On the Record

On the record ... with Betty Mullins

Betty Mullins gave up a professional baseball career in the 1950s to spend time with her family.
Betty Mullins gave up a professional baseball career in the 1950s to spend time with her family.

SYCAMORE – Doreen "Betty" (Petryna) Allen Mullins' life is like a long love story, sweet and a little sad.

The youngest of six children, all of whom were born at home and delivered by their father, Mullins was born in Liberty, Canada, a farming community of 179. When she was 10, the family moved to Regina, the capital city of Saskatchewan.

Although she didn't start playing sports until high school, she was discovered by a scout from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and invited to try out. From 1948 to 1950, she played for the Grand Rapids Chicks, the Fort Wayne Daisies and the Muskegon Lassies.

After retiring from baseball, she moved to DeKalb County, where she and her first husband, Roger Allen, raised three children. After her children were grown, the Sycamore woman became active in Girl Scouts and got her teaching degree at the age of 47. She taught special education until her retirement 18 years later.

After serving as caregiver for Roger, who passed away in 2000, she returned to teaching for two more years before she met and married Don Mullins.

Reporter Doug Oleson sat with Betty Mullins in her Sycamore home, where she has lived for 57 years, to talk about life and baseball.

MidWeek: Did you play sports when you were young?
Betty Mullins: At recess time in elementary, we did recess type of things. I didn't play sports; my brothers did. Two of them were avid baseball players and hockey players. Steve was given a tryout with the Boston Bruins when he was 18. Well, wouldn't you know, it was in '39 and the war broke out and Canada went to war. So that ended that.

MW: When did you start playing sports?
BM: I didn't ever really play softball until high school. I'd sit on the back porch and watch my brothers practice. One was a pitcher and one was a catcher and I was just mesmerized, but I was never allowed to touch their mitts. But when I was in high school we had a relay day, where we ran and did different events. We had a baseball throw. I guess I must have thrown the ball a long way, because I won that particular event. It didn't mean that much to me, but my P.E. teacher must have seen I had talent in something because she pushed me into basketball and into softball.

MW: How did you become a third baseman?
BM: We were out there picking teams one day. Luckily, the teacher placed everyone where she wanted and there was one empty yet, and I was told to play third base. Never played third base in my life. After that game was over, I told her I wanted second, because it was a closer throw. She said, "No, you're third. You're good and you can throw the ball to first."

MW: How did you come to play for the AAGPBL?
BM: When I was in 10th grade, a friend of mine who also loved softball told me that the Regina Oilers were looking for players to play on their softball team. There were two teams (in town) and they played other towns. It was like a league, like semi-pro, and anybody could try out. I didn't even have a glove, but she said that's all right, let's go try out.

So I got on the team. That spring, unbeknown to me, (Phil) Wrigley sent scouts up to Canada. He was starting his league then and I knew nothing about it. I just loved softball. I really did love it.

They chose two from my team and two from the Royals (the other town team) to go and have a tryout for the Wrigley baseball team. We knew nothing about baseball. This was in the spring of '48. First, my manager approached me. ...I didn't know if I wanted to do this ... but they came to my house and talked to  my mom and dad and my older brother, John, was there. He was all for it: "Let her try, what has she got to lose?" They were concerned about my protection. It was 4,000 miles away.

MW: What was the tryout like?
BM: There were 400 girls from all over the United States and some from Canada. I went down there and trained. It took us four days to get there by train. We were there a month, and at the end of the month they made up their teams and you go look at a roster sheet to see if your name is there. And luckily I made the Grand Rapids Chicks.

When you make a team, you barnstorm back to your home city. We'd stop in cities and play the local hotshot teams. That gave us practice. As we barnstormed back, we rode in buses that were old. They reminded me of old school buses, very uncomfortable, but we loved it.

One of the teams we played against was DeKalb. We played at Prather Field, which is still there. We played against a team that was owned by a man who owned a gas station. I can remember eating after the game at a restaurant called the Triangle, which was right by the tracks. It's where McDonalds is now.

It was like my fate, because that's where my first husband was born.

