Seventy-six years ago, a chewing gum magnate and Major League Baseball owner by the name of Phillip K. Wrigley had a crazy notion, to have women play professional baseball. The world was at war, and with millions of North American men, including some of baseball’s biggest stars having been deployed to active service, Wrigley set out to preserve baseball for the duration of the war.
In 1943, the inaugural season of the world’s first professional women’s league brought in thousands of fans, generated revenue for the cities in which the teams were based and created a tangible entertainment outlet for a down-trodden public. Wrigley strategically placed four original teams in the Midwest production towns of Kenosha and Racine, Wisconsin; South Bend, Indiana; and Rockford, Illinois then set about sending scouts to gather talent from every amateur Women’s softball team from Illinois to as far north as Saskatchewan, Canada. After instituting a carefully crafted branding approach including specially designed short-skirted uniforms and an aggressive advertising campaign, the image of the AAGPBL player became iconic, quickly appearing on the cover of several major magazines and for the first time, the image of women playing baseball became commonplace.
While the league itself lasted only twelve years, the legend of these “girls” has continued to grow. In 1992, the movie “A League of their Own” wowed film-goers with its epic tale of women in baseball, the public took notice and the story almost achieved a mythological-like status, not just for women but all baseball fans. The movie has since become a cult classic, bringing in $132 million (USD) at the box office.
This week, the former players, staff, and associate members of the AAGPBL will meet to tell their stories, engage with a new generation of baseball fans and reminisce about some of the best days of their lives during the 2019 Player Reunion in Syracuse, New York. It’s the third time the reunion has been held there and “the highlight when we come to Syracuse is certainly always for the players and the associate members to get to go to Cooperstown and see the permanent display that they have of women in baseball… of course, it’s hallowed ground for baseball,” says Donna McLin of the AAGPBL.
This year, the league has undertaken to create a modernized image for the reunion, which is highlighted by the design of a commemorative logo created by illustrator and visual storyteller Anika Orrock. McLin tells us that the purpose of the new logo was for “Communicating the enthusiasm for the reunion,” and she and the other members of the League agree that it certainly captures the spirit of the reunion.
“The determination in the players’ eyes, being honed in on that ball, these women were first and foremost athletes, good athletes,” McLin told SportsLogos.Net. “While the tunic uniform is certainly something that Wrigley saw as a way to promote the game (the feminism aspect of it) they were first and foremost ballplayers and they were honed in on that. I think the eyes express that in the logo she created.”
Based out of California, Orrock is known for her often humorous and personal take on the culture of baseball. Her unique perspective as a fan and associate member of the AAGPBL makes her the perfect narrator for the logo. Last year, on a trip to Yankee Stadium where the league and it’s players were being honoured, she was visiting with the “absolutely wonderful” Shelley McCann, the AAGPBL Players’ Association member tasked with planning this year’s reunion. “She asked if I’d be willing to take the job [of designing the logo],” Orrock recalls, “of course, I said yes.” The life Orrock has brought to the new design is refreshing while paying homage to a vintage style.
The logo itself, a roundel featuring a hand-illustrated character image was completed in only a handful of days, with a book about the AAGPBL in the works, “timing the start and finish of the logo was sort of like trying to jump through the next open car of a moving train” says Orrock. “I started gathering reference and sketching my logo ideas on June 1st and delivered the final art on June 10th, which isn’t totally crazy, but I’d never want to get in the habit of it”
The logo pays tribute to the patches worn by AAGPBL players on the front “bib” of their uniform.
“I knew right from the beginning that I wanted to incorporate the circular uniform logos. Every team had their own circular logo embroidered to the chest of each uniform. The center circle often contained the city seal or something representative of the team’s home city, then within a circle surrounding that would be the embroidered letters of the team’s city and name (i.e. “City of Racine” “Belles”). The uniform logos are so classic and iconic and, well, already logos, so the concept practically designs itself”
The star of the logo is the semi-profile image of the player, which reminds us of the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” image so burned into our collective consciousness. In an effort to bring some life to the design while also paying tribute to the Hall of Fame, Orrock said she decided that if she “was going to try and visually encapsulate” what she felt was “the spirit of the league”, she was going to need to focus more on the face of the design. “Tenacity, grit, toughness, skill, confidence, fun — those were the immediate things that came to mind, so I wanted those to be reflected in the face of a ballplayer in that moment they’re waiting for the pitch.”
“Generally the players association is usually very good about not trying to earmark an image as a specific person,” McLin said when asked if the logo represented any one particular player. “There were over 600 women who played and they’re very good at that line in the song ‘We’re all for one and one for all’ – they truly realize what all the women who played contributed to the historical aspect of the league.”
