June 23rd in (Feminist) History

jeancioneOn this day in 1928 was the birth of Jean “Cy” Cione, a pitcher who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1945-1954. Jean, known for being a left-handed batter and pitcher, was born in Rockford, Illinois. She joined the boys’ softball team in third grade, and in eighth grade she played on the Rock River School Boy’s softball team, which lead her at age 14 to be the first girl ever lettered by Rock River School. She also worked at J. L. Clarke, where she played for the company’s girls softball team. When she turned 17 in 1945, she attended the tryouts in Racine, passed the test, and was offered a contract to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).

She entered the league as a player for the Rockford Peaches, managed by Bill Allington. They competed in the 110-game regular season with five other teams: the Fort Wayne Daisies, the Kenosha Comets, the South Bend Blue Sox, the Grand Rapids Chicks, and the Racine Belles. Along with a number of other experienced young players on her team, Jean was mostly used as a reserve first sacker (the backup for Dorothy Kamenshek), before she eventually began to pitch and play outfield. That year, Rockford won the AAGPBL pennant with a 67-43 record. When two new teams were added in the next year, Jean was briefly shifted to the Peoria Redwings, but for the 1947 she returned to the Rockford Peaches. Over her career she would shift several times, to the Kenosha Comets (1947-1951), the Battle Creek Belles (1952), and the Muskegon Belles (1953), before finally returning to Rockford in 1954, for the years final league. In her most successful year, 1950 (for the Comets), she won 18 games and threw a pair of no-hitters in August; a 12-inning game against Grand Rapids and a 7-inning game against Rockford. She also turned in an unassisted triple play, one of only 15 in Major League Baseball history.

In between seasons, she graduated from high school and then studied at several colleges, including earning a bachelor’s degree at Eastern Michigan University, and a master’s degree at the University of Illinois. After her retirement from baseball, she taught physical education in elementary school for ten years, and then returned to Eastern Michigan University to teach sports medicine for almost 30 years. As EMU established a women’s athletic program, Jean became their first women’s athletic director. Jean went on to become a part of Women in Baseball, which is a permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in New York. She was also inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Michigan University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986.

Of course, one of her most well-known legacies is perhaps the movie A League of Their Own which, despite the lack of real names, tells the story of Jean and other AAGPBL players like her, and caused a return in media coverage over her and her teammates, who had previously faded into obscurity.

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