New 5-Team Baseball League Will Try to Give Women Their Place to Shine
By JOSEPH HANANIA and JOHN M. GLIONNA , SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
Los Angeles Times Friday July 11, 1997
Home Edition Metro Part B Page 1 Metro Desk
30 inches; 1045 words
So, are you ready for the girls of summer?
America's national pastime, that rarefied realm of chest-beating,
tobacco-chewing, butt-slapping men, now comes with a decidedly feminine
Call it Mike Ribant's field of improbable dreams. He has started a
women's professional baseball league--complete with head-first slides,
zippy fastballs and double plays turned like well-oiled clockwork.
Under the San Diego stockbroker's direction, the first professional
women's baseball league in about half a century--and what is thought to
be only the second in history--will play its first Los Angeles-area game
Saturday at 7 p.m. at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Unlike some slap-dash efforts, Ribant says his five-team,
California-based Ladies League Baseball Assn. is more than just a
fantasy. Women's baseball, he says, is here to stay.
"If I thought we would lose money," said the 39-year-old Ribant, whose
only other baseball experience has been as a coach of his daughter's
T-ball team, "I wouldn't do this."
For too long, women's league boosters like Ribant say, professional
baseball has been an all-male club. It's time, he insists, to give women
another run at the sport.
Women briefly held the spotlight during World War II when the
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League cheered up a battle-weary
nation with teams such as the Grand Rapids Chicks, the Springfield
Sallies and the Battle Creek Belles--an era captured in the film "A
League of Their Own."
But the 14-team league folded in 1953, a victim of television and
returning armies of invading male athletes. Since then, female players
have had to turn to the less glamorous world of amateur softball.
Businessman Bob Hope, co-owner of the Colorado Silver Bullets, a
4-year-old women's baseball team with no league affiliation, called the
Ladies League "the first serious attempt at a women's professional league
in 50 years."
There have been other attempts, principally in Florida, Hope said,
"but I doubt that the women, who [are] supposed to share the gate, ever
really got paid."
The Ladies League coincides with similar attempts to start other
women's sports leagues this year. The Women's National Basketball Assn.
started up three weeks ago with eight teams, including the Los Angeles
Concedes WNBA President Val Ackerman, "There hasn't been much history
with women's professional sports . . . good history, anyway."
Featured Saturday will be the Los Angeles Legends against the Long
Beach Aces. The Legends are fresh off a 7-0 win over the San Jose
Spitfires in the league's inaugural game Wednesday in the Bay Area.
Rounding out the league are the San Francisco Bay Sox and the Phoenix
Many female players gave up promising day jobs to play baseball.
Aces shortstop Dawn Besore, a 32-year-old San Diego financial planner
who once played softball in a city league with Ribant, got a call two
months ago from the promoter inviting her to try out for his new league.
"I turned him down," she recalled. "I said, 'Hey, I've got a great
career. I'm happy where I am. I can't do it.' "
Weeks later, the won't-take-no-for-an-answer Ribant called again,
imploring her to come to Los Angeles for a tryout and "bring along an
On the field, Besore was humbled by the ready-made professionals she
saw all around her: Women throwing 70-mph fastballs. Slugging 400-foot
"Once I went on the field and started to play, I knew this was
something I really wanted to do," said Besore, a mother of two. "I can
always get another job. I may never have gotten another chance like
So she traded in her high-paying investment job for an $850-a-month
player's salary with the Aces.
Legends player Mimi Hall, 32, a teacher and mother, stressed that the
female players take both themselves and their league very seriously.
"It's only when I see the practice gear and the uniforms that it all
starts to sink in," she said. "I get in the dugout and suddenly think,
'I'm here because I'm a professional athlete.' And I know I won't wake up
one day to discover it's just a big facade."
Like the men, the female players say they're not afraid to get their
That's why Janelle McKie, 24, laughed when friends warned her not to
play professionally. "They were afraid I'd get hurt," she said. "What
they didn't realize was, I want to get hurt. I want it all."
Ribant seized upon the idea of his league last year while watching a
women's basketball tournament on television. "I just suddenly wondered
why women always play softball and not baseball," he said.
Taking his calculator out to his patio, he came up with what he says
is a money-making formula. "You know how a pipe dream starts," he said.
"I just started picking cities. In the beginning, it was typical fantasy
baseball league stuff."
But like a big-leaguer rumbling toward second base, Ribant picked up
speed. To attract players, he placed ads in local papers and relied on
news of the team spreading by word of mouth.
Soon afterward, he persuaded friends to ante up $500,000 in start-up
capital. To minimize travel expenses, his second-biggest cost, Ribant
clustered the teams in California and Arizona. Players' salaries, which
average $850 a month, remain his major cost.
Now Ribant, who retains half ownership in the league, says he wants to
expand to 12 teams by next year--six on each coast. "I'm not saying I can
do it," he stressed. "I'm saying that's the goal."
Tickets will cost between $5 and $8. The teams are playing 60 games in
The Silver Bullets' Hope says Ribant is aiming for a home run when he
should be thinking single.
He predicts it will take at least 10 years for a professional women's
league to make it into the black. The reason? Female baseball players are
still novelties, he said. "Men's sports have always been out there, but
there's not much precedent for [professional] women's sports."
So to keep up the crowds, the Silver Bullets travel city to city,
taking the field against male teams. Said Hope: "If we stayed in one
city, we'd stop drawing crowds after our fifth or sixth game."
Meanwhile, the new league hasn't had the luxury of spring training. So
Ribant's teams have thrived on six-hour practices seven days a week--the
practices accompanied, for many players, by ice baths to relieve the pain
and the swelling.
Working conditions have been makeshift at best. Until just days ago
when they moved over to Jackie Robinson Stadium, the Legends' practice
field was at Loyola Marymount University, where its locker room consisted
of a dugout--with no privacy or showers.
Still, there have been few dropouts--and about 10 women applying for
each position, said Legends coach Bridget Wold-Satriano, a local
Lending the Legends a historical perspective is talent scout Liv
Faralla, 72, who pitched for six years in the All-American Girls
Professional Baseball League.
Players say there's a different attitude than found of the men's
field. "These women encourage each other," Besore said. "It's not
Added Ribant: "I've seen women players knock over a competitor while
sliding into base and then bend over to help them up. With the men, they
just walk away."
To Jo Curone, 33, playing professional ball is payback to that boy in
her fourth-grade class who laughed at her fielding skills. And to the
others who later questioned her dream of playing ball with the Los
"I could never play [professional] baseball, because I was a girl,"
"Look who's laughing now."
PHOTO: Hilda Martinez, right, tags out Kristin Crowley during a Los
Angeles Legends practice.
PHOTOGRAPHER: LORI SHEPLER / Los Angeles Times
PHOTO: Before practice, Martinez sports a T-shirt displaying the
logo of the Ladies League.