We were introduced to a new American sport...it's a game that will grow, year by year, attracting a new sort of follower (Henderson, 1947, p. 6).
The AAGBPL filled a void left by the decline in men's baseball, however it was the high caliber of play and its amazing appeal which allowed people of both genders and of all ages to become loyal and committed followers. Henderson (1947) noted fans consisted of male and female alike, with many occupying the same seats each game. Fans quickly learned players' nicknames and felt the thrill of their intense, competitive spirit.
Had a change in women's roles also played a part in the League's success? Undoubtedly, it was a time when women entered the workforce in record numbers, assuming positions formerly held by men. Bretting (1947) noted that "Even in these years of emancipation for women in every field from politics to soldiering and even 'newspapering,' it's hard for a man to realize women are people...however they [the girls] put on a show for fans that will bring them back again and again, and again" (p. 7). One fan noted, "It was the best of times for that project - the war years - gave women more opportunities to show they could do a man's job and still behave and look like a lady."
The fan of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League was one who was truly dedicated. The moments experienced by these fans provided a richness which many still recall today. "I will always treasure the pleasure I had attending the girls' games... Those years were very special and very exciting...It was a sad day when the League folded." Perhaps the future will hold a time when fans of all sports will have an opportunity to experience women's professional team sport with the enthusiasm and commitment experienced by the fans of the AAGPBL.
For further Information, please contact:
Karen H. Weiller University of North Texas Department of KHPR P.O. Box 13857 Denton, TX 76203
All American Girls Professional Ball League Red Cross 'Thank you' Night Wriqley Field, July 18, 1944. Folder of clippings in Arthur E. Meyerhoff Files, Drawer 19, Red Cross Game at Wriqley Field House.
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|Author:||Weiller, Karen H.; Higgs, Catriona T.|
|Publication:||Journal of Sport Behavior|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1997|
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