By Carol Mcfadden
Wilhelmina McFadden graduated from Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She enjoyed the name and eventually adopted it as her own. ”I loved my trousers. I love cars. Most of all I loved to ride horses with no saddles. I wasn’t classified. People weren’t ready for me,” she said. the first of three women to play Negro league baseball.
Wilhelmina playing career began when she was only ten years old when she participated in a Catholic Midget League, which is similar to today’s Little League. She moved on to play for the Girl’s Highlex Softball Club in Saint Paul, Minnesota. By the age of fifteen, Wilhelmina McFadden played for the St. Paul Giants, a men semi-professional team. Wilhelmina soon began playing on Al Love’s American Legion championship team.
She began her professional career with the San Francisco Sea Lions (1949), where she batted in two runs in her first time up. Wilhelmina soon became discontented with the owner of the Sea Lions after she did not receive the pay she had been promised. She quit the team and joined the Black Pelicans of New Orleans. After a short stint with the Black Pelicans, Wilhelmina joined the New Orleans Creoles (1949–1952). She was signed by Syd Pollack, owner of the Indianapolis Clowns, in 1953 to play second base, the position Hank Aaron played for the team two years earlier. She did this as part of a publicity stunt. The Clowns were compared to the Harlem Globetrotters of the basketball world, so having a woman on the team attracted more fans. During the fifty games that Wilhelmina played for the Clowns, she maintained a .243 batting average, and one of her hits was off the legendary Satchel Paige. All of these accomplishments may make her “one of the best players you have never heard of”, according to the NLBPA website. Wilhelmina’s contract was sold to the Kansas City Monarchs prior to the 1954 season, and she retired following the season because of lack of playing time.
Wilhelmina was the first female player in the Negro Leagues, and she was not met with open arms. Most of the men shunned her and gave her a hard time because she was a woman. Wilhelmina was quite proud of the fact that the male players were out to get her. She would show off the scars on her left wrist and remember the time she had been spiked by a runner trying to take out the woman standing on second base. “He was out,” she recalled.
Even though she was part of the team, she was not allowed in the locker room. If she was lucky, she would be allowed to change in the umpire’s locker room. Once, Wilhelmina was asked to wear a skirt while playing for sex appeal, but she would not do it. Even though she felt like she was “one of the guys”, the people around her did not. While playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, she spent most the game on the bench, next to the men who hated her. “It was hell,” she said.
Wilhelmina became one of the first women to play as a regular on a big-league professional team in 1953. In 1985 Wilhelmina was inducted into the Women’s Sports Foundation’s International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 1990 she was included in two exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame, one on “Women in Baseball” and another on “Negro League Baseball”. In 1993 Wilhelmina was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, as well as the Sudafed International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 1990, Wilhelmina’s hometown of Saint Paul, Minnesota declared March 6 “Wilhelmina Day”. Saint Paul also has a field named after Wilhelmina located at the Dunning Baseball Complex.
Wilhelmina and her sister Dominika McFadden has been playing from a very young age.
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