|All-American Girls Professional Baseball League|
July 22, 1924|
Franklin County, Illinois
|Died: November 1, 1989
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|Last professional appearance|
|Career highlights and awards|
Elise "Lee" Harney (July 22, 1924 – November 1, 1989) was a female pitcher who played from 1943 through 1947 in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. She batted and threw right-handed.
A native of Franklin County, Illinois, Elise Harney became one of the sixty founding members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. While at school, she made her mark as a fast-pitch softball hurler in Chicago before joining the league. However, she ended her career prematurely after developing a sore pitching arm while trying to adapt to a new pitching motion in 1947.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was a circuit that began to operate in the early 1940s in cities located on or near Lake Michigan. The main promoter was Philip K. Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, who worried about the viability of Major League Baseball players during World War II decided to establish an alternate attraction. Since the only organized ball for women in the country was softball, the league officials created a game which included both fast-pitch softball and baseball. Wrigley had scouts all over the United States, Canada and even Cuba signing girls for tryouts. About 500 girls attended the call. Of these, only 280 were invited to the final try-outs in Chicago where sixty were chosen to become the first girls to ever play professional baseball. The circuit was initially called the All-American Girls Softball League, though early in the first season the name was changed to All American Girl's Baseball League. In its twelve years of history the AAGPBL evolved through many stages. These differences varied from the beginning of the league, progressively extending the length of the base paths and pitching distance and decreasing the size of the ball until the final year of play. For the first five years the circuit used a fastpitch underhand motion, shifted to sidearm in 1947, and never really became baseball until overhand pitching began in 1948. The inaugural season took place in 1943 with the teams Kenosha Comets, Racine Belles, Rockford Peaches and South Bend Blue Sox, and each team was made up of fifteen girls. Harney was allocated to the Kenosha Comets, a team managed by former big leaguer Josh Billings.
In 1943, Harney joined a balanced Kenosha team that included players as very talented pitcher Helen Nicol, as well as Ann Harnett, Phyllis Koehn, Shirley Jameson, Pauline Pirok and Audrey Wagner, notably for their hitting abilities and strong defense. Harney relished her debut in the league, ending with a 19–19 record for a .500 percentage, and posted a 2.93 earned run average while striking out 102 batters. Her teammate Nicol led the league in wins (31), ERA (1.81) and strikeouts (220), being honored Pitcher of the Year. Kenosha collected the third-best record at 56–56, but won the second-half title and earned a ticket to the playoffs. The Comets were swept by Racine in three games during the first round. Inexplicably, Nicol failed in the playoffs and went 0–2 with a 4.50 ERA. Besides this, Harney also appeared in the league's first All-Star Game during the midseason, which was played under temporary lights at Wrigley Field, between two teams composed of Blue Sox and Peaches players versus Comets and Belles players. It was also the first night game ever played in the venerable ballpark (July 1, 1943).
As a result of the success of the AAGPBL in its first year, civic groups in each of the four cities agreed to finance their own franchises. Then, the newly formed Milwaukee Chicks and Minneapolis Millerettes entered the league in 1944 and played their home games at American Association ball parks during the time periods the Milwaukee Brewers and Minneapolis Millers male teams were on road trips. As expected, the games schedule and frequent travels from one city to another increased significantly. Nevertheless, Harney went 18–14 (.562) with 88 strikeouts and a 2.84 ERA. In comparison, her teammate Nicol slipped to 17–11 (.608) but led the league with 0.93 ERA. The Comets, now managed by Marty McManus, again placed third (62–54) and made the playoffs, this time thanks to a first-half title. Kenosha took a three-two advantage in the best-of-seven series against the expansion Chicks, but Nicol lost three of four pitching matchups with Connie Wisniewski, including a 2–1, 13 inning-duel, and finished 2–3 with a 1.09 in the finals.
In 1945, Eddie Stumpf became the third different manager of Kenosha in three years, but the team suffered the worst season in franchise history. The Comets ended in last place with a 41–69 record, 26 games out of the first spot in the league. In the collective debacle, Nicol (24) and Harney (14) earned 38 of the 41 victories of their team.
But Harney developed arm and elbow problems after being overused in the previous seasons. She started 1946 with Kenosha and was traded to the expansion Fort Wayne Daisies during the midseason, compiling a collective record of 10–20 in 33 appearances that year.
In 1947 the new AAGPBL rules permitted a full sidearm pitching delivery, partly because the limited sidearm experiment of 1946 proved too difficult to enforce. Such change adversely affected many underhand pitchers who had problems adjusting to the new pitching style. Harney, for instance, injured again and opted to retire early in the season.
Harney, who never left school while she was playing for Kenosha, graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1947. She is also part of the AAGPBL permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at Cooperstown, New York, opened in 1988, which is dedicated to the entire league rather than any individual player.
- "All-American Girls Professional Baseball League – Player page".
- "All-American Girls Professional Baseball League – Rules of Play".
- "All-American Girls Professional Baseball League History".
- 1943 Kenosha Comets
- "All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Records".
- SABR Project — Doris Sams biography by Jim Sargent
- ESPN Page 2 – Reel Life: A League of Their Own - Article by Jeff Merron