“We are in a time where women are finally being considered more seriously in sports,” Orrock added. “Not just as players, but as spectators and fans, too. It has always baffled me that professional sports’ marketing has not been privy to the fact that such a huge percentage of their fan base and market is women. Baseball is such a storied, historic, and nostalgic element of American culture that its heroes take on this sort of folkloric quality. We know their names and reference them as ‘the great’ or ‘the legendary’. There is such a long history of women in baseball, but their stories have long been invisible, and many of them are very much deserving of that same reverence. The great Jean Faut, the legendary Effa Manly. Women need heroes, too, and to have them in baseball is just so meaningful.”
Anyone can become an associate member of the AAGPBL and with each membership comes a new opportunity to pass along knowledge about the league. “I consider as we are losing them (the original players), that our role as associate members who’ve had the opportunity is that we are now the first generation storytellers,” McLin says. “There will come a point in time where there are no original members sadly. Anika’s art likewise can communicate that as well, not as an oral storyteller but as a visual storyteller.”
If you would like to become an associate member or to learn more about supporting the league, you can do so at the official AAGPBL website, a wealth of valuable resources and articles about the league. Of course, you can also visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown and their “Women in Baseball” exhibit to see the archive first-hand.
You can follow Orrock’s work on her personal site here, and check out her forthcoming book “The Incredible Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League” with a foreword written by Jean Afterman, Assistant General Manager of the New York Yankees. It will be released March 3, 2020, and is available for presale now at Amazon.
Below our entire interview with Anika Orrock, including some great info and thoughts behind the design process:
1. What were the circumstances surrounding the awarding of the design to you? Were you approached by the Players Association?
Well, as some may or may not know, last year marked the 75th anniversary of the inaugural year of the AAGPBL. I had the pleasure of being commissioned by the Players Association to create a commemorative piece of art for the anniversary, and I had donated several pieces of art and a couple of books to the association prior to that, so they were familiar with my work (which has greatly been inspired by the AAGPBL!).
I also had the absolute pleasure of serving as a sort of odd connecting piece between the New York Yankees organization and the AAGPBL Player’s Association, so I was lucky enough to be present in August of last year when the Yankees celebrated the anniversary and honoured the league and a handful of former players on the field in a pre-game ceremony. The Yankees organization was just incredible, they treated the players, associate members and guests like royalty. They provided a beautiful room in the stadium with food and drinks where we could mingle and fans could visit for autographs, and as I was visiting with the absolutely wonderful Shelley McCann, the AAGPBL Players’ Association member who is planning this year’s reunion, she asked if I’d be willing to take the job! So, of course, I said yes!
2. Were you given any specific parameters to work within?
No, not really! Just that they wanted a logo specifically for the 2019 reunion in Syracuse. The visit to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame is such a special and significant part of this reunion, Shelley agreed it only appropriate to somehow incorporate that while trying to somehow visually distil the spirit of the league.
3. When did the process begin?
You’d think having known a year in advance, I’d have started long ago! To be fair, I warned them that it was about to be a very busy year for me. That visit to Yankees Stadium last year was, ironically, just when I was getting started on my own book about the AAGPBL. Deadlines are a good thing, but this book was such a tremendous undertaking and every deadline from the publisher felt borderline impossible! So timing the start and finish of the logo was sort of like trying to jump through the next open car of a moving train – ha!
Anyway, I had to wait for the week the publisher was reviewing my initial sketches, so I started gathering reference and sketching my logo ideas on June 1st and delivered the final art on June 10th, which isn’t totally crazy, but I’d never want to get in the habit of it!
4. Can you talk about the design components of the logo and why they were chosen?
Sure! Well, I knew almost right from the beginning that I wanted to incorporate the circular uniform logos. For those who might not know, every team had their own circular logo embroidered to the chest of each uniform. The center circle often contained the city seal or something representative of the team’s home city, then within a circle surrounding that would be the embroidered letters of the team’s city and name (i.e. “City of Racine”, then “Belles”). The uniform logos are so classic and iconic and, well, already logos, so the concept practically designs itself! What would go in the center circle of that design, however, required a bit more thought.
