It’s a sound she’ll never forget – the rhythmic beats of her cleats caressing the field: clickety-clack, clickety-clack.
With those footsteps, Maybelle Blair has helped pave the way for women and girls in baseball since the mid-1990s – and her legacy continues to grow today.
In 1948, Blair, a right-handed pitcher, suited up for the Peoria Redwings of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed from 1943 to 1954 when most men were out of the country during World War II.
Though Blair played only one game for the Redwings before moving onto a professional softball league, her impact in the sport was largely done behind the scenes. After the AAGPBL Players Association was founded in 1982, she served on the Board of Directors and Chair of the Fundraising Committee.
The association eventually brought the AAGPBL’s story to the national spotlight and led the charge in the opening of the Women in Baseball display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Now 95, Blair finds herself at the heart of a new venture: a new Amazon Prime Video series titled “A League of Their Own,” an adaptation of the 1992 film with the same name.
The plot will follow the journey of the AAGPBL players during their run, and will delve into topics such as racism in the league and participating lesbian athletes, which is where Blair comes in.
During a promotional event for the series, Blair publicly came out in front of the audience. Blair has had multiple boundary-breaking moments throughout her life, but she says this moment tops it all.
“The most meaningful, now this is a terrible thing to say, but at age 95 I came out and told everybody that I was a queer,” Blair said. “But I call it gay because I like that word better. But that was my most meaningful thing in my life because it gave me … really the most pressure in my whole life was when I told that I was gay.”
But coming out was not something that Blair had planned to do at the premiere. It was on the spot, and she found strength in doing so because of the way Amazon had portrayed her story.
She looked over at series co-creator Will Graham during a Q&A session and decided to speak out.
“I couldn't believe it because I knew my family might disown me,” she explained. “I didn’t know what would take place, but I thought it was my self respect that I do tell and that these young little girls and boys, you know, shouldn't have to hide what they feel and how they are to have to go through what I had to go through in my day.”
And as it turns out, Blair’s family did not disown her. In fact, she said the next day her phone was flooded with calls and messages about how she was loved for who she was, not for anything else.
“I felt completely, a relief,” she said. “I felt happy because I could help other gay queer kids, let them know that they're not alone in the world. That even people at my age had the same problems and had to live with them all these years, that they're not alone. So don't be afraid and express who you are.”
With the series slated to premiere on Aug. 12, Blair is not done with her involvement in the baseball world. Next on Blair’s list is helping get the International Women’s Baseball Center up and running in Rockford, Ill., which would include a museum, activity center and educational center.
The Rockford Peaches were the most successful AAGPBL team, having won a league-best four titles. Blair hopes that women’s baseball can have a home in Rockford similar to how softball and men’s baseball have homes in other states, such as the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City.
“We'd love to build our facility right there in Rockford, which we're trying so hard to do to raise money right now,” Blair said. “We have the property, we have the means to get it done. But all we need now is some people to support and realize how important this is for the baseball movement, for women's baseball, because we do need it. These girls love to play baseball.”
Despite all that she’s done to help women’s baseball grow, Blair does not want to consider herself a pioneer, but rather someone who has opened doors for other women to come up and earn their spot. She cited Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng as a prime example, which Blair said is “the greatest thing that has ever happened.”
But even if she does not want to be regarded as a pioneer, there’s one thing that’s certain: there will be more sounds of clickety-clacks following her, and they will come from the several girls and women she helped inspire in the sport.