75 years to the day that the South Bend Blue Sox played their first game at Playland Park, the University together with the South Bend History Museum installed a historical marker on campus to commemorate the team. Today, it is the site of IU South Bend’s residences, River Crossing.
The Blue Sox were one of the first four teams of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) and played on the field for nine years until the League dissolved. The team was one of 14 in the League formed by Philip Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs franchise, to help ensure baseball thrived while many men were drafted to fight World War II. The Blue Sox won two League titles in 1951 and 1952. The History Museum is home to the League’s documents, photographs and artifacts. The League was highlighted in the film “A League of Their Own”.
Brian Harding, Executive Director of The History Museum, said that he was proud to preserve the history of the League and tell their stories.
“Imagine a young woman—perhaps barely 20—traveling from her hometown to Wrigley Field to be part of a national call for try-outs for the then-new All-American Girls Professional Baseball League,” Harding said. “Imagine a group of talented athletes being given the opportunity to prove themselves at places like Playland Park where fans gathered to watch them play the sport they loved: baseball. And imagine women who made history by playing on professional sports teams for the first time ever. These are the women, the athletes, the pioneers, we celebrate today by placing a plaque in their honor on this site in the city of South Bend, whose name they proudly sported on their uniforms.”
One member of the team, Betsy “Sockum” Jochum, was part of the event celebrating the installation of the historical marker. Jochum played for the Blue Sox from 1943 to 1948 as an outfielder, first basewoman, and pitcher. Later, she taught physical education at Muessel Elementary School in South Bend. She turned 100 this February.
In addition to Jochum’s attendance, a major highlight of the program was IU South Bend student Brittney Hale singing the AAGPBL Victory song, said Dr. Brenda Phillips, Dean of IU South Bend’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Phillips coordinated the event and the effort to install the historical marker with the History Museum.
It was the largest gathering on campus since the pandemic (aside from Commencement), bringing together about 100 members of the community, The History Museum, City Government, the University, the AAGPL and neighborhood associations. Participants included IU South Bend Chancellor Susan Elrod, Executive Vice President for University Academic Affairs at Indiana University John Applegate, President of the AAGPBL Players Association Rick Chapman, South Bend Mayor James Mueller, and Dr. Jay VanderVeen, professor of Anthropology, who has researched and explored the area since he arrived in 2006.
VanderVeen said participating in the event was a way to highlight the stories of the land and the people who lived here. The Blue Sox played at Playland Park, which was a major festival grounds with a roller coaster, pool, roller rink, dance hall, casino, racetrack, and a “Tunnel of Love”. Playland had been known as Spring Brook Park previous to 1925, when a local naming contest gave it its new name (and a gold bar for the winner). Today, the concrete grandstands from Playland, where the Blue Sox played, still remain.
Before a farm and a park, VanderVeen said, the land was a meeting and sharing place among indigenous people and later, early white settlers. Today, in addition to student housing, faculty members use the land to explore with their students and learn about archaeology, sustainability, and more, he said.
“Even now, as a site for housing and field laboratories, the land near the river plays a part in why we are here: to learn, to live, and to play,” VanderVeen said. “It’s all about the river and how it attracts people. They were here because of the river and the river allowed them to exchange ideas. And that’s exactly why our campus is still here because of the river and because it fosters the exchange of ideas.”
The river also helped ensure that commercial development after Playland Park closed in 1961 didn’t happen—because the river can flood the area, he said. IU South Bend dedicated the new River Crossing housing in 2008.
How the river brings people together was exemplified by the May 26 event, VanderVeen said, bringing together government, education, community, and nonprofit groups to celebrate history.