Black and white photo of a female baseball player sliding into base as a player tries to get her out
BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

When Girls Ruled Baseball

In this touching historical-fiction play, talented teenager Georgia Baskin joins the new women’s professional baseball league while her brother is away fighting in World War II.

By Lauren Tarshis

Learning Objective: Students will identify key details in a historical fiction play that reveal the changing roles of and attitudes toward women during World War II. 

Guided Reading Level: U
DRA Level: 50
Topics: History, Sports,
UP CLOSE

Historical Fiction

As you read, look for details showing how people’s ideas about women changed during World War II.

SCENE 1
September 1941–A small town in upstate New York

N1: Georgia, Florence, and Jennie are playing catch in Georgia’s backyard.

Florence: Georgia Baskin is on the mound! She winds up, and here’s the pitch!

N2: Georgia pitches the ball to Jennie.

Jennie (catching the ball): Youch!

Georgia: Sorry, Jen! Just tryin’ out my fastball.

Jennie: Must be Frankie’s mitt. It gives you special powers.

Georgia: Those special powers won’t protect me if Frankie catches me using it.

Florence: How did Frankie get Joe DiMaggio to sign it?

Historian 1: Joe DiMaggio was the most famous baseball player in America during the 1940s.

Georgia: Dad was visiting his brother in New York City. They went to Yankee Stadium and waited in the rain for Joe to appear.

Jennie: Frankie is so lucky!

Georgia: Dad should have given me the mitt. I’m the one who loves baseball.

Historian 2: In the 1940s, women did not have the same opportunities as men. Women could not play on professional sports teams, and it was very difficult for female athletes like Georgia to be taken seriously.

Florence: Here comes Frankie.

Jennie: Uh-oh. Let’s scoot, Flo!

Frankie (charging into the yard): What did I tell you about taking my mitt?!

N3: Georgia throws the baseball in the air so high it seems to disappear into the clouds. She lines up the mitt to catch it, but Frankie yanks the mitt off her hand.

N1: The ball hits the ground in a cloud of dust.

Frankie: Real girls don’t play in the dirt.

BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

A STAR SLUGGER

From 1936 until his retirement in 1951, New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio was one of America’s most beloved ballplayers. Like many pro athletes, he joined the Army during World War II. More than 500 professional baseball players served in the military at that time.

SCENE 2
That night–The Baskins’ house

N2: As the Baskins sit down to dinner, Frankie complains about Georgia.

Frankie: I’ve told her a million times not to use my mitt! (to Georgia) Take it again and I’ll . . .

Mr. Baskin: Enough! Don’t we have more important worries than some baseball mitt?

N3: The Baskins finish their dinner in silence. Afterward, Georgia helps her mother with the dishes.

Georgia: I’m sorry.

Mrs. Baskin: They’re not really upset with you, dear. They’re just tense. The news isn’t good over in Europe.

Historian 1: World War II had erupted. Germany had taken over much of Europe.

Historian 2: Any day, America could go to war.

Georgia (quietly): Will Frankie have to fight?

Mrs. Baskin: Yes, I believe he will.

BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

DIFFICULT TIMES

Each week, thousands of young men left their homes to fight overseas in World War II. In 1939, the U.S. Army had 190,000 soldiers. By 1945, it numbered 8.3 million men and women.

SCENE 3
January 1943–The office of Philip Wrigley in Chicago

Mr. Wrigley: Gentlemen, let’s face facts. Our country is at war. Our best men are on the battlefields, not on the baseball diamonds.

Historian 1: By 1943, America was fighting Germany and Japan.

Historian 2: More than 9 million Americans were in the armed forces—

Historian 1: —including half of all Major League Baseball players.

Mr. Meyerhoff: Sir, President Roosevelt himself told us baseball is important for Americans. We need something to cheer about these days.

Mr. Wrigley: Exactly my thinking. That’s why I want to start a new league—a girls league. We’ll find the best girl players in the country, make up a few teams, and let ’em play ball.

Mr. Meyerhoff: You really think Americans want to see their girls chewing tobacco and cursing at umpires?

