The Incredible Jewish Women’s Baseball Player Who Helped Inspire ‘A League of Their Own’

Meet Thelma "Tiby" Eisen.

Abbi Jacobson is returning to TV, but this time, in a show about baseball. Joined by The Good Place‘s D’Arcy Carden, they are set to star in a new Amazon Prime comedy based on the 1992 Penny Marshall film A League of Their Own (as reported by The Hollywood Reporter). The film is the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Amazon started developing the show in 2018, writing, “A League of Their Own is a half-hour comedy infusing the warmth, humor and DNA of the classic film, while taking a contemporary spin on the stories of the women surrounding the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The show will begin with the formation of the league in 1943 and follows the Rockford Peaches season to season as they struggle to keep the team alive through close games, injuries, late night bar crawls, sexual awakenings, not crying and road trips across a rapidly changing United States. The series dives deeper into the issues facing the country while following a ragtag team of women figuring themselves out while fighting to realize their dreams of playing professional baseball.”

When the news first came out in 2018, Abbi Jacobson tweeted, “No pressure at all!”

Why are we writing about this now? One, we’re so excited about Abbi Jacobson and D’Arcy Carden working together, and would follow them anywhere. Two, there is a badass Jewish lady who was one of the real-life inspirations for the ’92 film, and therefore, the new series.

Meet Thelma “Tiby” Eisen.

Image: Tiby Eisen swings a baseball bat, 1945. American Jewish Historical Society Photography Collection via Wikimedia.

Eisen was one of the top players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The league only existed for 11 years — from 1943 to 1954. Eisen played from 1944 to 1952, and in 2004, she was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Commack, New York.

Some background: Eisen was born in Los Angeles in 1922 to an Orthodox Jewish family. Her dad, David, was an Austrian Jewish immigrant, and her mom, Dorothy, was from New York City. She passed away in 2014 at the age of 92.

When she was around 12 or 13, she recalls to Rebecca Alpert, “I got interested in sports because we lived near a playground, and it was called Echo Park at the time in Los Angeles. It’s still there, and it’s a Latino area now but very well-known. And it’s not too far from Dodger Stadium… I grew up there, and I became interested. At Echo Park one day, I was down there playing a little tennis, and some gentleman came up and asked if I was interested in playing softball. And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know— I’ve never really played.’ And he said he was starting up a team, and he thought that I could throw the tennis ball pretty good because I was fast. So anyway, that’s how I got started.”

The first team she played for was called the Katzenjammer Kids, based on a cartoon name.

In a 2009 interview with Larry Ruttman for American Jews and America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in BaseballEisen explained, “When I played ball I didn’t feel any special responsibility as a Jew to excel. Nobody ever asked me what my religion was, and I would go to church with girls of different religions.” She was rarely confronted with anti-Semitism — except that one time she found out she wasn’t hired for something because she was Jewish.

But Eisen was proud to be Jewish. “You bet that I am proud of that because I think that Jewish people have done so much for the world. They’ve been through enough.”

She was also a feminist before she even knew what feminism was.

“I go back to a time when all the girls had to be married, husbands had to be found for them. I never felt that way. I didn’t want anybody telling me what to do all the time,” Eisen said. “So you can bet I am all for women’s rights. I think a lot of that had to do with my bringing up, which changed my attitude. The men would sit around and make remarks about women. No way am I going to be a second-class citizen.”

Before baseball, she played football. Yes, football. “In 1940, they tried to start women’s professional football in Los Angeles. After they got a couple of teams together, city council said women could not play football in L.A. I was a fullback on one of the teams, and we traveled to Guadalajara. They filled the stadium,” Eisen explained.

As a baseball player, she was a member of the Milwaukee Chicks, Grand Rapids Chicks, Peoria Rewings, and the Fort Wayne Daises. She was a center fielder, and was known for her “prowess” in stealing bases. Eisen played for nine seasons. In 1946, she made the all-star team. Eisen is in front in this image:

stealing bases - tiby eisenMilwaukee Journal via Image caption reads: The tying run “squeezes” home in the fifth inning of Sunday’s first game between the Milwaukee and Rockford girls’ teams at Borchert field. Thelma (Pigtails) Eisen scores on a bunt by Doris Tetzlaff of the Milwaukee Schnitts as Catcher Dorothy Green of the Peaches takes the throw. Milwaukee lost both games.

Later in life, she was instrumental in making sure the memory of the women’s baseball league stayed alive.

In 1993, she helped establish a women’s exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Why? “We’re trying to record this so we’ll have our place in history. It’s important to keep our baseball league in the limelight. It gets pushed into the background, so people almost don’t know it happened. Women have been pushed into the background forever. If they know about our league, perhaps in the future some women will say, ‘Hey, maybe we can do it again.'”

Hell, yes, Tiby. We can’t wait for Abbi and D’Arcy to tell your story again.

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