(1922 - 2014)
One of the most versatile and talented Jewish
professional athletes in America was Thelma “Tiby” Eisen.
Born in Los Angeles in 1922, Tiby Eisen was a star of the All-American
Girls Professional Baseball League, the only professional womens
league in baseball history. The womens hardball league, which
lasted from 1943 to 1954, was restored to memory by the 1992 Hollywood
hit movie, "A League of Their Own." One of at least four Jewish
women in the AAGPBL, Eisen was its only Jewish superstar and a pioneer
in American womens sports.
The young Eisen was an outstanding athlete in her native
Los Angeles and started playing semi-pro softball at age 14. In 1940,
at age 18, Eisens all-around ability led her to try her hand at
womens professional football. California investors started a short-lived
womens professional football league (an undertaking that still
awaits its Hollywood chronicler) and Eisen played fullback for one of
the two Los Angeles teams. When the city council passed an ordinance
that banned women from play football within the confines of Los Angeles,
the teams traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, where, according to Eisen,
they "filled the stadium."
Before she joined the All-American Baseball League,
Eisen applied for a job at the Bank of America in Los Angeles, which
sponsored a womens softball team. The salary for women at the
bank was, Eisen recalled, about $60 per month. "Youd work
for the bank, then play for the team. I had my interview, but never
heard from them," she reported. "My girlfriend, who played
on the team, told me they didnt hire me because I was Jewish
but she didnt tell me that until twenty years later because she
didnt want to hurt my feelings."
When the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
was formed in 1943, Eisen won a spot on the Milwaukee team, which moved
the next year to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Eisens best season was
in 1946, when she led the AAGPBL in triples, stole 128 bases and made
the all-star team.
Eisens family was ambivalent about the career
choice this "nice Jewish girl" had made, although she ultimately
won their respect. "We played a big charity game in Chicago for
a Jewish hospital," Eisen recalled in an interview with historian
David Spaner. "My name and picture were in every Jewish newspaper.
My uncle, who had said, You shouldnt be playing baseball
youll get a bad reputation, a bad name, was in the
stands . . . bursting with pride that I was there."
During her professional baseball career, Eisen could
recall only one instance in which her religion was raised as an issue:
When I was playing for Fort Wayne, I was in the outfield
and thought there were three outs. There were only two, but I was coming
in from the outfield. The manager Bill Wambsganss [the first man in
major league history to complete an unassisted triple play] was waving,
Go back, go back. And he turned to one of the players sitting
on the bench and said, I never heard of a Jew that couldnt
When Eisen retired from professional baseball 1952,
she became a star for the Orange Lionettes softball team and led them
to a world championship. In 1993, she helped establish the womens
exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Eisen told
David Spaner, "Were trying to record this so we have our
place in history. Its important to keep our baseball league in
the limelight. It gets pushed into the background ... [just as] women
have been pushed into the background forever. If they knew more about
our league, perhaps in the future some women will say, Hey, maybe
we can do it again."
A footnote: In the movie "A League of their Own,"
the actress Madonna plays the character of baseball player Faye Dancer.
In 1947, the real-life Faye Dancer was traded for another player, none
other than Tiby Eisen.
Jewish Historical Society