Category: History


Turning Back the Clock on the National Girls Baseball League

There was a time when everyone waited for them to take the field and start the show.  But hours before events began at the recent Chicago Bandits Turn Back the Clock Game, here store former players from the National Girls Baseball League were the ones waiting.\n\nNot that anyone minded much.  Five women sat in the reception area of the Chicago Bandits office building outside The Ballpark at Rosemont entertaining staff, friends, and family with stories of a bygone era of women’s professional softball in Chicago.\n\nAnn Kmezich Fatovich was a top pitcher for the Queens of the NGBL, a powerhouse team in the early 1950s, and later the Bloomer Girls.  Third basewoman Esther Mackey won championships in ’48 and ’53 with the Bloomer Girls and the Maids and enjoyed a devoted fan following known as the “Wackey for Mackey” club.\n\nStandout infielder Joanne \”Becky\” Beckman played for a number of NGBL teams including the Bloomer Girls, Queens, Rock-Olas, and Belles, and is a member of the Illinois ASA Hall of Fame.  Another infield wiz, Irene \”Pepper\” Kerwin starred for the Bloomer Girls, Belles, and Bluebirds and is recognized by the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame.\n\nSomething of an elder stateswoman, Dorothy Gramberg played first base for notable Chicago teams that predated the NGBL in the 1930s and 40s, including the Chicago Down Drafts, runner-up for World Amateur Title at Soldier Field in 1938.\n\nAs the players sat exchanging recollections (about farthest balls hit in Parichy Park and smacking dingers for free boxes of Salerno cookies, for example) to the delight of huddled onlookers, I wished that the camera was rolling to capture the moment.\n\nBut unfortunately, Adam Chu was running late.\n\nAdam is a documentary filmmaker whose current project is the National Girls Baseball League (called “baseball” but actually fastpitch softball, as we know it) of the 1940s and 50s.  He also works in promotions for the Bandits—Chicago’s professional softball team since 2004.\n\nAdam generally wears one hat or the other, but on Turn Back the Clock day he was donning both at once—preparing for a group interview on film and coordinating events to recognize the women of the NGBL before the Bandits game that evening.\n Continue reading

When 16-Inch Softball was King in Chicago

When I tell people that I’ve written about the history sixteen-inch softball—a game unique to Chicago and a telling, ask ed indelible part of this city’s history—I’m often asked: “How did it end up that Chicagoans played softball without gloves?” There is no definitive answer.\n\nMaybe it’s because we’re purists. Legend has it that the first softball game was played at Chicago’s Farragut Boat Club on Thanksgiving Day, decease 1887. A group of Ivy League alumni gathered there around a tickertape machine, awaiting the results of a Harvard-Yale football game. An impromptu contest broke out involving a taped-up boxing glove and a broomstick. Runners made their way around a small diamond and fielders handled the squishy ball bare-handed. “Indoors baseball,” later known as softball, was born: no glove required.\n\nBut Ivy Leaguers and boat clubs? This is hardly an origin story fitting of the real Chicago; the city Sandburg called “Hog Butcher for the World.” Maybe that’s part of the reason why many softball old-timers will tell you that no-gloves softball emerged out of the Depression, when Chicago’s laboring class was too poor to purchase the extra equipment. Besides, gloves were a redundancy: no need to sheath working men’s rawhide mitts in rawhide mitts.\n\nAll due respect to softball’s barstool sages, but I suspect the answer to why Chicagoans don’t wear gloves is less romantic. Softball was a neighborhood game played in neighborhood parks, which were plentiful throughout the city. Many were created more than a century ago during the Progressive Era. The idea was to give working Chicagoans “breathing spaces” in densely populated areas. Chicago’s system of abundant parks served as a model for other American cities.\n\nBut many of the plots were small, so fields could not contain smaller, tightly wound balls. Even when struck with great force, it was difficult to lift a sixteen-inch ball out of a neighborhood park. And so Chicago softball involved a bat, a “mush ball,” and no gloves. Hitting required placement over power, pitching involved deceptive angles, and fielding sometimes hurt. Hulking men on a miniature diamond, knocking around a stitched melon, handling it with their bare hands—this was Chicago’s game.\n Continue reading


Jack Johnson Interview!

Being dead nearly seventy years didn’t stop former heavyweight champ Jack Johnson from sitting down with me and chatting up his story, viagra sale malady his experiences in Chicago, diagnosis and his thoughts on sports today.\n\nChris Lamberti: Welcome Jack Johnson.  I thought it appropriate that I talk to you now, at the close of Black History Month.  February is also the month in which you beat “Denver” Ed Martin to win the “Negro heavyweight championship” in 1903.  Of course, in 1908 you became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion.  That was kind of a big deal.\n\nJack Johnson: So I’ve been told.\n\nCL: And next month you would have been celebrating your 135th birthday, so congratulations on that and thank you so much for being here with me.\n\nJJ: Thank you.  It’s my pleasure.\n\nCL: Tell me about your history in the city of Chicago.\n Continue reading


Schorling Park Panorama!

Indulging in some web surfing last week I stumbled upon Gary Ashwill’s blog.  Ashwill is a baseball historian and data compiler for the Negro Leagues Database at, ambulance sale and an all-around black baseball history guru.  On his personal blog, ambulance cialis Ashwill unearths and contextualizes worn photos and ephemera from baseball eras long lost.  This 1923 panoramic photograph of Schorling Park serves as a notable example (click on the image to view in all of its high-res glory):\n\n\n\nSchorling Park (also known as South Side Park), pills at Pershing Rd. and Wentworth Ave., was home to Chicago’s most talented collection of African-American and Latin ballplayers: the American Giants, led by Rube Foster.\n\nFoster is a colossal figure in baseball history.  He was instrumental in founding, organizing, and maintaining the first Negro National League, which he operated out of Chicago.  Foster’s American Giants won the NNL pennant the first three seasons of the league’s existence.  But in 1923 the prize would go to the Kansas City Monarchs.\n\nThis photograph was taken during that season, on Sunday May 27, 1923, when the Giants faced off against the rival Monarchs.  Big crowds were common on Sundays, with fans decked out in their church day bests, but this turnout was exceptional.  The stands swelled with 17,000 black and white spectators—2,000 more than capacity.  The Chicago Defender’s Frank Young wrote that it was largest crowd in the history of the park, and the largest ever to see two black teams play.  Attendees witnessed what Young called “one of the greatest baseball games staged in this city in many a day.\”\n Continue reading


Eulogizing Marvin Miller

Originally posted on The Third City December 1, sildenafil viagra 2012\n\nA great man passed away this week.  As executive director of the Major League Players Association from ’66 to ‘82, Marvin Miller helped bring pensions, bigger paychecks, and some autonomy to major league ballplayers.  In an equally unlikely turn, with his handsome features, pencil mustache, and stylish threads, Marvin made it ok for labor reps to be sexy.\n\nThe story of free agency in Major League Baseball, in a nutshell, goes like this: Before Marvin Miller came along, players had to play for whichever team owner signed them originally, for an amount of money and length of time solely determined by that owner.  If players were unhappy, they were not allowed to switch teams; their only recourse was to quit professional baseball.\n\nWielding tactics he learned as a UAW and USW negotiator, Marvin Miller leveraged assets that players brought to the sport (they represented, after all, the labor and the product that owners were peddling), and after more than a decade of bitter struggle—with the help of some courageous pioneering players including Curt Flood, Catfish Hunter, Andy Messersmith, and Dave McNally—Miller and the players’ union won labor rights previously thought of as untenable and unattainable.\n Continue reading