As I mentioned, I knew I wanted to incorporate the Hall of Fame and for a while, tried to somehow work in the bronze statue they have of an AAGPBL player swinging a bat. I sketched that forty-seven ways ’til Sunday, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I finally determined the reason I wasn’t feeling it was because it had no feeling! Every artist and designer is different, but speaking entirely for myself, the goal and the joy of my work is the emotion going into and coming out of everything I create. Of course, I’m a borderline obsessive perfectionist and I want things to look good, but I would always gladly sacrifice technical perfection for feeling. Needless to say, I decided if I was going to try and visually encapsulate what I feel is the spirit of the league, I was gonna need more face! So I gave some thought to the most “emotional” moments in a baseball game when there is the most anticipation, excitement, and intensity. I then explored other visually iconic elements of the Hall of Fame, which is just a massive treasure trove of everything iconic in baseball!
It felt overwhelming trying to pinpoint something and I just sat there staring at Baseball Hall of Fame website homepage wondering where to navigate…when I realized I had been staring at their logo – the iconic, “Hellooooo, Ken Burns!” Logo they’ve had for ages; the Stars and Stripes and circular shape of the baseball—BINGO! I just love those moments when you’re just about to slide out of your chair into a pool of inspirational despondency and then “SMACK!”, as if the creativity gods are like, “Uh, hello…it’s right HEEERE!”. It’s so satisfying.
5. The AAGPBL player profile is one of the most iconic images in sport, how did you approach creating an updated version of this that was new and fresh?
Like I mentioned a bit above, I was just aiming for the emotional spirit of the league. When I thought on emotional and exciting moments in a ball game, I thought about that moment a batter is waiting for the pitch. To me, it’s one of the most exciting moments in a game, when you know anything can happen and there’s that split second before it does.
But then, of course, I made a little mental list of adjectives I think of when trying to articulate the spirit of the AAGPBL. Tenacity, grit, toughness, skill, confidence, fun — those were the immediate things that came to mind, so I wanted those to be reflected in the face of a ballplayer in that moment they’re waiting for the pitch.
That’s all likely way overthinking for a logo, but I’m a story and character person who just started out as a graphic designer, so I’m always creating ridiculous backstories for things that really don’t require it. There was probably a point in designing this logo when I named the woman and her parents and her dog and the street she lived on… I’m a nut.
6. Do you have a personal connection to the AAGPBL? Are you a member?
I am a proud member, yes! I have been illustrating baseball for several years, but about 3 years ago I had this weird realization that I was only ever around men and drawing men and telling stories about men…which is fine! Especially because I often got to draw in the broadcast area – I’d never ever complain about that!
But the realization brought about all sorts of questions, thoughts and ideas. I’ve sort of always found myself involved in masculine “worlds” – I grew up snowboarding and loving baseball, most of my best friends were guys and nearly all of my heroes up until my 30s were men. There is certainly enough going on in the world to inspire any woman to want to link arms, support, and represent, but I also just personally felt a strong need to inform and educate myself, to get some more heroes, and to use what I have and what I do to start telling different and important stories and stories I personally identify with. I had the idea for the AAGPBL book, on a whim pitched it to my favourite publisher (pun applicable!), Chronicle Books, they said yes (which is INSANITY!), so the first thing I did was plan my trip to Cincinnati for the 2017 players’ reunion. I didn’t know a soul! I just brought a bunch of my artwork to give to players and donate and tried as hard as I could not to bother anyone! The associates and players were just so welcoming and friendly and fun – it was the most incredible experience! Needless to say, I was in love. I’ve since had the tremendous opportunity of interviewing several players, some now sadly passed on, and developing friendships. With or without the book, it’s been the experience of a lifetime.
7. Why was this an important project for you to take on?
Whether 2019 ends up being the final reunion or not, there may not be many of reunions left. It’s of course an honour to be associated with the league or have my work represent the AAGPBL in any way, but truthfully, it was important to me because my work is the best way—and sometimes the only way—I can contribute. If I had a spare million, I’d fund some sort of artifact preservation project or women’s baseball education program or just pay for every player to attend the reunion! But I don’t, so I just do my best with my time and my craft.
8. There has been a resurgence of interest in the AAGPBL of late, can you speak to the importance of keeping this league alive for girls and women (and beyond)?
Oh, boy, where do I begin?? Well, to start, I am so gratified to know there is a resurgent interest in the AAGPBL. Again with my ignorance, but I’ve been so wholly immersed in the league’s history these past couple of years, I’m never sure if what I’m seeing out in the world about the league is a symptom of that – like, either I notice it more readily or Google and Pinterest just throw it at me based on my search history? But I know Ebbet’s Field Flannels now has a new line of AAGPBL, Latin American Feminine Basebol League, and other historical women’s baseball reproductions. I love their stuff, but women have been a major afterthought with them for a long time. It’s great to see.
