Jim Sargent. We Were the All-American Girls: Interviews with Players of the AAGPBL, 1943-1954. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2013. 316 pp. Paper, $39.95.
In the preface, the author details his purpose for presenting the interviews as a collection, rather than as an edited history like most books on the league's history. This book helps researchers of the league or of the time period and fans of the movie A League of Their Own discover the women and true history of the All-American League. "It is my hope that this book, which presents the women's stories in their own words, will flesh out that story for the readers eager to know what really happened, and when, and to whom" (3). A brief introduction by David Hillman, former library director at Virginia Western Community College, illustrates many of the similarities and differences between the players in the league. These girls came to the league as different as possible, amateurs and professionals, farmers and city dwellers, Canadians, Cubans, and Americans. But they all loved the game and played it well.
A history of the league, laid out chronologically, gives a wonderful picture of structure, rules, revisions, expansions, and reduction of the league. The interviews are divided into three parts: "The Early Years, 1943-1945," "The Postwar Years, 1946-1949," and "The Last Years, 1950-1954." The reader must use the divisions very generally, as the interviews, particularly of veteran players, cover many seasons and do not fit into just one specific period.
Before each interview, the author provides a brief biographical sketch of the player including her personal background, physical description, previous experience, statistics, and short anecdotes. In these bios, the author falls short of the book's potential to provide a comprehensive and engaging reference on the league. The bios are often taken verbatim from the interviews that follow, creating a pattern of redundancy that plagues the entire book. Taking information from the interviews to fill in the bios not only is redundant, but it robs the women of a chance to tell their story without interference, going against the author's statement of purpose. It would have been better to use additional resources to fill in these bios, rather than repeating information multiple times for each interview throughout the entire book.
The interviews themselves are informative, providing a wonderful new resource for scholars and casual researchers alike. Even those who have studied the league extensively will find new information contained in the memories and stories of the former players. Personal anecdotes provide a real look at life for these women as professional baseball players as well as at their lives before and after baseball. The interviews provide detailed accounts of the changes to league structure, diamond and ball size, and recruitment strategies throughout the league's history. The players' interviews also provide a nice look at the different managers of the league and their different managing styles, personalities, and backgrounds. Whenever an anecdote or fact is in doubt by the player, due to time and memory lapses, the editor inserted a helpful note clarifying certain historical or statistical points.
The author encouraged many players to discuss the influence of the league on their later lives. Many players credit Penny Marshall's movie for their newfound recognition for their accomplishments. "My neighbors here didn't know I played ball," said Lou (Erickson) Sauer. "The old-timers knew, but the younger people never heard of the All-American league. When the movie came out, I started getting phone calls. Also the tour buses started coming by my house, and now I talk to them all summer long" (231). Other players credit the league with the opportunities it afforded its players. Players often attended college in the off-season or after the league folded, with money they saved during their baseball years. The women mostly chose physical education for a major and went on to teach young boys and girls.
A short epilogue explores the creation of the alumni association and its activities as well as the impact of the movie for players, families, and fans. Sophie Kurys remarked, "I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't played on the AAGPBL" (298). This book will provide anyone interested in the league's history, women's baseball, or this time period with unique details and anecdotes. The women's stories, presented in their actual words, offer all readers special insight to their thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are often lost through the editing process. And who better to get these stories from than the women who dreamed an impossible dream that came true: playing women's professional baseball.
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|Title Annotation:||BOOK REVIEWS|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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