The Milwaukee Chicks made the most of their only season in the Cream City, bashing their way to a women's professional championship in 1944.
The All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was launched in 1943, the brainchild of gum magnate Phillip Wrigley and Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey. As seen in the 1992 film A League of Their Own, the idea was to supplement the loss of male talent in the professional ranks with women ballplayers. The film does a fairly accurate job of dramatizing the league’s first season, although it was not until the league’s final season in 1954 that a regulation-sized baseball was used and not until 1948 that overhand pitching was allowed.
For the league’s second season, a pair of expansion teams were added – the Minneapolis Millerettes and the Milwaukee Chicks. The league hired Max Carey, longtime star of the Pittsburgh Pirates and a future Hall of Famer, to manage the Milwaukee team. The initial reaction from the local papers was what one might have expected for the time. The Milwaukee Journal – which disregarded the “Chicks” moniker for “Schnitts,” a German word for a short class of beer – wrote that the women ballplayers “are not all the Amazons one might expect… they can play baseball, it’s just that the eternal feminine is prominent is all of them, even if they do wear shoes with spikes and caps that are continually falling off their pretty heads.”
But as the season wore on, it became obvious that the team was no gimmick. Playing nearly every day, with regular doubleheaders, the Chicks proved themselves as one of the league’s top clubs. By the middle of the summer, talk about the team was centered on their play more so than their appearances. Manager Carey was similarly impressed with his club, noting the reckless way the women would slide into bases, even with the league-mandated skirt uniforms. “Can you beat that?” Carey bragged. “Show me a big league ballplayer who’ll slide into home plate bare kneed and bare legged.”
After a third-place finish in the first half of the season, the Chicks dominated in the second half, running up a 40-19 record and clinching a spot in the championship series with a week to go in the season. But the Chicks had trouble finding a local audience. Most city fans opted to spend their money on the minor league Brewers, with some complaining that Chicks ticket prices were too high. There was little local objection raised when the league announced the entire seven-game title series would be played at Kenosha’s Lakefront Field.
The series would be a showcase for Chicks’ ace pitcher Connie Wisniewski. The winner of 23 games during the regular season, Wisniewski threw five complete games during the series, with a record of 4-1. With the Chicks down three games to two, Wisniewski threw 13 innings in game six – a walk-off win for the Chicks – and then came back the very next day to shutout the Comets once again and give Milwaukee the title.
Local reaction was subdued, but it was clear to those who were paying attention that this was a powerhouse team. The Chicks led the league in runs, batting average, steals, and homers and featured some of the league’s top pitchers. Unfortunately, the lack of support in the city doomed the team, and they quietly relocated to Grand Rapids for the 1945 season. The Grand Rapids Chicks would remain in business until the league folded in 1954, winning league titles in 1947 and 1953. Today, the Chicks and their championship season are memorialized in a display at Miller Park.