MW: What was it like playing in the league?
BM: It was exciting. It was a new life. And a new type of ball. The ball was not large. They scaled it down. They didn't want it as small as a baseball. That made the ball lively. And they shortened the bases for us because we just didn't have the power to throw that far.

MW: What was the pay like?
BM: We were paid well. I made $75 a week my first year and $125 a week my second. When we were on the road, we got money and when we were at home, we rented rooms for $10 a month.

MW: Did you wear dresses?
BM: Yes, only we didn't call them dresses. ...It was a one-piecer. It had to be so many inches from the ground. If it was too long, you had to sew it because they wanted your legs to be shown. They wanted you to be feminine.

MW: The next year you played in Fort Wayne?
BM: Every year you had to retry. You weren't guaranteed a spot.

What those managers would do, they would allocate. They would pick and choose players they wanted. If you had a weak person at a certain spot, they bartered and they traded, just like they do here in Little League. They would keep their established pitchers who were strong. The infielders and outfielders, they were a dime a dozen.

So I tried out again, and I made Fort Wayne this time. Of course, I was living in Fort Wayne and I was married my husband by then.

MW: How did you meet?
BM: I met him through my roommate's brother-in-law. She was a Grand Rapids girl. It was a blind date. I met him in September and we were married in November. The main reason was, we knew we were going to get married and I overstayed my visa and they were looking for me. And they finally found me and I told them why I wanted to stay. The man was so nice. He said I could go home and come back, which I didn't want to do, or get married.

Anyway, we got married and lived in Grand Rapids, which is where he was working for General Motors. He had gotten moved from DeKalb because his buddy was up there who was related to my roommate.

We saw each other about twice. He didn't have a car. But we corresponded by letter a lot. But that wasn't what I wanted.  You played seven days a week, at night, and you practiced every day. You played three days at every city.

But we never complained. We just loved  it. That's how it was for the whole ball season.

MW: Did Roger ever to see you play?
BM: When I was in Fort Wayne, Roger was able to come watch me play once and I established a record (for the most putouts in one game: 12). I made two errors, too, so it should have been 14. I was dumb enough to ask the pitcher why I was getting the ball all the time and she told me and right after that, I made an error. She was pitching them all inside and they were pulling the ball. I loved it.

I played a very short area. I played right opposite the pitcher. I wasn't afraid of that ball. That's how I played all my games. I never played back. That made the space shorter for the batter to get it past me.

MW: Then what happened?
BM:  When that season was over, I came back to DeKalb because Roger had been moved back here. We spent three months together and he told me to go back to the next tryout. And I made the Muskegon. So there I went, another Michigan team and Roger wasn't in Michigan anymore.

I got through the training and I played for one month and then this one day, I just woke up and I said, I miss my husband. I don't want to play anymore. So I quit. I packed my one big suitcase and I went to the manager and I told him I just can't do it.

MW: Did you miss it?
BM: Yeah, I did. But I didn't dare say anything. It was hard on Roger. He was alone. I think of the players now and how they travel and move from city to city and how their families are. You're not a real family for six months. They can't uplift and follow you. It's a tough life, and it can be a lonely life.

MW: Have you kept in touch with any of the ballplayers?
BM: The first two years, yeah, through Christmas cards, just the ones I became friends with on my own team. We never heard from any of the others.

MW: I have to ask, did you see the movie "A League of Their Own?" Was it accurate?
BM: Yes, it was very accurate. Except for Tom Hanks being a drunken manager.

MW: The one question everyone wants to ask is: is there crying in baseball?
BM: Well, I think there was at one point. We had two different leagues, so we only played once against each other. There were a couple of twins that were playing on one of the other leagues and one stopped playing and I think there was crying in that respect.

As far as just crying, no, they were just tough. We had girls sliding and break their legs, they wouldn't cry. Even in practice you weren't allowed to put on sweat pants. I don't know if they had them back then, but you were still expected to play in the short, little dresses. I know when I played Rockford the first year, we won our division and Rockford won their division and the first game (in the playoffs) I had to slide home, which I made. They had cinders mixed with gravel and I wish you could have seen my leg. And they don't heal. It's just the top skin. It took at least a month. ...But I didn't cry. I sure felt like it, but I didn't. I can still feel the hurt.

Loading more