Mr. Wrigley: Oh, we’ll make sure they behave like ladies. We’ll dress ’em up in fetching uniforms. Even send ’em to charm school.

Mr. Meyerhoff: Brilliant. They’ll look like ladies—but they’ll play ball like gentlemen.

Mr. Wrigley: Mark my words: Americans will love this.

BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

A CAN-DO SPIRIT

As men went off to fight, women filled the jobs left behind. They worked in offices and factories. They built planes, tanks, and other equipment that helped the U.S. and its friends win the war. Women were expected to give up the jobs after the war ended.

SCENE 4
A few weeks later–A high school playing field

Jennie: Georgia, you’re a star! Did you hear your mom screaming for you?

Georgia: It’s nice to see her smiling. She’s so worried about Frankie that she rarely smiles anymore.

Jennie: Have you heard from him since he left?

Georgia: We only get scraps of news.

Florence: At least you have his Joe DiMaggio mitt. It’s bringing you luck.

Georgia: I don’t have the mitt anymore. I sent it to Frankie. I just hope he gets it.

Jennie: That’s big of you, Georgia.

Florence: He won’t have time to play baseball— not on a battleship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Georgia: Maybe the mitt will bring him luck.

N1: Florence and Jennie leave. Georgia is collecting her gear when two men walk up.

Mr. Larkin: Georgia Baskin, right?

Mr. McDonald: You’ve got quite an arm.

Georgia: Thanks.

Mr. Larkin: I’m Bill Larkin, and this here’s Joe McDonald. We’re talent scouts for a new ball league—a girls league, 100 percent professional.

Mr. McDonald: It’s going to be run by Mr. Philip Wrigley himself.

Mr. Larkin (handing Georgia a paper): This flyer explains all the details. Tryouts are in Medford this weekend, and we would like you to come. If we like you, we’ll send you to a final tryout in Chicago.

Mr. McDonald: Think about it, will you?

Georgia (thrilled): I certainly will!

MPI/GETTY IMAGES

SCENE 5
Dinnertime–The Baskins’ house

Mrs. Baskin: I’m sending another package to Frankie tomorrow. Is there anything you two want to add?

Georgia: I want to write a letter to him about the new baseball league.

Mr. Baskin: A new league?

N2: Georgia takes the paper from her pocket and smooths it out. Mrs. Baskin picks it up.

Mrs. Baskin: A girls league! Isn’t that something! Girls playing like professionals!

Georgia: Two scouts came to my game today. They said I had talent and I should try out.

Mr. Baskin (scoffing): Nobody wants to watch girls try to play baseball.

Mrs. Baskin: They line up to see Georgia pitch at the high school games. She’s amazing.

Mr. Baskin: Georgia is 16 years old. She’s not going to be in some kind of a carnival!

Georgia: Excuse me. I have a terrible headache.

N3: Georgia gets up and goes to her room sadly.

Mr. Baskin: Girls playing baseball? If only Frank could hear this. He’d have a good laugh!

Mrs. Baskin: Women are working in factories. Women are making airplanes and ships and guns. Nobody says that’s nonsense.

Mr. Baskin: That’s different. Those women are helping us win the war.

Mrs. Baskin: These are dark times. If our daughter has a chance to live her dream, I want her to take it.

Mr. Baskin: But she’s so young.

Mrs. Baskin: So is Frank. And he’s at war.

Mr. Baskin (sighing): All right. If you want to let our girl go, I won’t stop her.

JULIAN URBAN/BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

EXPECTED TO BE “LADYLIKE”

Female baseball players, like those on the Kenosha Comets, above, had to wear skirts and makeup.

SCENE 6
May 1943–Wrigley Field, Chicago

N1: Georgia aces her tryout in Medford.

N2: She is invited to Chicago for the finals.

N3: In Chicago, Georgia joins more than 250 young women trying out for just 60 spots on the league’s four teams.

N1: After fielding trials, Georgia sits on a bench next to another girl.

Georgia: Hi, I’m Georgia Baskin.

Sophie: I’m Sophie Kurys. Have you been watching some of these girls? They’re amazing.

