RIP to Mary Pratt, believed to be the last surviving member of the inaugural Rockford Peaches. She died on May 6 at the age of 101. The southpaw pitcher played for the Rockford Peaches (1943-44, 1946-47) and Kenosha Comets (1944-45).
Thanks to one of my readers, who directed me to the Patriot Ledger, which had more details. Pratt died in her sleep at the John Scott House Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Braintree, Mass., and was buried on May 7 in the family plot at Wollaston Cemetery.
Pratt, or “Prattie” as she was called, wrote her own autobiography on the AAGPBL’s website, and it was quite an adventure that she packed into more than 100 years of living. Mary Pratt was born in Bridgeport, Conn., on November 30, 1918. She moved to Quincy, Mass., her father’s birthplace, in 1932. Before she entered into pro ball, she played just about every sport and athletic activity imaginable, from basketball, softball and tennis to archery and sailing. She graduated from North Quincy High School in 1936 and Sargeant College (of Boston University) in 1940, with a degree in physical education.
“I competed with and against boys,” she wrote. “Competition at the high school and college levels for girls was limited to intramural and class competition. I did, however, have the opportunity to compete in a local church basketball league and with both the Boston Field Hockey and Lacrosse Associations.”
In 1939 and ’40, Pratt pitched for the Boston Olympets, a softball team organized by Walter Brown, who owned the Boston Garden. Their games were played indoors, at the Garden. She joined the team in early July of 1939, and within a month she was an ace. On July 20, she outpitched the Rehoboth Milkmaids for a 5-1 victory and was summoned into the second game against the New Haven Starlets, with no outs and the bases loaded. The “diminutive lassie from Wollaston” retired the side without giving up a run, preserving a 7-6 win. On September 19, she led the Olympets in an 11-5 beatdown of Springfield. She went the distance and slammed a home run in the eighth inning.
Pratt began her 48-year teaching career then, but she still played ball when she could. She was contacted by the brand-new All-American Girls Softball League, which would evolve into the AAGPBL within a couple years. She flew to Chicago when school had finished for the year. “I was met by Mr. Ken Sells, appointed by Mr. Philip Wrigley as President of the AAGPBL. I was escorted to Rockford and joined that team,” she explained.
She went 6-11 in her first season in 24 games, with a 3.78 ERA. She also hit .235, the best batting average of her career. Pratt was originally slated to join the Racine Belles. Due to the structure of the league, rosters were kept as even as possible. The Belles went on a 10-game winning streak while Rockford dropped seven in a row, so the Peaches got the Bostonian instead of the Belles.
Pratt’s best season came in 1944, when she split time with the Peaches and Comets. She wasn’t traded so much as she was transferred, as Kenosha had several injuries and needed the help. Between the two teams, Pratt pitched in 41 games, threw 303 innings and ended up with a 21-15 record and 2.50 ERA. In one of her first games with the Comets, she tossed a 2-1 no-hitter against the Minneapolis Millerettes. “She was invincible all the way with no semblance of a hit off her crafty flinging,” reported the Kenosha News. The Millerettes’ only run came in the first inning off a walk, stolen base, infield out and error. The Comets, managed by Marty McManus, won the first half of the season with a 36-23 record and faced the Milwaukee Chicks in the League Championship. Pratt tossed a 4-0 shutout against the Chicks, but Milwaukee eventually came away with the league championship.
Pratt returned to the Comets in 1945, but she and the team both struggled. She won just 1 game against 16 losses and posted a 3.99 ERA. She moved to the Peaches for the final two seasons of her big-league career, winning 1 more game before retiring after the 1947 season and returning to a teaching career. In her five seasons in the AAGPBL, Pratt had a 28-51 record and a 3.48 ERA.
Pratt spent a total of 42 years teaching in Quincy, as well as three years in Braintree and three at Salem State. “With the advent of Title IX, in the 1970s, competition in girls’ athletic programs increased, and I became very active in the local and state associations, serving in leadership roles, at every level,” she said. She also spent 50 years officiating at basketball, softball, field hockey and lacrosse.
Pratt, like many of the women of the AAGPBL, was brought back into the spotlight with the release of “A League of Their Own” in 1992. She liked the movie and thought the actresses in it played very well, but she thought that the boozing Tom Hanks character of Jimmy Dugan was a little too far from reality. Her experience with McManus was completely different. He’d formerly been manager of her favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, and he treated his players very well.
“Since I was from Boston, we had a lot of good talks about the Red Sox,” she remembered. “He confided with me that the problems with the Red Sox back then are the same as they are today [in 1992] — there was a lot of infighting in the front office.”
Pratt and the surviving AAGPBL players worked tirelessly after the movie’s release to make sure their role in baseball history wouldn’t be forgotten again. She served on the League’s Board of Directors from 1999-2000. “During those years, I initiated an “Out and About” project in which I kept a record and responses I received from any former players, Associate members, and officials who accepted invitations to meet and speak with groups about their experiences associated with the AAGPBL,” she said.
Pratt turned 100 in 2018, and a large party was held at Grove Manor Estates in Braintree in her honor. Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan passed along an invitation from the Red Sox for her to pitch for the team, and Dick Flavin, the poet laureate of the Red Sox, told several stories and presented her with a Red Sox goodie bag. “What a wonderful gift baseball is to all our lives and Mary has given that gift for lo, these many years,” Flavin said. “To be in love with baseball is to be forever young.”
Pratt, like the other women of the AAGPBL, is a part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But her suitcase is there, too! She decorated it herself, and it turned into a travelogue of her playing career. In addition to her spot in Cooperstown, Pratt was also inducted into the New England Sports Museum, Boston University Hall of Fame and the Boston Garden Hall of Fame.