Vada Corbus – Joplin Miners catcher

We recently covered Vada Corbus, a woman ballplayer who sought to play for the Joplin Miners.  By the permission of John Kovach, college archivist at St. Mary’s College, we secured a much better photograph of the near trailblazer.  The photograph comes from Mr. Kovach’s book, Women’s Baseball, (Images of Baseball).   For more on women in baseball, check and see if the traveling exhibit, “Linedrives and Lipstick: The Untold Story of Women’s Baseball,” is coming near you (or arrange to have it visit your local museum or history institution!).

Vada Corbus - Joplin Miners

Vada Corbus - Joplin Miners - personal collection of John Kovach.

Source: John Kovach’s “Women’s Baseball.”

Joplin’s First Organized Baseball Team – The Colts Who Became the Miners

By the turn of the century, baseball had an established presence in Joplin in the form of amateur teams, both black and white.  However, what Joplin did not have was a professional team and the Joplin Base Ball Association was created to change this fact and to “promote the great national game in this city.”  The lead men behind the club was Arthur C. Cox, treasurer, Don W. Stuart, secretary and a manager of the Club Theater, and John A. Campbell, president.  Joplin was to play in a six team league called the Missouri Valley League, the other teams involved were from Jefferson City, Springfield, Sedalia, Coffeyville, and Iola.

The Joplin Miners

The Joplin Miners of 1902

The Colts, as they were initially named, had their first home at Cox Park and were watched by cheering fans in a brand new grandstand that seated 1,500.  The grandstand featured special boxes for the scorekeeper and the press, plus 12 private boxes for those willing to pay for the privilege of a good seat.  A good seat was needed as apparently for the first time in Joplin baseball history, only the players and umpires were allowed on the field.  Under the grandstand, locker rooms complete with showers awaited the teams before and after the games.

The team was managed by Claud A. Marcum, considered locally as a seasoned baseball veteran who oversaw a “galaxy of stars.”  Outfitted in uniforms ordered from Rawlings Sporting Goods of St. Louis, the team won their season opener against Springfield at Springfield, 11 to 6.  Unfortunately, the Colts promptly loss their home opener against Springfield a few days later.  By the end of the season, two notable events had happened.  Joplin had failed to win the league pennant or even place in the upper half of the league and the Colts had changed their name to the Miners.  From the end of 1902 and for many decades to come, the Miners provided Joplin with a team to cheer for and a pastime to enjoy.

Featured left to right in the photograph above are: Top Row – Wright Wickizer, catcher; an unnamed pitcher; Bert Dunn, pitcher; Claud Marcum, manager; Arthur “Rip” Reagan, pitcher; Peck Harrington, catcher and outfielder; and Lefty Greer, pitcher.  Middle Row – Earl Taylor, pitcher, Don Stewart, secretary of the club; Arthur “Art” Cox, treasurer of the club; and William “Dolly” Gray, first baseman.  Bottom Row – Bert “Monk” Senter, shortstop; Jimmie Underwood, outfielder; Fred Tullar, third base; and Dick Bayless, outfielder.

Sources: The Joplin Globe, “Angling in the Archives” by Charles Gibbons.

Vada Corbus, Almost a Trailblazer

When it comes to women in baseball, many are likely familiar with the hit movie, A League of Their Own, which focused on the brief life of the All American Girl’s Professional Baseball League from the Second World War into the early 1950’s.   Few, however, may know about Vada Corbus.
In the spring of 1931, Vada Corbus lived with her widowed mother, brother Luke (or Lewis), and two sisters.   The family was supported by Luke’s work at a lead smelter and Vada’s two sisters employment at a pasta factory.   Luke was a catcher for the Joplin Miners, and in April, 1931, was moved to play right field.   This opened up competition for the catcher position and Vada Corbus tried out for the position.

Not much is known about Vada, the newspapers were surprisingly reticent on the subject of a girl playing for the city’s minor league team.   There were a few articles, a photo of Vada in uniform, but little else about her.  Prior to an exhibition game against the nearby Pierce City team, Vada served as a warm-up catcher.   Word was that Vada was going to be signed or was signed with the team to vie for the catcher position and was expected to play in the Miners’ season opener against Springfield.

The game was held on the evening of April 30, 1931.   The bright electric lights of Childress Field illuminated the Joplin skyline.   The bleachers were full with fans filled with hope for a winning start to the season.  Vendors walked the aisles hawking refreshments.  Yet when the time came for the home team to take the field for the first inning, Vada was not among them.  Her absence was explained by an article that appeared in the New York Times.