Georgia: I’d say you’re one of the best.

Sophie: Thanks. You know, I’ve never wanted anything more in my entire life.

Georgia (smiling): Me neither.

N2: Finally, after three grueling days of tryouts, final selections are made.

N3: Georgia calls home with news.

Georgia: Mom! I made it! I’m on the Racine Belles! I’m going to be a professional baseball player!

Mrs. Baskin (worriedly): Oh, Georgia . . .

Georgia: What’s the matter?

Mrs. Baskin: We got a telegram. It’s Frank.

Georgia: What happened?

Mrs. Baskin: He’s been injured. There was an explosion on his ship. Four boys were killed. He is in a hospital in Hawaii. And . . . they don’t know if he’ll . . .

Georgia: I’m coming home.

Mrs. Baskin: No. You stay where you are. You will take this opportunity and make the most of it. Do you understand?

Georgia: Yes, Mom. Yes, I think I do.

BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

WHAT A SLIDE!

Sophie Kurys of Flint, Michigan, slides into home plate during spring training. At the time this photo was taken, she was the league’s best base-stealer.

SCENE 7
Three months later–A playing field in Racine, Wisconsin

Announcer 1: That’s it, folks—another electrifying game between our own Racine Belles and the ferocious Rockford Peaches!

Announcer 2: We had some big plays. Sophie Kurys stole three bases.

Announcer 1: And we had solid relief pitching by youngster Georgia Baskin.

Announcer 2: Let’s have a cheer for the teams!

Announcer 1: God bless America and God bless our troops!

N1: The crowd cheers.

N2: After the game, Georgia and her teammates gather in the locker room.

Sophie: I’ve never had so much fun!

Georgia: When you stole home, my heart jumped out of my chest!

Sophie: They almost nabbed me!

N3: When Georgia leaves the locker room, she is shocked to find her parents waiting outside.

Georgia: Mom? Dad? Oh no! Has something happened to Frankie?

Mrs. Baskin: No, no, he’s fine. They’ve transferred him to San Francisco.

Mr. Baskin: You were great out there, Georgia.

N1: Mr. Baskin reaches into his bag.

Mr. Baskin: Frank sent something home for you. He asked me to deliver it myself.

Georgia: The DiMaggio mitt! I knew it would bring him luck.

Mr. Baskin: Look at it, Georgia. Do you notice anything different about it?

N2: Georgia studies the mitt intently. Then her face lights up.

Mr. Baskin: Mr. DiMaggio is in the Army too. Turns out he is stationed in San Francisco. He paid a visit to Frank’s hospital, and Frank got him to sign the mitt—again. For you.

Georgia (reading): “To Georgia Baskin, a fellow pro. Keep playing in the dirt, Joe DiMaggio.”

N3: Mr. Baskin gives Georgia a hug.

Mr. Baskin (whispering): I am so proud of you.

This play was originally published in the October / November 2016 issue.  

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More About the Story

Skills

historical fiction, fluency, vocabulary, close reading, key details, character, inference, theme, key ideas, text features, explanatory writing 

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning

This play follows fictional teenager Georgia Baskin on her quest to become a professional baseball player while her brother is fighting in World War II. It also provides information about how women in the U.S. supported the war effort.

Structure

The play is mainly chronological. At key points in the action, historians provide context.

Language

The play includes some challenging academic words (e.g. fetching, scoffing, grueling), as well as metaphors and hyperbole.

Knowledge Demands 

Some familiarity with baseball terminology and what life was like in America during World War II will be helpful.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Set a Purpose for Reading (10 minutes)

  • Direct students to look at pages 20 and 21. Call on a volunteer to read aloud the title and the text on page 20. Ask: What does this suggest the play will be about? 
  • Call on another student to read the Up Close box on page 21. 
  • Draw students’ attention to the label “Historical Fiction,” in the upper left corner and in the Up Close box. Ask what it means, then confirm that historical fiction tells a story with some fictional characters but deals with real historical settings and events. 
  • In this play, Philip Wrigley, Mr. Meyerhoff, and Sophie Kurys were real people. The other characters are fictional.

