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'Wimp" Baumgartner made =her mark in women's baseball league

mostly from farm families -- well-haved so keeping them in-line was not too hard. "They were well-raised," says Wimp. It was the Girls Athletic Association era when Baumgartner began at Jimtown and girls basketball at the school -- as it was all over the country for girls and women -- was played with six players. Only the rover could cross the midcourt stripe. Baumgartner couldn't change those
Posted on Aug. 22, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.

Mary Baumgartner enjoys a quiet life after leading an active one as a player and Jimtown teacher.

Before finding a place on Steuben County's Jimmerson Lake, Mary "Wimp" Baumgartner was a Jimmie.

Baumgartner bought the fixer-up lake cottage she soon dubbed "Malfunction Junction" in 1963. That was halfway through her 12-year stay as a teacher and coach at Jimtown High School.

Decades later, a 79-year-old Baumgartner fondly recalls that first part of her 28-year teaching and coaching career as well as her role in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Baumgartner answers to "Wimp.'' Few people have called her Mary since the nickname given to her by a sibling when she was 3 and urged to eat her hamburger just like Wimpy in the Popeye comic strip.

After playing for the AAGPBL's Peoria Redwings, Kalamazoo Lassies and South Bend Blue Sox (1949-53) and getting her degree from Indiana Central College (later the University of Indianapolis) in 1957, she looked to begin her education career at a smaller school.

She was hoping to land at Bristol since it was close to South Bend, where she had played for the AAGPBL's Blue Sox and the basketball Rockettes and stay in the River Park house owned by Ruth Cormican.

Wimp did get to go back to Mrs. C's. But it turned out Jimtown had an opening for a physical education and biology teacher, not Bristol.

Lowell Sheets, then the principal in Baugo Township, had never met Baumgartner, but the former JHS baseball coach had seen her play for the Blue Sox at Playland Park.

Sheets hired the former catcher and she went on to successes as an educator and athletic pioneer.

In the classroom, Wimp was a disciplinarian. As a P.E. instructor, she used her own athletic prowess to guide her students.

"They didn't cut up (in my biology class)," says Wimp. "In gym class, I kept them running so much they didn't have time to get in trouble. I led all of them. They had to run pretty fast to keep up with me."

Baumgartner said the students of that era -- mostly from farm families -- well-haved so keeping them in-line was not too hard.

"They were well-raised," says Wimp.

It was the Girls Athletic Association era when Baumgartner began at Jimtown and girls basketball at the school -- as it was all over the country for girls and women -- was played with six players. Only the rover could cross the midcourt stripe.

Baumgartner couldn't change those rules, but she could take Jimtown girls basketball beyond intramural status and did.

That first season of 1957-58, the Jimmies went 4-0, winning two games each against Madison Township (Wakarusa) and Bethany Christian. Wimp bought trophies for each player to recognize the accomplishment.

It wasn't too long after that she hired by Goshen College professor and coach Ruth Gunden to referee basketball games for $3 a pop.

"That was big bucks back then," says Baumgartner.

When Wimp's father died in the spring of 1969, Wimp decided to move back to Fort Wayne so her mother would not have to move from the family chicken farm.

As fate would have it, former Jimtown principal Rich Miller was then at Leo and he hired Baumgartner for East Allen County Schools.

While at Jimtown and Leo, Wimp was a champion for the rights of female athletes.

"Women pay taxes," says Wimp. "Why can't we get on the football field or in the gym?"

A shortstop or third baseman when she tried out for the AAGPBL in 1949, Baumgartner was turned into a catcher and took right to the position.

"I felt comfortable back there," says Wimp.

Baumgartner became adept at throwing out runners and blocking balls in the dirt while handling pitchers. In her AAGPBL career, she committed just 59 errors in 1,128 total chances for a sparkling fielding percentage of .950.

After tryout camps in Fort Wayne and Chicago, Wimp's career began with a tour through the southern part of the country. When Peoria's catcher was hurt, Baumgartner was sent to join the Redwings. She flew by Piper Cub from Jackson, Miss., to Peoria. The only problem was that the team was not in Peoria at the time, but on the road in Fort Wayne. So, she got back on the plane and headed for her hometown.

"I had to catch that night and I didn't even know who the pitcher was," says Wimp. "When I saw my mom and dad, I balled I was so homesick."

During her Jimtown days, Baumgartner also found time to play golf and bowl. She teamed with Pat Wilbur at Oakland Lanes in league play and as a coach of girls championship teams.

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HE DETAILS

Who: Mary "Wimp" Baumgartner, 79 (born Sept. 13, 1930 in Fort Wayne).

Educator: Beginning in 1957, taught high school physical education and biology combined 28 years at Jimtown and Leo.

Coach: Starting in the Girls Athletic Association (GAA) era, Baumgartner specialized in basketball, track and field, gymnastics and volleyball. Her 1976-77 Leo volleyball team advanced to the IHSAA Final Four. She was a two-time charter member of the IHSAA female advisory board (1972-76).

Athlete: After excelling for club teams growing up and during her time at Fort Wayne Central High School (1948 graduate) and Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis), where she earned letters in volleyball, basketball and track and graduated in 1957, Baumgartner played six seasons in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1949-54) as a catcher for Peoria Redwings (1949), South Bend Blue Sox and Kalamazoo Lassies (1950) and South Bend Blue Sox again (1951-54). She helped South Bend to the league title twice (1951, 1952) and earned one all-star selection (1953) ... She also played club basketball, traveling the country with the South Bend Rockettes, and competed as a golfer and bowler ... She still plays golf with friends in Fort Wayne and near her home on Jimmerson Lake near Fremont.

Honors: A former president (1992-96) and board member (1990-91, 2006-10) of the AAGPBL Players Association, she was recognized along with the rest of the AAGPBL by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. (1988) and took part in the filming of the 1992 film "A League of Their Own" ... During her administration, she helped create the association's logo, medallion and baseball card sets (Dottie Wiltse Collins is Frisch card No.1. Baumgartner is No.2) and organized reunions ... She was inducted into the University of Indianapolis Athletic Hall of Fame (1989) and Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame (2001).


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