Whether it was playing professional ball with the Chicago Cardinals in 1949 or serving as one of three female managers with Northrop Corp. during a distinguished 37-year career, Maybelle Blair has blazed trails her entire life.
Born in the Redondo Manor area of Inglewood, Calif., in January 1927, Blair, 91, spent many of her formative years in Texas before heading off to play professional women’s baseball. A right-handed pitcher who also batted right, she began her career with the Peoria Redwings in Peoria, Ill., in 1948. Blair played just one game with the Redwings due to an injury, but she showed promise and moved up to the Chicago Cardinals organization the next year.
“It was absolutely wonderful. I realized that a dream came true. I played with my brother, my father back home, and here I was playing baseball — a game my father loved — for a living,” Blair says. “The fans were great to us.”
But there were drawbacks. Players had to wear dresses that lacked any protection, so when they slid into a base or home plate, it meant an unpleasant encounter with the Earth. “I’m still digging gravel out of my rear end,” Blair says with a laugh. “These days, professional players hurt a fingernail and they go on the disabled list.”
In case you’re wondering, yes, the movie “A League of Their Own” is indeed based on Blair and her teammates who entertained crowds as part of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. While no one actress portrays Blair in the movie, she earned the nickname “All the Way May.” She also remains friends with stars from the film, including Ann Cusack, Anne Ramsay and Tracy Reiner.
Blair is still deeply involved in women’s baseball, having served on the board of directors and as chair of the fundraising committee for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. She and league representatives are working to establish a home for girls’ baseball in Rockford, Ill., similar to one that boys have in Williamsport, Pa., home of the Little League World Series.
“We’re trying to raise money to build a museum for women all over the world,” Blair says, adding that there are women’s teams in Japan, South Korea, Australia and Pakistan, to name a few. “It’s just as important as it is for men. These women have the same ambitions and the same dreams. They should have the same chance.
“These little girls who are coming up are dreaming of being able to play ball just like I did,” she continues. “The girls who put their feet on the field at Rockford … tears were streaming down their faces. We want to create a place where they can go to play — a league of their own.”
Life after Baseball
Following her baseball career, Blair attended Compton College and the Los Angeles School of Physiotherapy. After graduation, she worked at a treatment center in Los Angeles before starting a nearly four-decade career at Northrop Corp., where she began as a chauffeur and finished as the manager of Highway Transportation.
When she started, Blair was one of just three female managers. “I loved every minute of it; I was shocked by it at first,” she says. “I had a lot of backing.”
Blair retired in 1986 after almost four decades with the company. “We really had some good people working for Northrop,” she says. “Every day going to work was such a joy.”
Among her favorite memories was riding in a simulated flight in a B-2 bomber. But the most exciting project she worked on was overseeing the journey of a YF-17 fighter aircraft, complete with the wings attached, from the L.A. area to Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert. Blair had to plan the route first. By the time the plane arrived at Edwards, she said, her legs were so wobbly she could barely stand — one tiny dent in the aircraft would mean complete failure.
Getting the plane through downtown Los Angeles was one of the trickiest parts of the mission. Blair remembers a man staggering out of a downtown tavern and looking up at an aircraft wing. “Rather than pink elephants, he saw a fighter plane pass over him,” she says.
When Blair takes stock of her life, she sees a road that few, if any, would ever get the chance to travel. “I have been one of the luckiest people in the whole cockeyed world,” she says.
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