The 75th anniversary of the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League will be celebrated during a reunion in Kansas City in September.
Many of the women who played in the league have died, but one of them who made a brief appearance in the AAGPBL in 1953 is still alive. Gloria (McCloskey) Rogers grew up in Edina, Mo., and is the only member of the league who called northeast Missouri or west-central Illinois their home. She compiled no official statistics, but she is listed in game programs and also is listed on a website dedicated to the league as one of the 646 women who played.
Rogers later attended Christian College, now known as Columbia College. She participated in the horsemanship program, tennis, field hockey and the synchronized swimming team. She was voted Christian College's Athletic Queen in 1955, and she was named to Columbia College's Hall of Fame in 2005.
Rogers now lives in Plano, Texas, with her daughter. Her husband, Kelley, died in January 2011. Rogers turns 83 on Sunday.
How long have you lived in Plano?
The last four years. My daughter is involved with heart surgeries, and we've been all around the country. We've been to Virginia and Houston, but I think we're going to be here quite a while.
How did you learn about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League?
I was in high school in Edina, and I was reading the St. Louis newspaper. They had this story about a professional girls team called the Rockford Peaches. The man to contact, his name was Carl Gaines. I just wrote a letter and asked them where they were having tryouts, and I got a letter back, They told me when to be there, to wear socks and to bring my spikes. My mother and my sister drove me to Rockford, and we had a tryout. It's in question how many people were there. Maybe there were 20 people there. As far as I know, they picked six people, and I was one of them. I was 17, and (my mother and sister) left me there.
What was the tryout like?
They had scouts who went around and got people. I do remember they timed us running to first base. I was fast on that. I could really throw the ball for the distance. I'm talking 200 feet. That used to be a track event in 1950 when I was in school. A basketball throw and a baseball throw for distance were two of the things we did. They took a lot of pictures the first day there. I have a picture of myself in my uniform.
How long were you in Rockford?
I didn't get to stay very long. I got to ride on the bus, and I had my name in the program, but that was it. It was a big deal that I made the team. There's not many of us still living. My dad thought it was too far away from home, so he sent my sister and my mother to come get me. I bawled the whole way home.
So what happened next?
I went to St. Joseph and played all summer for the Goetz Country Club softball team. We won the national championship in 1955.
How did you become a softball player?
I just always played when I was little. My dad played catch with me, and my mom encouraged me. We had a brick house, and I drew a chalk plate on the wall. I threw the ball to myself day after day. If the balls got beat up, I had some tape and retaped them so I could throw them more. Anybody who would play catch, I'd play catch with them.
Did you play in high school?
We had a really good softball team. In the four years I played, we only lost two games. We had a wonderful coach. His name was Robert Roush. If the coach told you to climb the tree, you'd go do it. I liked everything about him from the time I was in the fifth grade and I played for him. I would run home for lunch and run back, and maybe Mr. Roush would let me go in the outfield when he would hit balls to the girls. That's when I got my first ball glove.
Did you ever wonder what it would have been like had your father allowed you to stay in Rockford?
That's questionable. There's pros and cons. I would have loved it. It would have been wonderful. I thought the girls on the team were all older and wild, but they weren't. Now when I went to play for Goetz Country Club, they had trunks full of beer on those Sunday afternoon games. When I was a junior, my dad sponsored a team, and the state tournament was in St. Joe. Dad bought us patches to wear for our white shirts, and a girl from LaBelle was one of the pitchers. I was a pitcher too, and we got third place in 1952. This Goetz team asked two of us to stay. When I didn't get to play for the Peaches, I went back down there to St. Joe and stayed. It would have been wonderful to stay. It makes my dad sound like a bad guy, but he wasn't.
What kind of a player were you?
Competitive and energetic and a hard worker. Overly competitive. I really wanted to win. I had a lot of fun, but I worked hard at it. I thought you ought to play to win. This isn't recreation. By the way, I didn't take any money when I was there in Rockford. I could hit more than a little bit. My batting average as a junior was .600. But there were so many people who did so much more than I did. I just don't have the things to add to my time there like others did. I'm just proud to say I made the team.
Did people accept you as a female athlete like they do these days?
I don't think anybody made fun of me. Everybody was proud of me. The people in Edina, they all went to the games, and we all had fun. We had a good coach, and we were good. Nobody made fun of you because you played sports, at least not that I knew of. We were just a good small community.
Do you still have any mementos from your time in the league?
I have a bucketload. My mother saved a bunch of stuff in the attic. My mom played basketball at Hannibal-LaGrange, and I still have her uniform. I kept all of the articles and little baseball bats, and autographs from the players that I got in 2003 when we got together (for the 60th reunion of the league). The letters that they sent me, I kept them. I kept one from Carl Gaines, and I kept a letter from Dottie Green (a catcher and later team chaperone for the Peaches). I'd lost my spikes when I was there, and she was looking for my spikes. She wrote, "Say hello to your mother." I kept quite a few pictures that were in the Rockford paper. I've got one of the six of us who got to stay. You should have seen what the bus looks like that we rode on. I can't remember what games I went to, but I kept score at all of them and I got to practice.
How realistic was the movie "A League of Their Own"?
It was 80 percent true. But how realistic do you think it would have been to set a time on how long it took Tom Hanks (who portrayed Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan) to go to the bathroom? The part about the etiquette, walking with the book on your head, I remember doing that. I didn't even know about the movie when it was being made, but (producers) had to have the approval of some of the real players. I got to meet one of the people who got to go to California (to screen the movie), and they told me they didn't approve of Madonna's mouth. There were five ladies who went out to view the movie, and Madonna was just too dirty mouthed. There were other things that they cut out. They wouldn't give their approval until they cleaned it up a little.
What was it like to attend the reunion in Cooperstown?
I was living in Macon when they made the movie, and I was what they called a "lost player." They tried to find all these players, but they couldn't find me. Finally, they found my name McCloskey in Edina, but my mother was hesitant to give out my phone number. They wanted us to come out to when all of the players were going into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sept. 11, 2003. I went, and it was awesome. There were lots of people -- a lot of associated members and players. Some of them had caregivers or your kids went with you, and a lot of people had family members with them.
I was talking to this one lady, and my husband was around the corner. He said, "Gloria Lee, come here." My name was on the list. It just made the hair stand up on my neck. It sort of gives you chills. Then we went out to eat and did lots of other things. We went to the Short Stop restaurant, and there was a picture of (former St. Louis Cardinals great) Enos Slaughter sliding in that big (1946) World Series game. I met Enos Slaughter. He used to go quail hunting in Hurdland.
How did you meet your husband?
Kelley was my biggest fan. I was married for 55 years. I met him at a softball game in Brashear. I was keeping score for the Edina team, and I was sitting on the bank. I knew the boys' names who played for Brashear, and they batted out of order. I told the umpire they were batting out of order. Kelley was the catcher on their team. He came over and marked all over my scorebook and told me I was wrong. Turns out I was right. We had a wonderful marriage.
Do you ever get back to Knox County?
Quite a bit. I like going over to Baring Lake for the Fourth of July. You haven't lived until you have gone to that.
Does it surprise you that something you did when you were a teenager is still being celebrated today?
It was the first big thing that ever happened for women in sports. I mean, it was before (professional tennis player) Billie Jean King. We didn't know it was going to be that important. Just getting to meet the players and play with them was a joy, to play with people who were that good. I wore the uniform. I dressed out, and I was on the roster. I'm not putting myself down. I made the team, and I'm still alive. I'm not ready to read my obituary just yet.