Full Count is thrilled to share this guest post for Day 47 by Eric Feld.
Today is 47 days, which is five days and six weeks of the omer: hod she’b’malchut.
Growing up, one of my go-to movies was always A League of Their Own. It was the movie that really sparked my love for baseball history. I felt a special pride knowing that the movie was filmed at Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana, near where my dear sweet Bubbe—a serious St. Louis Cardinals fan—lived. I would watch it, rewind it (yes—this was in the days of VHS), and repeat for days on end. The scene where Kit Keller plows into Dottie Hinson at home plate always gave me chills. Did Kit really knock the ball out of Dottie’s hand?! Did Dottie throw the game to put sisterhood above baseball?! I’ll probably lay awake tonight thinking about that just like I did when I was 7 . . .
The movie offers a beautiful homage to the AAGPBL (All-American Girls Professional Baseball League), which was founded to keep baseball in the public eye when so many MLB players were fighting overseas during World War 2. In light of the noble patriotism and toughness of the women who played in the AAGPBL, the story is marred by the fact that the league never did allow African Americans to play.
Enter the legend of Mamie Peanut Johnson—the only woman to pitch in the Negro Leagues.
Nicknamed “Peanut” because of her short 5’3” stature, Johnson was a hard-throwing pitcher for the Indianapolis Clowns of the professional Negro American League, who frustrated hitters with her perfect curveball. After being barred from trying out for the AAGPBL, Johnson was angry but determined to prove that she had what it takes to be a professional baseball player. Needless to say, as a black woman, Johnson faced an especially tough uphill battle in realizing her dreams.
And man was she tough! Her 33-8 record meant that she had an unbelievable 80% winning percentage—while playing against all men. For comparison, that’s a better winning percentage than that of every single pitcher in the Hall of Fame. Okay, so the sample size is skewed by the fact that she only played for three years. But here’s an interesting comparison: Johnson’s winning percentage was higher than Clayton Kershaw’s in his three combined Cy Young Award-winning seasons (77.3%). Oh yeah, and she also batted a solid .273 from the plate—a highly successful statistic for a pitcher.
It’s a shame that we will never know exactly how good Johnson could have been had she been given a fair shot. Although Major League Baseball was desegregating by the time Johnson reached the Negro League pros, she never did get her shot at playing against the stars of the MLB. If playing pro ball as the only black woman wasn’t tough enough, Johnson retired in 1955 a to focus on raising her son, Charles, and graduating from college to become a nurse.
In so many ways, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson is the perfect ambassador for today’s sefirot. Exceptionally talented and fiercely independent, Johnson was never arrogant regarding her skill. Moreover, her dedication to baseball was completely focused on her love of the game rather than self-glorification. Although Johnson was frustrated by the incredible injustices that she faced as a black woman in her profession, she knew how important it was to barnstorm by playing against white players on the road. That’s because she knew that she could make the game—and the world—more perfect by winning over her doubters by proving her talents.
As we near the completion of our journey to Sinai through the Omer, we are keenly aware of the emotional complexity of the world in which we live. This complexity leads to a world of inherent imperfection. Each of us, however, harbors special talents for making the world more perfect. Those talents shine brighter through conscientiousness and humble awareness of our place in the world. Let’s count day 47 in honor of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, a short person who made baseball—and the world—a lot more perfect in breaking down barriers and stereotypes by way of her perfect curveball.
Eric Feld is a third-year rabbinical student at Hebrew College. He loves Minor League Baseball and will take a Durham Bulls game over a Major League game any day of the year.