Art-Forms: Preserving the Visual Legacy of Women in Baseball

If sorting through stacks of vintage programs and pouring over their hand-lettered advertisements floats your root beer, then the work of Anika Orrock will absolutely blow your mind.

Orrock’s aesthetic harkens back to a golden age of youth, one where you sat at the breakfast table next to your father. He’d silently slip you the funnies, a brow rising above his glasses as he eyed you over the sports section. If you were lucky he’d bring you up to speed not only on the exploits of Snoopy and the Red Baron but also on the stats for the local ball club.  

After previously talking to Orrock in our coverage of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Reunion logo, I knew we had to bring more of her work to our SportsLogos.Net readers. I was interested in getting her perspective on not only preserving the visual legacy of her subjects but also the general state of art and illustration in the context of baseball today. With her unique experience and interest, Orrock brings to the table a view of baseball and the women’s game in particular that can’t be found elsewhere.

Picture tweed-clad spectators shielding their eyes from the sun as they follow the trajectory from the crack of the bat, and then a “SLAP!” echoes out as it hits the outstretched glove of one of those “diamond gals.” The image conjured up of this, for me anyways, has always appeared as it had on the big screen by the likes of Geena Davis and Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own.” Orrock’s illustrations provide a different point of view, painting a more historically accurate landscape, one carefully stoked in the sweat, grit and humour that these girls embodied.

In Orrock’s new book, The Incredible Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, she transports you to the park, the sights and sounds and even the smells are tossed off the page as your eyes meander through each sketch. In terms of methodology, she prefers to pull from real life.  “The lines of movement performed by players on a field, things overheard, emotions, and little vignettes happening in a ballpark”, Orrock says. “Those things provide feelings that I can’t put into my artwork by simply sitting at my desk. I know I’m on to something good if I giggle out loud while drawing.”

While fun to research, the book did present challenges in terms of creating an accurate representation of the players for Orrock. In the case of the AAGPBL, we know very little about the iconic short-skirted uniforms emblazoned with circular team crests in comparison to the men’s leagues. In existence for only twelve years and with many of the physical artifacts gone or collecting dust in some Peoria attic, the visual history of the league is limited. For Orrock, researching the book meant hours of deep dives into Pinterest and the like. “It was so important to me that every detail be as historically accurate as possible in both the writing and illustrations”, says Orrock. “Accuracy is particularly important when presenting chapters of history that have been long overlooked or historically misrepresented, which is pretty common with chapters of American history involving women and people of colour. I wanted to be sure that anyone learning about this league for the first time would be seeing and reading the truth.”

So how do you research the uniforms, typefaces and logos of a short-lived but iconic league when information is sparse? Well, you dig deep. “Many of the colour images available online are of reproduction uniforms, so I really scoured for images of actual player uniforms on display in museums or taken by players themselves”, says Orrock. “The other tricky thing is that many of the teams and uniforms changed location, logo, and colour from year to year. For example, the South Bend Blue Sox remained the South Bend Blue Sox for the duration of the league, but the shade of blue used on the uniforms varied throughout the years.”

There has been a marked resurgence of interest in the AAGPBL recently, resulting in new research and increased online discussion so it makes sense that people are thirsting for new visual representations of the period. But protecting the “visual legacy” of the league is of utmost importance to Orrock. “It’s such a great time to bring the story and stories of the AAGPBL to light and, from an artistic standpoint, it’s a visually wonderful legacy.”

“To me, the point is not that these women were required to play baseball in skirts, but that they played really good baseball at a very unlikely time despite wearing skirts,” Orrock says when asked about the pull of the league and its broad appeal despite it being, what many would describe as a “misogynistic” entity. “The beautiful irony is, without the skirts and the lipstick, the league would have almost certainly failed to succeed, let alone exist. Without the charm school and makeup and those completely impractical uniforms, over 600 women would not have realized the seemingly impossible dream of playing professional baseball.”

Anika Orrock

How do we continue to protect the history of the AAGPBL and bring it’s heroines to new audiences? With visual representations like Orrock’s book and the forthcoming “A League of Their Own” Amazon series pilot currently in production, we’re certainly headed in the right direction. 

“I recently had the absolute pleasure of spending a couple of days sketching on the film set for the pilot of the new Amazon series. Talk about promoting and protecting a visual legacy! The uniforms and costumes (actual vintage threads) were amazing; walking into that ballpark, I actually got a bit emotional. The creators have really invested time in getting it all right, I sincerely hope it goes to series.”

The Incredible Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is being released on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, from Chronicle Books and will be available at Anika’s website along with signed copies along and prints featuring illustrations from the book or from wherever books are sold. You can look for Anika at Yankee Stadium later this year as she’ll be on-field to toss out the ceremonial first pitch before the Yankees host the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 5.

Click here for a chance to win a copy of Anika Orruck’s new book The Incredible Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

Art-Forms is a new series presented by Kristen Meyer profiling artists who focus on sports and sports history in their work