On April 18th, the New York Times picked up the story and the news of Vada’s hopeful experiment in the Western Association League.   This in turn alerted league officials who stubbornly insisted that there was no place for women in men’s minor league ball.   It seems that Vada Corbus fell from the attention of the newspapers and was forced to bid farewell to a dream of playing ball.   Her brother never made it out of Joplin.  Instead of playing in the big leagues, he remained in his hometown where he worked as welder for Eagle-Picher, before he died in 1952 at the age of 48 from kidney failure.

Vada Corbus, female baseball player.

Vada Corbus in her Joplin Miners uniform.

If anything can be said of Vada, it is that she was courageous for attempting to break into minor league baseball, following in the footsteps of the Bloomer baseball girls that barnstormed the country.   She had certainly proven she could play at their level, if unfortunately denied the chance to do it before a grandstand full of cheering fans, men, women, and little girls.   While the Joplin Miners may be best remembered for fielding a young Mickey Mantle on his way to the Yankees, Vada Corbus deserves a spot in the limelight of the club’s and city’s history as a pioneer of women’s baseball.

If you have any information on Vada, let us know.  We’d love to hear from you.

Sources: The Joplin Globe, Missouri Digital History, 1930 Federal Census, “Baseball: The People’s Game” by Harold Seymour, “Women Players in Organized Baseball” by Society for American Baseball Research.

There were Miners, and there were Bankers

While Joplin had its first professional baseball team in the form of the Colts who became the Miners, it did not mean that others put down their gloves and bats.  One group of men who continued to play, perhaps as an amateur team, were the Joplin Bankers.  Note, the team consisted of the bare minimum to play with one man for every position.

1907 Joplin Bankers baseball team

The 1907 Joplin Bankers baseball team.

Source: The Joplin Globe

The Bloomer Girls Come to Joplin

In turn-of-the-century America, teams of “Bloomer Girls” traveled across the country challenging men’s amateur, semi-pro, and professional baseball teams to exhibition games. Despite being nicknamed for the loose-fitting trousers that they wore on the diamond, Bloomer Girls were tough competitors. One such “Bloomer Girls” team arrived in Joplin in June 1898, to play a series of seven baseball games against McCloskey’s Giants at Cycle Park. Interest was so intense that promoters added additional seats in anticipation of large crowds of spectators.

Maud Nelson, star pitcher for the team, was hailed as “a twirler of exceptional speed, and it is a common occurrence for her to strike out the strongest batters on the opposing team.” Nelson, a native of Chicago whose real name was Clementina Brida, grew up playing baseball with her brother. As a pitcher, she was reportedly paid $250 a month.

Although the Bloomer Girls engaged in athletic competition with men at a time when women were still governed by stifling Victorian mores, their manager assured the Globe’s reporter that the Bloomers were “refined ladies, most of whom learned the art of ball playing on account of it being a health giving exercise, and only adopted it as a profession after becoming experts and receiving flattering offers to play in exhibition games.”

McCloskey, manager of the opposing team, asserted that the Bloomer Girls came “highly recommended, both as to their excellent playing and conduct on the diamond.” Potential spectators were assured that “the management guarantees that nothing will be said or done but what the most refined lady in the audience will approve.”

In one of their games prior to coming to Joplin, the Bloomer Girls played the Eurekas, a local men’s team in Richmond, Virginia. The Eurekas were warned that the Bloomer Girls “asked no favors, and wanted the game played on its merits.” Captain Boyne, manager of the Eureka team, instructed his players, “to knock the Bloomers silly.”

Whatever preconceived notions the men of the Eureka baseball team may have had about women baseball players were quickly overturned when it was found that it “would be no easy matter” to beat the Bloomer Girls. By the end of the ninth inning the Bloomer Girls led the Eurekas 11 to 5. Maud Nelson was hailed as “a peach, her work in the box alone is worth the price of admission to the game.” She “handles herself like a professional pitcher, throws well, gives the catcher curve signs, and can stop or catch a ball with either hand.”

A 1901 cartoon of the Bloomer Girls from the San Francisco Call.

A 1901 cartoon of the Bloomer Girls from the San Francisco Call.

When the Bloomer Girls played McCloskey’s Giants at Cycle Park, they faced fierce competition from the Giants, who played as if “they had reputations to lose.” Managers McCloskey and Menefee livened up the game by having their men run between bases with the Bloomer Girls in hot pursuit. Unfortunately for the Bloomer Girls, they lost the first game 14 to 1.

Maud Nelson, who was “justly” billed as the “star of the team,” continued to be involved in baseball for years to come as a manager and team owner, anticipating the time when the women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Sources: The Joplin Globe, the Library of Congress, www.Exploratorium.edu, Wikipedia: Maud Nelson.