Ruth Hartman…her name always brings a smile to my face. Chances are you’ve heard about her also. She was born in 1926, the oldest child of Annie and John Kramer. When her dad won the Irish Sweepstakes, he went from being a mechanic to being an innkeeper. He bought the Leinbach’s Hotel which was in Bern Township. It was in a cow pasture across from the inn where she learned to catch a softball and field grounders that her dad hit to her. In 1940 her dad bought the hotel and taproom called The Rising Sun in the northeast part of Reading near the Reading Railroad repair shop and 11th and Pike Playground. At age 13 Ruth was a regular there playing baseball with the older boys. She began playing on girls’ teams and her teams were very successful with her on the pitching rubber. No one could believe where all the power in her 5’1″, 110lb. frame came from!
Following graduation from RHS in 1942, she went to East Stroudsburg State Teachers’ College to become a physical education teacher. Her only outlet for softball was intramural teams, but the problem was no girl could catch her pitching! So the men’s team selected a male to be her catcher. There were special rules: he could not bat, could not run the bases or throw out runners. The last rule was not a problem since she struck out everyone- there were never any base runners! This situation was not popular with the girls, Ruth, or the male catcher. So Ruth was allowed to play on the men’s team! She was so proficient as a pitcher that her male teammates gave her the nickname “Rocky” because she threw like a rocket.
In the Spring of ’46, a scout for the All American Girls’ Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) saw her play and offered her a position. She played second base for the Fort Wayne Daisies and pitched some batting practice, but never pitched in a game. Her favorite friend was Faye Dancer, who in the movie, A League of Their Own, was “All the Way May”, played by Madonna. Her favorite experience was during the Game 7 Playoffs. The Daisies were ahead of the Chicks 1-0 in the last inning. The Chicks had one out and a gal on 2nd. There was a line drive hit to Ruth- she jumped up and caught the ball in the webbing of her glove, tagged 2nd for a double play and the Daisies won the league championship! That was her last play in the AAGPBL. She did not return for the next season because she wanted to finish her degree.
Immediately after graduation she began her 36 year teaching career in the Reading School District. She coached volleyball, track and swimming. She also played on several fast-pitch softball teams around the PA area. In 1976 she began girls’ softball at RHS. Over 18 seasons, her teams were 217-73 and won 2 Berks County Championships, 3 District Titles, and were twice PA State Runners-up.
After retirement from coaching and teaching, she began to raise and breed Corriedale sheep on her farm in Limekiln. As you may know, her sheep were named for Phillies baseball players. In 2003, Baseball Charities, dedicated to giving financial support to area youth baseball and softball programs, created the “King of Baseball Town” award, presented annually to a resident of the Reading area who has made a lifetime contribution to baseball or softball. Ruth was the first woman to receive this award in 2008. Ruth said, “I want to be Queen!” And so Baseball Town had its first Queen! Next she became Queen of the Corriedales when she earned the reputation as one of the nation’s top sheep breeders. In 2006 she won the “National Corriedale Breeder of the Year” award as well as the Grand Champion Title that year in North America.
I remember the first time I met her. It was at a Berks County Commission for Women dinner at the former Moselem Springs Inn. Ruth was the speaker. I didn’t know much about her back in the late 80s. A League of Their Own came out in 1992, and Ruth hadn’t talked much to anyone about her experiences in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). As she walked to the podium, she dropped her papers and scooped them up and said,”I don’t really need these anyway!” And she didn’t! She was an excellent speaker and story teller. She said.” I always wanted to be the best; when I played baseball, I would push myself; when coaching, I was demanding of my players; and even with my sheep, I still always want to be the best.” I met her again about 20 years later and she remembered that dinner at Moselem Springs. Truly, she was in a league of her own.
Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County.
Mystery Woman of the Week #6
In 1962, I wrote a novel, Silent Spring, an expose’ on the dangers of the pesticide, DDT. I was a Pennsylvania native. Who was I?
Mystery Woman #5 Answer