Friday, June 4, 2010

My Favorite Fan

In 1993, when my book, A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, came out, I sent a copy to Lou Arnold. I had met Lou, a former pitcher in the league, several years before, and she had become a friend. One day, I got home from work and found the absolutely best message ever on my answering machine. It was Lou, and she said, “Sue, I read your book and I wanted to call and tell you what a great job you did. You did us proud, Susie. Good job.”

It’s been 17 years, but I still have that message, copied from the answering machine to a digital recorder for posterity. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Last week, on May 27, Lou died at age 87, after a long struggle with a whole host of health issues that would have killed a lesser person years earlier. Her passing hasn’t garnered the same media blitz that followed the death of another AAGPBL player, Dorothy Kamenshek, 10 days before. Kammie was a star—in Lou’s New England accent, that would have come out “stahh”—and she certainly deserved every bit of attention she received. But Lou, who truly was the heart of the league and who did so much to communicate its history and spirit to younger generations, also deserves a public tribute. So I’ve decided to co-opt my monthly post to tell you a little about her.

Louise “Lou” Arnold was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the 13th child of George and Mary Ann (McCormick) Arnold. The number 13 meant a lot to her. She would wear it on the back of her South Bend (Indiana) Blue Sox uniform during her four years in the All-American. And number 13 did Pawtucket proud. In 1951, she helped South Bend win the league championship with a .833 winning percentage, throwing 32 consecutive scoreless innings and pitching nine complete games out of 11 starts. (Today’s major leaguers win praise if they pitch even one complete game.) She also threw a one-hitter.

South Bend was so welcoming to Lou that she decided to stay there. She worked for the Bendix Corporation for 30 years and then retired into a world that was just starting to rediscover the AAGPBL through books and Penny Marshall’s hit film, A League of Their Own. Lou quickly became a favorite of the younger generations who were inspired by the pioneer ballplayers because she opened her heart to them and seemed as impressed with their achievements as they were with hers. Even several of the actresses from Marshall’s movie became her good friends.

I got to see Lou at least once a year at the annual AAGPBL Players Association reunions, and if they were in the Midwest, we’d be sure to get out to Steak ‘n Shake, home of fantastic milkshakes and “steakburgers.” (Why, oh why, are there no Steak ‘n Shake franchises in the New York area?) Each time, Lou would have the wait staff eating out of her hand, asking for autographs and listening to her every word about her time in the league. She was a veritable pied piper of women’s baseball, the league’s unofficial ambassador of good will. People loved her and she loved them right back.

Lou had an amazing way of making you feel special. If she believed in you, you felt you could do anything. What a great fan to have as an author just starting out. What a great friend to have all these years since.


Vicki Cobb said...

If people wonder about our roles as storytellers to children about the real world, there is no better example than a book like yours, Sue, that shows the unsung heroism of pioneers ahead of their time. Today, as the media constantly extols the prowess of athletes of dubious moral character, your touching tribute to Lou Arnold et al redefines the overused concept of "hero" to its proper definition.

Jackie Glasthal said...

Nicely put, Vicki.

I actually met Lou a few times through Sue and everything written here about her is entirely true. She had such a strong, loving spirit and took me in as an old close friend from the moment I met her.

All I can is that you did her proud once again, Susie. Good job.

--Jackie and her newly adopted cat Arnie (named in Lou's memory)

Rosalyn Schanzer said...

Kudos, Sue, for a fascinating post. And what a treat to have become friends with a living legend like Lou in the bargain! This blog almost makes me want to give up writing about ancient history since I can't go head to head with its protagonists.

Karen Romano Young said...

Oh Sue! Thanks for passing on the news of Lou's death. I had seen Dorothy K's obit before that and thought about you. All of these women have inspired so many -- including my two daughters -- to push beyond expectations.