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Former pro baseball player still in a league of her own

Last Updated Jan 21, 2018 at 2:40 am EDT

Lois Youngen, of Eugene, shows the 10 inch baseball that she used while addressing an audience at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Eugene, Ore. on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. Youngen was one of the 550 women who played professional baseball for 4 years after WWII. Their story was told in the film "A League of Their Own." (Collin Andrew/The Register-Guard via AP)

EUGENE, Ore. – Growing up in rural Ohio in the 1940s and ’50s, Lois Youngen often heard that a woman’s place was in the home.

She never believed it.

“I always knew it was at home, first, second and third,” Youngen, 84, told a crowd of nearly 50 people who heard her speak recently in Eugene about her four-year career as a player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

A somewhat fictionalized story of the league — which launched in 1943 after many Major League Baseball stars had gone off to World War II and folded after 12 seasons — was told in the 1992 film “A League of Their Own.”

Youngen, a Eugene resident who taught physical education and later became an administrator during a 36-year career at the University of Oregon, said that the movie is “about 75 per cent accurate.” The remainder, she said, amounts to “pure, Hollywood hyperbole.”

“I do think it captured the spirit of our league and the spirit of the women who played,” Youngen told the group who gathered to listen to her presentation at an American Association of University Women meeting at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Coburg Road.

Youngen spoke enthusiastically about the league and her experience as a pro ballplayer, which began in 1951 when she was still a teenager.

The AAGPBL’s players, all of whom wore one-piece dresses while on the field, were “expected to look like Betty Grable and play ball like Joe DiMaggio,” she said.

Youngen made $50 per week — good pay in that era and enough to cover her college tuition costs — while primarily playing catcher.

As Youngen pointed out after giving the talk, her career in the AAGPBL was but a brief period in her life.

After obtaining a master’s degree from Michigan State University, Youngen joined the UO in 1960 as an assistant professor in physical education. She later earned a doctorate and worked as the UO’s director of physical activities and recreation services before retiring in 1996.

That last part of her career at the university overlapped with both the movie’s release and the unveiling of the “Women in Baseball” permanent exhibit in The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., of which Youngen is part.

“I am very proud of that,” she said of the Hall of Fame exhibit.

Youngen remains a member of the AAGPBL’s player’s association and attends reunions with other members of the league. One of the group’s earliest get-togethers was largely unplanned, she said.

It happened before filming on “A League of Their Own” began, when director Penny Marshall asked former players to meet so the film crew could get a first-hand look at how they played the game. Also in attendance that day was Madonna, the singer who played the part of Mae Mordabito in the film and was at the height of her celebrity at the time.

Youngen shared memorabilia from her career — including her catcher’s mitt, a slightly oversized hardball that the league used for a time and game programs — along with photographs, one of which showed her and other players posed in a “team picture” alongside actors from the movie.

For her presentation, Youngen sported an authentic AAGPBL team jacket that she wore over a shirt emblazoned with the movie’s most-quoted line. It was uttered by Tom Hanks during a scene in which he, while portraying manager Jimmy Dugan, chewed out one of his players.

As any Little League coach can confirm, Youngen said the quote — “There’s no crying in baseball!” — is one thing that the filmmakers got wrong about the sport.

“I’ve got news for you,” she said. “There’s lots of crying in baseball. Keep it under your hat.”

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com