Maybelle Blair is everything you would want a 91-year old, former professional baseball player to be. She is passionate and witty and exudes the type of energy that is simply contagious. I had been told stories about Maybelle since I was a little girl — she hired my dad at Northrop Grumman in 1979. That one decision shaped my life and led to my interest in having my own career at Northrop Grumman, to the point that I feel forever indebted to Maybelle. Having the opportunity to sit down with her to talk baseball, Northrop and “A League of Their Own” was exhilarating and renewed my passion for the job I do at Northrop Grumman.
Shana: Tell us about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and what it meant to you as a girl who loved to play baseball.
Maybelle: Oh, it was absolutely wonderful. It was probably one of the most exciting times of my life. I had all this opportunity, and at the time I didn’t realize it. All I was doing was playing the sport I loved. And that was baseball, not softball. I never thought I would ever be able to play professional baseball. Because, you know, girls just didn’t play baseball professionally, and today they still don’t — but we’re working on that. We want to have a league of their own again.
Shana: Are you part of a movement to bring back girls’ baseball?
Maybelle: That’s what I’m working for … to get girls a league of their own. To give them the opportunities that I had — to open doors for them. They want to play baseball, not softball. And it’s so wonderful. These little girls come up to me and say, “I know every word of the movie, and I want to be a baseball player too.”
Shana: Speaking of the movie, “A League of Their Own,” are you “All the Way May?”
Maybelle: Yeah, that’s what they called me. Everybody calls me All the Way May, ’cause I guess I’m nuts, I don’t know. [Laughs] I hit a lot of home runs. Before the movie came out, nobody even knew that we played baseball, especially here in California. We played in the Midwest, so unless you knew someone personally, you would not know they played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Shana: What was it like watching those actresses tell your story?
Maybelle: It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Penny Marshall [the director] was really great to us. About 90 percent of the movie is true; the rest was just Hollywood stuff. Like, a man couldn’t go into our dressing room. Never. Our chaperone always took care of us. And you know, like, Madonna running out and catching the ball up against the fence? Well, it was a guy standing up there who dropped it into her mitt. And Geena Davis doing the splits and all of that, that was a man dressed like a woman. You take all of the Hollywood stuff out of it, and it was absolutely correct. They did a fantastic job. And these gals have become my very, very good friends now.
Shana: Can you tell us about your early experiences working for Northrop, now Northrop Grumman?
Maybelle: Well, I started off years and years ago when I was in high school. I worked during the summers in public relations. I would make scrapbooks with all the pictures of the aircraft coming in. Mr. Northrop would come in all the time, so I got to know him. In fact, I had a little softball team I put together, and he’d come out and say, “Boy, you sure are throwing good today, Maybelle.” He was the greatest guy, honest to God. Every time I think of him it brings tears to my eyes because everyone loved him so. That’s why working at Northrop was so great. If I had to go back and do it again, that’s exactly what I’d want to do, work at Northrop.
Shana: And you saw the flying wing take off?
Maybelle: I did see the flying wing take off, I’ll never forget that! Jack Northrop was way ahead of his time as an engineer — that was the start of the B-2. When the B-2 Bomber took flight, I said, “He’s smiling ear to ear because that was his dream, and it’s up there flying.” Mr. Northrop ran his company first class. Everybody was family. At one time, I think he knew everybody by name.
Shana: How did you go from intern to employee?
Maybelle: One summer I worked in the mailroom. I was very fortunate because the manager liked how I worked and asked me to come work full time in transportation. I decided I needed to learn everything. So, I became a courier, and after that I became a dispatcher, and then I learned how to drive all the equipment. I worked my way up and took every step to become a manager. I worked hard and dedicated myself to my job and to the company.
Shana: At that time, you were only one of three female managers. What was that experience like?
Maybelle: Well, at that time, I didn’t realize it. I was just doing my job, and I loved every minute. Northrop was the best company in the whole cockeyed world. It still is. They opened the doors for so many people, not only for women. They gave more opportunities, and we had more vacation time and better raises than other aircraft factories at the time. I was a very fortunate girl working for Northrop. I never felt like the only girl; everyone treated me with respect. We had such a great crew that it was a piece of cake for me. Of course, when I interviewed new candidates they had to like baseball or I wouldn’t hire them. [laughs] That’s one of the reasons I hired your dad!
Shana: You did hire my dad, and that forever influenced my life and career course. My dad worked for Northrop Grumman for 30 years, I have worked here for 11, and my husband is coming up on 10. We are carrying on your legacy.
Maybelle: Hey, you better carry it on, and carry it on good for me. [laughs] ‘Cause that’s what I worked so hard for — not only for myself, but for other people, you know. That’s what I’m still doing today, working for women to have the opportunities that I had.
Shana: Tell us about the big project you are working on today.
Maybelle: Well, today my life is all about raising money to build the International Women’s Baseball Center in Rockford, Illinois. We’re going to have a museum, batting cages, umpire school, groundskeeping school … anything to do with baseball and education will be right there in that facility and open to women from all over the world. I’m traveling all over and get to speak about women’s baseball — what we’re doing, what we’re trying to do, and what we’re going to do. I just have to make sure I stay on this side of the grass. [laughs] I got to live long enough to see it through. We’re going to get the league going for these girls and let them have the opportunity to play the sport they love.
Shana: Maybelle, talking to you has been an absolute honor and pleasure. Thank you for the influence you have had on my life and for the service you gave to Northrop Grumman. And thank you most of all for being such an inspiration to girls of all ages who love to play baseball.
Maybelle: Ah honey, well thank you, that’s real sweet of you. Hey, I enjoyed you kids coming here, I’ll tell ya!
Visit www.internationalwomensbaseballcenter.org to learn more about Maybelle’s passion.
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