RIP to Ruth Born, a pitcher in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. She died in Valparaiso, Ind., on March 10 at the age of 94. Born was a pitcher for the South Bend Blue Sox in the team’s (and the league’s) inaugural season of 1943.
Ruth L. Born was born in Bay City, Mich., on August 8, 1925, the daughter of Henry and Lillie Born. She and an older sister grew up on a vegetable farm. “I had naturally strong arms from lifting squash, celery, eggplant and radishes all day long,” she later recalled. She wasn’t kidding either. Her father erected a pitching target for her, using the floor of his fishing shanty. She smashed it to pieces with her fastball.
According to the invaluable AAGPBL website, she started playing softball as soon as she could swing a bat, and by the age of 12, she was playing in school and park leagues. She was later involved in several sports at the local YMCA, but her baseball career started in 1943 with the launch of the AAGPBL. She wrote the league’s office after the season had started, and she signed with South Bend after a tryout.
South Bend was the fourth city to be chosen to join the new league. The initial ’43 Blue Sox finished just behind Kenosha for the league championship. Born only lasted the one season in the AAGPBL, saying, “I was in over my head.” However, the accounts of the games show that she may have underestimated herself a little. She was signed by the Blue Sox on July 9 and was given her first starting assignment on July 12. She was edged out by the Kenosha Comets 3-2, though she surrendered only 2 hits.
Described by The South Bend Tribune as a “smallish right-hander from Bay City,” Born won her home debut on July 19 by a score of 5-4 over the Rockford Peaches. She was pretty wild, issuing 8 walks and throwing 2 wild pitches, “but when she did get the ball over the plate she was tough, as she yielded only four hits in the eight innings she worked,” the Tribune noted. The other available game recaps showed that she frequently pitched very well, giving up just a run or two. Control was her biggest problem, and after the ’43 season ended and her contract wasn’t renewed, she left the team to go to school.
In her 11 games, Born had a 4-5 record and a 3.59 ERA. She walked 47 batters in 67+ innings while striking out 6. She also went 2-for-18 as a hitter with 3 RBIs and 2 walks.
In a 1992 interview with the Vidette Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.), Born said that the movie A League of Their Own was pretty realistic. She missed out on having to attend charm school, since that wasn’t instituted until after she had left the league. “As in the movie, we did have chaperones and governesses to watch over our behavior while we traveled on the road,” she said, before admitting, “Like any group sport, yes, there was mischief, curfews and partying.”
Initially, she went to Bay City Junior College to pursue a journalism career. However, she was told by an English teacher that journalism was not a career that women pursued. So she headed to Valparaiso University, where she majored in sociology and minored in physical education. While attending Valpo, Born was an ace pitcher on the school’s softball team. The men’s softball team, specifically. In 1945, she pitched against a team of returning servicemen and beat them, 3-1. She pitched frequently with the men, and she must have been quite the contrast. She stood 5’3″, and many of her male teammates, dubbed “The World’s Tallest Team,” stood well over 6 feet tall. She also pitched for the Valparaiso Queens, starting in 1947, and she helped lead them to the Amateur Softball Association championship playoffs in each of its first seven years.
Born earned her Bachelor’s degree from VU and her Master’s degree from Loyola University. She went to work as a social worker in several cities, including Valparaiso and Chicago, until her retirement in 1991. She continued to play softball in Chicago into the 1950s. At one point, she pitched in five games and gave up a total of 9 hits in that span.
Born was inducted into the Valparaiso University Hall of Fame in 2006.