Baker, Mary 'Bonnie'
Model, Professional Baseball Player, Baseball Manager, Sportscaster, Curling Club Manager 1919(?)-2003
Mary "Bonnie" Baker, from the June 4th, 1945 edition of Life Magazine
Many people have seen the popular movie A League of Their Own, about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Most people know that the movie was based on a true story, but how many people know that one of the inspirations for Geena Davis' character in the movie was a woman from Regina?
Mary Geraldine (George) Baker, better known as Bonnie Baker, may have provided that inspiration. Her large family, 8 brothers and sisters, were all baseball catchers, and Mary followed family tradition. She had a gift for the sport, and once hurled a baseball 343 feet. In 1943, while her husband Maurice Baker was fighting in World War II, Mary Baker was working at the Army & Navy Store as a clerk by day, and catching for the A&N Bombers at night and on the weekends. Baseball scout Hub Bishop spotted her talent, and soon Mary Baker was playing professional baseball in the United States.
The AAGPBL was the brainchild of Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum millionaire who owned the Chicago Cubs. Desperate to find a way to fill his stadium when his professional men's team was out of town, Wrigley came up with the idea for the league.
Mary Baker played on the South Bend (Indiana) Blue Sox for her first seven years in the league. She rounded out her career with the Kalamazoo (Michigan) Lassies. Although Baker was not a strong hitter (her career batting average was .235 in the regular season) she hit better in the playoffs, achieving an average of .444 in 1947 post-season play. She was also a threat on the bases, stealing 506 bases in her career, 94 of those in the 94 games of the 1946 season! Ultimately though, Baker's strongest suit was her catching. Three times in her career she was named the league's all-star catcher. In the end, Baker would play in more games than any other player in the AAGPBL - 930 regular season games and 18 playoff games.
Baker became a favourite player in the AAGPBL. She had once been a model, and the league often used her in publicity shots. Reporters began to call her "Pretty Bonnie Baker," a nickname that stuck for years. Baker appeared in Life magazine to promote the AAGPBL, and also appeared on television's What's My Line? Players in the league were required to look feminine at all times, received etiquette and grooming lessons and were accompanied by a chaperone. The uniforms for the league featured a short-sleeved belted tunic dress, hardly a practical choice for base stealers! Baker often struggled to keep her hairdo intact while pulling a catcher's mask off and on.
Although Baker had promised her husband that she would quit playing once he came back from the war, she continued her baseball career for years after his return. (Maurice, who died in 1962, was very proud of her performance on the field.) In 1950 Baker was traded to the Kalamazoo Lassies, where she became the first-ever player/manager, the only player ever to hold that position. (A rule was passed after the 1950 season outlawing female managers.) Baker sat out the 1951 season to have a baby, her only child Maureen. In 1952 she returned to play one more season then retired to spend more time with her family. The AAGPBL folded in 1954 - the return of male players to pro baseball and the advent of television hastened the demise of the financially troubled league.
Mary Baker continued to be involved in sports even after her retirement. She played on the Regina Legion softball club and eventually helped to take them to the 1953 ladies' world softball championship in Toronto. She also became involved with the Wheat City Curling Club, where she eventually became the manager. In 1964-1965 she became Canada's first female sportscaster when she took a job with CKRM Radio. Baker was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame (as an honorary member), and her name is part of the display on the AAGPBL in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Mary "Bonnie" Baker died in December 2003. At her funeral, mourners celebrated her career by singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game.