They were called “diamond daisies,” who played in a Glamour league in ballparks across America. But they were tough as nails and weren’t afraid to “hit the dirt in a skirt.”
And a couple of bright northern lights, Vancouver sisters Helen and Margaret Callaghan, were among the best.
The earliest memories of Helen and Margaret start at Bob Brown’s old Athletic Park, the heart of baseball in Vancouver. These two talented multi-sport athletes watched and played ball there when not involved in the myriad of other sports they played—track and field, basketball, grass hockey, and lacrosse. While playing softball for Vancouver’s Western Mutuals representing Canada at the World Softball Championships in Detroit, Helen and Margaret were spotted by All American Girls Professional Baseball League scouts.
With half of all major leaguers in the services during World War II, Chicago’s P.K. Wrigley created a women’s professional league to keep the ballparks in use and to boost morale on the home front. The AAGPBL was formed in 1943, the only women’s professional baseball league ever.
Craving a momentary release from the pressures of the war, fans came out in droves. 176,000 curious spectators took in the novelty the first season; by 1948 nearly a million spun the turnstiles once they saw the exciting brand of ball these girls played.
Helen signed with the Minneapolis Millerettes for the 1944 season—the last the league would use softball rules, switching to baseball thereafter—while Margaret, a year older than her sister, joined the Millerettes halfway through the season and only after her father urged her to go and keep an eye on younger Helen.
Helen’s impact was immediate. A centre-fielder with good fielding ability, she possessed blistering speed on the base paths and would end up holding the league’s all-time record for stolen bases—354 in 388 games. She could swing the lumber too. In her first season, her .287 average was 2nd in the AAGPBL; a year later she led at .299 while also leading in hits, homers, total bases, and doubles. If there had been a player-of-the-year award handed out, she likely would have claimed it. She played five seasons in the league with the Fort Wayne Daisies and Kenosha Comets before retiring in 1949.
Margaret played seven seasons in the AAGPBL mainly for Fort Wayne and the South Bend Blue Sox as one of the league’s best infielders able to turn the double play with a graceful ease. A solid hitter, she is reputed to have swatted the longest home run ever hit by a woman at one point. Her blazing base running made her one of the most feared base-stealers in the game.
Life in the AAGPBL was rarely easy. To play the dashing, sliding style the fans came to see meant that speedsters like Helen and Margaret literally lived with constant charley horses and gauze bandages on their hips. Off the field, like the other AAGBBL girls, Helen and Margaret were required to attend “Charm School” that taught proper etiquette and beauty tips.
After Helen and Margaret retired to family life, they spoke so little of their baseball years their children barely knew that their own mothers had once been star ballplayers. Inevitably, their skills and stories were passed down. Helen’s son, Casey Candaele, played in the major leagues with Houston—possibly the only major leaguer ever to follow in his mother’s footsteps.
Another son, Kelly, was so inspired by his Aunt Margaret’s baseball scrapbooks that he filmed a PBS documentary about his mother and aunt’s time in the AAGPBL. It caught the attention of Hollywood and became the basis for the 1992 feature film A League of Their Own, starring Geena Davis, Madonna, and Tom Hanks.
In 1988, Baseball’s Hall of Fame honoured all members of the AAGPBL. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame later inducted all Canadian alumni of the league a decade later. And now the athletic stories of Helen and Margaret are enshrined in BC. Two diamonds of the north will shine on.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.