Watch a Video

Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes, activity sheet online)

  • Distribute our vocabulary activity sheet to preview the highlighted terms and their definitions. 
  • Highlighted terms: erupted, fetching, charm school, grueling, telegram, electrifying, transferred, intently 

2. Reading the Play

Read and Unpack the Text (45 minutes, activity sheet online)

  • Assign parts and read the play aloud as a class. After reading, ask students to answer the close-reading questions in groups. Then regroup to discuss the critical-thinking question.

Close-Reading Questions (20 minutes)

  • In Scene 1, what is special about Frankie’s mitt? Why does Georgia think it should be hers? (key details) Frankie’s mitt is signed by Joe DiMaggio, a famous baseball player of the 1940s. Georgia thinks her dad should have given it to her instead of to her brother, because she loves baseball. At that time, however, most people did not take female athletes seriously. 
  • Scene 2 takes place in 1941. What are the Baskins worried about? What has changed by Scene 3, in 1943? (key details) The Baskins are worried that the U.S. will enter the war in Europe, and Frankie will have to go fight. By Scene 3, in 1943, America is fighting Germany and Japan. 
  • Reread Scene 3. Why does Mr. Wrigley want to start a girls baseball league? (character’s motivation) Half of all Major League Baseball players are fighting in World War II. Mr. Wrigley thinks that a girls baseball league will help people by giving them something to cheer about in hard times. 
  • What does Mr. Wrigley suggest about how the girl players will be different from boy players? Why is this important? (inference) Mr. Wrigley suggests that the girl players will be ladylike. They’ll wear “fetching uniforms” and go to “charm school.” This is important because many Americans at the time wouldn’t have wanted to see a game with girls acting tough or coarse. 
  • Reread the conversation between Jennie, Georgia, and Florence at the beginning of Scene 4. What do you learn about Frankie? (inference) You learn that Frankie is at war, stationed on a battleship in the Pacific Ocean.
  • In Scene 5, what does Mr. Baskin think about the idea of Georgia playing professional baseball? (character) He thinks it’s ridiculous. He says that no one would want to see girls “try to play baseball,” and compares it to a “carnival.” 
  • What do you learn from Mrs. Baskin about what women in the U.S. were doing during World War II? (key details) You learn that women were working in factories, making airplanes, ships, and guns to help win the war. 
  • How has Mr. Baskin changed by the end of the story? What do you think he has learned? (character/theme) Mr. Baskin is proud of Georgia for being a great baseball player. He no longer thinks it’s silly for her to play. He has learned that women can achieve things that many people thought only men could do.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • Frankie’s mitt is important for different reasons at different parts in the play. Explain how its meaning changes. (key ideas) In the beginning, the mitt is special because Joe DiMaggio signed it. But because Mr. Baskin gave it to Frankie instead of Georgia, it shows that he considered sports to be for boys. In the middle, Georgia hopes it will bring Frankie good luck in the war. By the end, Joe DiMaggio has signed it for Georgia. This shows a change in the way people think: Georgia and the other players have shown that women can play baseball and help their country in new ways. 

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Understanding Historical Fiction

  • Distribute the historical fiction activity and have students work on it in small groups. It will help them find key details in the play, photos, and captions to respond to the writing prompt on page 25.

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Focus on the text features with your students. Look at the photos and discuss the captions together. Then ask them to list facts from these text features about what was happening in America during World War II. 

For Advanced Readers

Have students watch the video “Beyond the Story: American Women During World War II.” Then ask them to use details from the play and the video to write an essay about the ways women’s roles changed during World War II.

For ELL Students

Baseball and its vocabulary could be unfamiliar to some students from other countries. Choose a group of native speakers to find words in the play related to baseball, such as plate, mound, pitch, and mitt. Have them create a picture glossary and go over it with their ELL classmates.

For Small Groups

Focus on fluency by assigning each group one scene from the play to practice reading aloud. Have groups rehearse, with members coaching each other to pay attention to the stage directions, punctuation, and characters’ feelings.

Text-to-Speech