Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bloomer Girls

Popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, "Bloomer Girl" teams traveled around playing raucous exhibition games, their title cribbed from the popular style of fanned pants that they wore as uniforms. But the teams weren't exclusively comprised of girls. Several pro ball players got their start playing on Bloomer Girl teams. Smoky Joe Wood, one of baseball's finest pitchers (and a talented outfielder, after he wrecked his pitching arm), recounts his start in Lawrence Ritter's terrific history of early baseball, as told by its players, The Glory of Their Times: 

...I might as well just take a deep breath and come right out and put the matter bluntly: the team I started with was the Bloomer Girls. 

Yeah, you heard right, the Bloomer Girls.

One day in September this Bloomer Girls team came to Ness City. In those days there were several Bloomer Girls teams that barnstormed around the county, like the House of David did 20 or 30 years later. The girls were advertised on posters around Ness City for weeks before they arrived, you know, and they finally came to town and played us and we beat them. 

Well, after the game the fellow who managed them asked me if I'd like to join and finish the tour with them. There were only three weeks left of the trip, and he offered me $20 if I'd play the infield with them those last three weeks.

"Are you kidding?" I said. I thought the guy must have been off his rocker.

"Listen," he said, "you know as well as I do that all those Bloomer Girls aren't really girls. That third baseman's real name is Bill Compton, not Dolly Madison. And that pitcher, Lady Waddell, sure isn't Rube's sister. If anything, he's his brother!"

"Well, I figured as much," I said. "But those guys are wearing wigs. If you think I'm going to put a wig on, you're crazy."

"No need to," he says. "With your baby face you won't need one anyway."

To judge from the above photo of the Bloomer Girls from Waterville, Washington, some teams boasted more than the occasional male ringer.