Vada Corbus: Almost a Great Catch

SHORT STOPS is a place where I share illustrations I’ve done that do not come with a long format story, just a small story about a big character
 
 
While some women ballplayers were nothing more than publicity stunts, others, such as Alta Weiss or the “Bloomer Girls” barnstorming teams, could hold their own against low level semi-pro competition. But while most women played with “all-girl” teams on the fringes of outsider baseball, Vada Corbus is a bit different; she tried out for and apparently made a minor league ball club.

VADA CORBUS came from a baseball playing family. Luke, her eldest brother, was the catcher for their hometown Joplin Miners of the Class C Western League. By 1931, 19 year-old Vada had been playing in the Joplin City League for three years and was known for her ability to handle any position, including catcher. When her brother Luke was moved to the Miners’ outfield, Vada was one of the aspiring catchers to try out for the vacant spot. In April 1931, newspapers reported that the Joplin Miners had signed her to a contract.

Just weeks earlier, Jackie Mitchell made headlines when she appeared as a pitcher for the Chattanooga Lookouts and struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game. The whole thing was thought to be a staged publicity stunt, and the Miners’ front office tried hard to separate Vada’s signing from Mitchell’s stunt. Club official Red Wilson told sports writers that the team signed the 19 year-old for her speed afoot and ability to handle pitchers. Wilson went so far as to tell sports writers, “The girl hits them like Ty Cobb” and “She hasn’t the power for home runs, but she’s clever at the plate – hard to pitch to – and she places her hits mighty carefully.” “Hard to pitch to” was an understatement: at 5’-3” and 150 pounds, Vada offered opposing pitchers what may have been the smallest strike zone in the history of the minor leagues.

Vada suited up as a bullpen catcher during a pre-season exhibition game and was fully expected to be with the team when they played their season opener on April 30th, 1931. When The New York Times finally picked up the story, Western League officials quickly put an end to Vada’s career before it began, throwing out the stock excuse that baseball was no place for a woman. The argument holds water, of course – Vada Corbus was quite petite and there would be many logistical issues to deal with like travel and locker rooms, things that really impacted low-level minor league teams during the Depression. However, it would have been interesting to see if Vada really had the talent to hold her own had she been given the chance.

I hope you enjoyed another of my SHORTSTOPS stories. Let me know what you think in the comments below…

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