The Webb City Red Caps. (FRONT) Imogene Johnson (catcher), Frankie Grace (shortstop), Louise Mann (pitcher), Bertie Hensley (first base), Betty McAuliffe (short stop). (BACK) Virginia Johnson (third base). Babe Horine (left field), John Grace (manager), Marve Lassiter (center field), Dorothy Beard (second base), and Alma Spencer (right field).
Webb City Red Caps drew a crowd because they won a lot of games
One of my favorite stories to share shows up every year about this time when baseball season is going strong. The story was shared with me by Bertie Hensley Wahlstrom, and it was interesting to realize that Webb City had “A League of Their Own.” Here is Bertie’s story in her own words.
Your story about the “way back yonder” boys baseball teams brought back memories of Webb City’s only girls softball team in the “dirty thirties” (1930s).
By word of mouth, we gathered enough teenage [girls] from the north end [of town] to form a team. There was ‘no rhyme nor reason’ as to who would play what position. I ended up on first base and I loved it. We made our own uniforms, red shorts, sleeveless white blouses, white tennis shoes with red laces and anklets. And of course, a red cap. Our name was the “Webb City Red Caps.”
Our manager was John Grace, who lived on North Hall Street. He drove an ice truck and that was our mode of transportation. We’d all climb in the back of that ice truck and away we would go.
Joplin had three girls softball teams: Marquarts, Junge Bakery and an African American team. Our group averaged about 110 pounds, and the Junge and Marquart teams seemed huge to us. The pitchers and catchers had names like Butch, Chuck, Rip, and Jackie. They delighted in “accidently’ knocking me off first base as they rounded the bases. After the first time, at 5-foot-2-inches and 102 pounds, I was too agile for them.
We played Joplin and several surrounding towns. Our home base was Miner Field, located in the vicinity of the high school. We always drew a good crowd because we always won. We even beat the Webb City boys softball team. We had no training, we just liked to play ball.
The event that stands out most in my mind was when we played Donkey Baseball. A gentleman traveled around with about a dozen trained donkeys. The donkeys “played “certain positions. Our men’s team had already played with them and we couldn’t wait to follow in their wake.
We were playing Joplin’s Black team on our turf. As luck would have it, the first-base donkey was a bit larger than the rest. She was almost white and her name was Mae West. We had to stand aground, hit the ball, then jump off, pick up the ball, get back on, and throw the ball. Heaven help us if the ball went to center field. All the outfields were frantically trying to get their mounts to move toward the ball…or just move.
Needless to say, it was an hilarious show for the bleachers. They were howling and screaming with laughter. And we were out in the field trying desperately to get our steeds to do something. I’ve never had so much fun, before or since.
As I have mentioned, Mae West was of good size. I had to jump up on my stomach, then get a leg over to get astride. I did this over and over. Apparently the other team’s first basemen had been observing my maneuvers. She was quite tall and when they went to the field she gave a big leap and landed on the other side of her mount on the ground. Fortunately she wasn’t hurt.
The Webb City Red Caps played softball for two years without losing a game – until the very last game. We went to Wentworth for that last game of the season. Cool weather had suddenly moved in. We didn’t have gloves, except for our catcher. We were freezing in our cotton uniforms. Both teams were shivering. Everything was fine until the last five minutes of the game. They got a run and beat us by one point. We girls were unusually quiet riding home in that ice truck.
Three of us stayed in the area. Alma Dawson, Betty McAuliffe Stuckey and myself. I lost track of most of the other players. Marvie Lassiter McNally moved to California. The Boyers grew up in the North End. We all shared Webster School with Lilbourn Boyer and his twin sisters Lilly and Vally Boyer. The most famous family member was baseball’s V.I.P. Cletus Boyer. Lilbourn taught Marvie and me to swim out by the bridge in Center Creek . (Just a few childhood memories being shared.)
Bertie lamented… “How I wish we could all play one more game!”
A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.