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Mildred Earp | Pitching in a League of Her Own


In 1968, Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals had what many baseball writers call the greatest pitching year in modern baseball history. Gibson won 22 and lost 9 with a 1.12 ERA. Thirteen of his 22 wins were shutouts, and he struck out 268 hitters. Gibson was named the National League Cy Young Award winner and the league MVP.

Twenty years earlier in another league, a pitcher from West Fork, Arkansas, had a similar but less acclaimed season. Mid Earp won 20 games and lost eight with an ERA of 0.68. The 21-year-old Arkansan made the All-Star team as a rookie while recording the second-best season ERA in league history. Earp’s team ended the 1947 season by winning their league’s version of the World Series. In an appropriate climax to the remarkable season, Earp won the decisive seventh game 1-0.

Gibson’s mark was set in the National League and is still prominently reviewed as one of baseball’s greatest seasons. Earp’s record was in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a historic organization made famous in 1992 by the popular movie A League of Their Own. Earp’s accomplishments were a lost story in the history of Arkansas baseball until her baseball life was saved from obscurity by two friends in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

A League of Their Own 1992, Women in Baseball display at the Baseball Hall of Fame

The movie, a comedy/drama starring Tom Hanks and Geena Davis, was loosely based on the AAGPBL. A League of Their Own’s mid-summer release was well-received by both fans and critics and brought renewed attention to the women’s baseball league that existed from 1943 to 1954. The AAGPBL was created when many minor league seasons were canceled due to the large percentage of players in military service during World War II. A display in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, also honors the league with a special tribute.

Although the AAGPBL provided a professional baseball league to women who had not had that opportunity before its inception, the founders saw women’s baseball more as a business opportunity. League leadership, including Cubs’ owner, Phillip K. Wrigley, and Dodgers’ owner/general manager, Branch Rickey, hoped the new league would be an opportunity to keep the game in the public eye while baseball was recovering from the player shortage.

Phillip Wrigley left and Branch Rickey right

Originally, the women’s pro league played a game related to fast-pitch softball, but by the late 1940s overhand pitching and smaller ball sizes had moved the game much closer to men’s baseball. Twenty-one-year-old Mid Earp arrived in the league in 1947, the peak of the AAGPBL’s popularity.

Mildred Kathryn Earp was born October 7, 1925, in West Fork, Arkansas. Although her family is distant relatives of Marshall Wyatt Earp, the West Fork Earps pronounce their name “Arp.” “Millie” was raised by her Aunt Dollie and Uncle Thomas McKnight. Uncle Thomas, known locally as “Toots,” was an outstanding pitcher on the town team, and Mildred took to the game immediately. According to baseball historian Ronny Clay, who “discovered” Mid’s story in 2020, Uncle Toots taught his young niece “how to pitch overhand, master a curve ball, and throw it where I wanted it to go.”

After graduating from high school in 1943, Earp enrolled at the University of Arkansas to become a coach or physical education teacher. She had no dreams of professional baseball. All that changed the summer before her senior year at U of A. An ad in a local newspaper led to a successful tryout for the All-American Girls Professional League in Racine, Wisconsin. On August 6, 1946, Earp became a member of the Grand Rapids Chicks.

The rookie would join her new teammates the next April for spring training in Havana, Cuba. The Brooklyn Dodgers were also holding spring training in Havana, but the novelty of women playing baseball made the Chicks the major attraction. By the time May arrived and the regular season began, “Mid” had a new nickname and a month of valuable experience in Cuba. Mid Earp immediately became a star in the AAGPBL.

Grand Rapid Chicks, 1947 AAGPBL Playoff Champions, Mid Earp top row second from left

In 1947, the Grand Rapids Chicks finished second in the regular season four games behind the Muskegon Lassies. Rookie Mid Earp was nothing short of sensational. In 35 games, Earp posted the league’s best ERA (0.68). Her 20 pitching wins were third in the league, and Earp’s 192 strikeouts were second in the AAGPBL. Earp was chosen as the 1947 Rookie of the Year and named to the mid-season All-Star team.

The playoff finals went to a deciding seventh game. Mid Earp drew the pitching assignment against veteran Anna Mae Hutchingson of the Racine Belles. In a fitting end to her dream rookie season, Earp shut out the Belles 1-0. Rookie Mid Earp had earned $50 a month for the regular season and took home about $360 from her playoff share. After the playoffs, she joined other AAPBL stars on a tour of Latin America. It was a dream year for the rookie from Arkansas.

Mid Earp 1947 Grand Rapid Chicks

Earp would play three more seasons for the Grand Rapids Chicks, and although she continued to pitch well, she never reached the remarkable success of her rookie season. In 1948, Earp went 15-14 with an excellent 1.31 ERA that ranked sixth in the league. She pitched her only professional no-hitter in the Spring Championship Series on April 28, 1948.

In 1949,  Earp posted a 14–10 record with 143 strikeouts and a 1.83 ERA. Grand Rapids finished third with a 57–54 record. The Chicks lost in the semifinals of the playoffs to the eventual champion Rockford Peaches.

The AAGPBL introduced a livelier baseball in 1950 and the league’s finances were in free fall. Although she was only 25 years old Earp had lost her enthusiasm for pro baseball. The Chicks were no longer a contender, but Mid Earp had a college degree and choices beyond baseball. She moved to California, became a successful businesswoman and a championship golfer.

Mildred Earp was a gifted athlete. After taking up golf in California, she became an accomplished local golfer. In the mid-1950s, she won several club tournaments, recorded a hole-in-one, and reached the semi-finals of the Los Angeles City Championship.

Golf lesson from legendary Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Mid Earp Champion Golfer

Earp enjoyed her days in California until 1982, when her Aunt Dollie’s declining health brought her back to West Fork. Mildred Katherine Earp remained in her hometown until her death in 2017.

Finding Mid Earp

In 2020, baseball historian Ronny Clay of Fayetteville discovered the Mid Earp story. Clay knows Arkansas baseball history well and loves stories about the first half of the 20th century. He had never heard of Mid Earp, who starred in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, although she grew up about 10 minutes from his home.

Clay is a retired bank examiner. While he claims to be a reluctant writer, his background makes him a relentless researcher. With the help of his old friend and fellow bank examiner Joe Miles, the two researchers rescued the obscure story of one of Arkansas’ outstanding women athletes. On April 27, Mildred Kathryn Earp will be inducted into the West Fork High School Hall of Fame. Congratulations to Earp’s family and to Ronny Clay and Joe Miles.

NOTE: The result of Clay and Joe’s research is a complete chapter on Mid Earp’s life in Hard Times and Hardball, a book about the teams, leagues, and players from the days when baseball was Arkansas’ Game. (Hard Times and Hardball 2018, p. 296)

Also, check out:

A Ballplayer Named Sue – Sue Kidd

Women in Baseball: The Delores Brumfield Story

Photos courtesy of the Mid Earp family, McKnight family, and Sam McCorkle

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Jim Yeager is a baseball historian who resides with his wife, Susan, in Russellville. A member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Robinson-Kell Arkansas Chapter of SABR, Yeager is a frequent presenter on the history of rural baseball in Arkansas. His books titled Backroads and Ballplayers and Hard Times and Hardball feature stories of Arkansans who played professional baseball in the first half of the 20th century. More information on Backroads and Ballplayers, Hard Times and Hardball, and other publications – www.backroadsballplayers.com

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