We are in a time where women are finally being considered more seriously in sports. Not just as players, but as spectators and fans, too. It has always baffled me that professional sports’ marketing has not been privy to the fact that such a huge percentage of their fan base and market is women! For so long, everything geared toward female fans has felt so …consolation-y. Like, here’s a massive selection of “unisex” team merchandise, but it’s all huge and mannish…or you can take this little pizzazzy tank top with sequins!
Baseball is such a storied, historic, and nostalgic element of American culture that its heroes take on this sort of folkloric quality. We know their names and reference them as “the great” or “the legendary”. There is such a long history of women in baseball, but their stories have long been invisible, and many of them are very much deserving of that same reverence. The great Jean Faut, the legendary Effa Manly. Women need heroes, too, and to have them in baseball is just so meaningful.
In terms of girls and women who want to play baseball and are tired of being ushered into the entirely different sport of softball by default, there are some great organizations—even MLB!— who are starting to get things rolling and helping to provide that option and further opportunities.
I think when any tide is shifting and bringing awareness to a possibility, the natural and productive thing to do is make connections to the past—to give it context, to look back and see that where we stand is the result of the perseverance and sacrifice of those before us. It provides us with a sense of purpose knowing we owe it to those people to continue their work and we owe the same opportunities to those ahead of us. There’s also tremendous importance in knowing that something which feels impossible has happened before. There has not been a league for professional women’s baseball in the U.S. since the AAGPBL folded in 1954 which, considering baseball is America’s pastime, is kind of crazy! For girls and women who dream of that possibility, in baseball or in anything, it provides a great amount of hope to know that the thing they dream about not only happened, but happened in an even more unlikely time. That hope is fuel. It’s imperative that the legacy of the league retains life. Same goes for the Negro Leagues, the Cubanas, and beyond baseball.
9. How important is it to tell and retell the stories of these incredible women and for you, where does humour fit into the conversation?
Oh, gosh. I guess I covered most of that in my ranting above – ha! But you know…story in general is SO important, so couple that with my passion for baseball, the league, and reasons mentioned above.
Technology has tremendous assets and provides us with a world of information at our fingertips, which was certainly advantageous when I started this book. But with everything moving toward automation and precision, and with modern conversations constantly revolving around human relevance in an advancing world of technology, the sharing and passing down of personal stories and experiences only becomes more important.
I heard a story on NPR recently about the impending extinction of an occupation; for hundreds of years, there have always been people whose job is to climb to the highest peaks of national forests at the beginning of fire season and keep watch for signs of wildfires igniting. Now there are drones and infrared cameras and such. But one of these climbers made the point that while drones may be able to spot an actual line of smoke and report it to the ground more quickly, it can never convey the meaning or purpose or devastation of fire to others. It can’t describe the wildlife or the smells or the miraculous workings of a forest ecosystem firsthand in a way that will make someone thing “WOW…I want to help” or “WOW…I really shouldn’t throw my cigarette butts into the bushes when I’m hiking”- ha!
You could relate that to anything. When we hear real stories from and about real people, we instantly plug ourselves in. We start feeling the feelings and imagining ourselves in the moment, and THAT is how we are most affected and most effective as humans.
Humour fits into just about any conversation as far as I’m concerned. I think humor is the greatest, most advanced tool of our species. I mean – how great is it that we can laugh and make one another LAUGH?! It’s such a tremendous decompression and cure for just about anything. But I also think humour is a wonderful way to instantly connect to one another with warmth and relatability. Humor is endearing and a relief. No one is not relieved by humour. Because of humor, a car mechanic can walk into a cocktail party of brain surgeons and oil tycoons in a grease-covered jumper and, if he or she is warm, friendly, and tells a great joke, they’ll instantly be the life of the party.
Many of the AAGPBL players’ stories just make us want to cringe now. The lipstick, the skirts, the things people said about them or yelled from the stands. But the unlikely time of the league and the amazing positive ripple effect it had — on the women themselves and on others— renders so much of that irrelevant in comparison that it’s easy to view those things as absurd. And if we can point out the most sexist and patronizing and cringey moments with humour, we are using that connection, we’re getting through to people in an accessible way and saying “isn’t that just ABSURD?!”, rather than overwhelming them with seriousness and the resulting feelings of responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, there are many serious elements to discrimination that need to be addressed seriously. But I’m not a serious person and I don’t create serious work, so I selfishly attach myself to anything where humour is possible.
10. You live in the Bay Area… So what’s your team? A’s or Giants?
I knew at 10 years old when I was freezing my ass off in the middle of July at Candlestick park that I was committed to the Giants. My grandparents were Giants fans and I loved everything they loved! I do love the A’s, though – what a great team and fan base! I’ll root for the A’s any day they aren’t playing the Giants.