Originally written on Full Spectrum Baseball  |  Last updated 8/4/12

By professional pitching standards, Gloria “Cordie” Cordes Elliott was smaller in stature. At the height of her AAGPBL pitching career, she was 5’8’’ and 135 pounds. With a fastball, curve and a knuckleball in her arsenal, she was in many ways the Tim Lincecum of the AAGPBL. Both made their careers being smaller in stature, having a multi-pitch repertoire and being multi-year All Stars. Both had least three years of 12+ wins. Both have seen pretty ugly years as well.

The troubles of Lincecum’s 2012 campaign are well documented, troubles Cordie can relate to. In her first year, she went 5 and 10. Her second year was worse. She went 3 and 15. Although Lincecum’s troubles still remain somewhat of an enigma, Cordie’s problems can be more easily pinpointed.

Lincecum, as far as we know, has not had a serious arm problem, albeit, the media’s speculation on it is getting louder. Cordie however never had serious arm problems. As opposed to Lincecum, who might run the chance of being labeled a “risk” if he were to speak out about an arm problem, Cordie had nothing to lose by asking for help. In fact, former professional Major Leaguer, Dave Bancroft, helped her to slow down her warm up and improve her curve ball. Like Lincecum, Cordie was still considered a valued prospect even at her roughest. Former Major Leaguer and AAGPBL Manager, Max Carey, once told her “If they’re stupid enough to release you, I’ll pick you up.”

She might have been a professional caliber pitcher, but Cordie was still an eighteen-year-old girl at the time of her tryout. She felt that the first season of her career was her low point due to her extreme homesickness. It is hard to imagine in this day and age, but this was her first real time away from home.

Although they had a roster of girls and young women, the managers of the AAGPBL did not treat their players any differently from more “traditional” (i.e. male) ballplayers. Cordie credits her first host family for helping her to not get back on the train to Grand Central Station. The Kravitz family kept her busy as if she was one of their own. The players also kept an open door policy in the hotels during tryouts as well as when they were on the road. Cordie felt that there was always someone there to remind her that she was not alone.

In her second season, Cordie settled in. Although her win-loss record was worse, her ERA improved. Looking back at her record, it is important to note she played for two well-documented helpless teams that season. Gloria “Cordie” Cordes collected impressive accolades during her five years in the AAGPBL. Besides two All Star appearances, she also had two playoff appearances. She grabbed her only championship title in 1954.

Unlike Tim Lincecum, her modern day counterpart, Gloria Cordes’ career came to an end shortly after that championship title. Not through any fault of her own, the league folded. When asked what the high point of her career was, she replied, “The whole five years I played.”

Former Fort Wayne Daises Manager, Bill Allington, chose Cordes to tour with the Bill Allington All-Stars in 1951. Nonetheless, this grand experiment in professional women’s sports was running on fumes. As per Cordes’ recollections, the teams drew well until 1953. At that point, they were still drawing over one thousand spectators a night at minor league ballparks. Future Ford Frick Award winner, Mel Allen, actually called Cordes’ championship game in 1953.

If the boys were home from the war and Major League Baseball marched on, who were these people that kept the AAGPBL going? Fans of the league were comprised of families and surprisingly teenage boys as well as college kids. Cordes remembers, “The way [male fans] spoke to us, [they were there] to see our game.” Former Major Leaguer, Jim Kaat, told Cordes that his dad used to take him to see the AAGPBL play. Nonetheless, the league folded by 1955. “Cordie” hung up her cleats and Gloria Cordes went home to New York.

There are a multitude of reasons why the league folded. The popularity of television and air conditioning were on the rise. As mentioned before, the boys were home from the war and Major League Baseball was back in full force. Nonetheless the league still drew for a while. Its numbers did not just fall off a cliff. What went wrong?

Cordes looks to a change in management weakening the league. The league had gone from central ownership to individual ownership by this point. Suddenly, teams were responsible for their own procurement of players, upkeep, marketing and publicity. This is a problem that has plagued the sport on a multitude of levels throughout its history.

If we look at the current era of professional baseball for perspective, independently owned minor-league baseball teams fold (and fold often) for some of the very same issues that plagued the AAGPBL in its final years. For example, CenturyLink Field at Skylands Park in Augusta, New Jersey has hosted three professional baseball teams since its inception in 1994. All of them have folded or moved from this baseball friendly market because of internal financial reasons. Since the end of the 2010 season, the stadium has remained abandoned and is still up for sale.

As opposed to Lincecum, whose career legacy is still to be decided, how does Gloria Cordes (now Elliot) see her contribution to the National Pastime? She actually does not see herself as a great feminist story. This is a common point of view for most women of her generation. She felt “It’s just something I did.” Perhaps it was the forward thinking of her baseball mentors (Bancroft and Bamberger), as well as her family, that indoctrinated her point of view. If she could play, why shouldn’t she?

Cordes never felt the rules of comportment, made famous in the movie, “A League of their Own,” were repressive. She did not go to the charm school. It was disbanded after the first couple of seasons. The chaperone was not as oppressive schoolmarm either. Cordes described her as a “den mother”, who was actually a former player by the time Cordes was in the league. Regarding the famous “rules”, Cordes felt it was not as much about beauty. It was about not being masculine. Jarring by today’s standards? Absolutely. Still, Cordes brings up a great point. Those rules were about the mores of the time. If she had not escaped her fate as a Manhattan secretary, she “couldn’t wear pants anyway.” Cordes did not feel compelled to follow these rules blindly either. For lack of a better word, she “skirted” some of the most famous rules, especially if she felt they were getting in the way of her game.

You were not allowed to keep your hair short, regardless of how hot it got. Cordes however figured out if you kept your hair curly, it shorted your hair enough (albeit artificially) to get it off your neck. She also converted the famous flared uniform skirt into a straight skirt (known commonly today as a pencil skirt). The flare was getting in the way of her windup. For some perspective, most women these days have enough trouble navigating their exit out of a car in a pencil skirt. Cordes pitched in hers. You can say that like her modern day counterpart, Lincecum, Cordes had a signature look that broke the mold. Hers happened to also help her fastball.

Where is Cordes Elliott now? After her career concluded, she met and married Edward Elliott. Edward was a member of the NYPD and a former Batting Practice pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. She had one child. Cordes Elliott would latter become an advisor on the iconic film, “A League of Their Own.”

The thriving, now eighty year old, is still an active member of the AAGPBL Alumni Association and has been a member of the Staten Island Hall of Fame since 1997. She speaks at local schools still inspiring women and future generations of women with her story (although unwittingly). This year she received the Bobby Thompson award for service to her sport as well as to the borough of Staten Island.

Gloria Cordes Elliott might consider herself an accidental sports icon. She might laugh if you tell her to her face that she’s feminist icon. Nonetheless, Gloria Cordes Elliott could have taken a million different paths in her life. However, the path she took had an irrevocable impact on her family, her hometown, the National Pastime and on women for generations to come. When asked if she would do it all over again, she responded simply. “You Bet.”

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