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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

"We're the members of the All American League...we come from cities near and far..."

In 1945, a fresh-faced 19-year-old from the then tiny northwest Arkansas hamlet of West Fork heard about an exhibition baseball game being played in Fort Smith and was able to convince her husband to bring her down old US Highway 71 to catch a game involving two teams from the All-American Girls Baseball League.

Mildred "Millie" Earp, who had started playing softball when she was in the fourth grade and had gotten married at the age of sixteen., knew that she had the athletic prowess, pitching skills and physical attributes to compete with the women she saw on the field, so she contacted the owners of the league--a group of Major League baseball magnates--and talked her way into a tryout with the AAGBL later that year.

That try out was enough to earn her a contract for the 1946 season, and she was assigned to the Rancine Belles. But having no baseball experience, she spent the entire season getting paid to sit in the dugout as she was transitioning from underhand pitching to a sidearm delivery. During the off-season, she was reassigned to the Grand Rapids Chicks and spent the next four years as a mainstay of their pitching staff.

Mildred Kathryn Earp was born October 27, 1925 in West Fork, the daughter of Joseph Edward Earp and Ona (McKinght) Earp. Joseph Erp had been born in Linn County, Missouri in 1861 and migrated to Arkansas sometime before 1915 since Millie had a ten-year-older sister who was also born in West Fork. She also had at least one other sister who was listed as living at home with her parents in the 1950 census.

After her year of riding the bench, Millie took the AAGBL bystorm in he rookie season. Earp posted a 20–8 record for a .714 winning percentage in 35 pitching appearances in her first season, collecting a minuscule 0.68 ERA and striking out 192 while walking 32 in 280 innings of work.

Her 0.68 ERA was a new single-season record at the time and was the second best ever recorded in the league. With Johnny Rawlings at the helm, Grand Rapids finished in second place with a 65–47 record and dispatched South Bend in the first round of the playoffs, and defeated Racine in the final series, four to three games, to clinch the AAGPBL Championship Title.

Even though she lost Game 1, 2–0, in 11 innings after retiring the first 21 Belles batters, Earp rebounded to win Game 4 on a 3–0 shutout, and then pitched a four-hit, 1–0 shutout to win decisive Game 7.

Johnny Rawlings and Mildred Earp

In five postseason decisions, Earp went 1–1 with a 1.13 ERA against South Bend, and 2–1, 0.62 against Racine.

In 1948 Earp made a new transition from sidearm to overhand pitching. She obtained mixed results, after going 15–14 (.517) with a 1.31 ERA and 166 strikeouts, while ranking sixth in ERA and seventh in strikeouts.

She also recorded a no-hitter against the Chicago Colleens early in the season. At this point, Grand Rapids won the Eastern Division with a 77–47 mark and advanced to the playoffs. In the first round the Chicks defeated South Bend, three to two games, but were swept in the second round by Fort Wayne in three contests.

Earp earned two of the three wins in the first round, including a one-hit shutout, but allowed six runs in six innings in decisive Game 3 of the second round.

She was named to the AAGBL All Star team for her efforts in 1946.

Earp produced almost identical numbers in 1949, when she went 14–10 (.583) with 143 strikeouts and a 1.83 ERA. Grand Rapids finished third with a 57–54 record and classified for the postseason. She was the winner in decisive Game 3 of the first round, knocking out her nemesis Fort Wayne, but lost her only start in the semifinals to the eventual champion Rockford Peaches, who defeated South Bend in four games.

The AAGPBL used a livelier ball in 1950. As a result, offensive levels augmented significantly in all cases with more hits, scoring more runs and hitting four times as many home runs as they did in previous seasons.

Earp (far right) in AAGBL publicity photo.

That year Earp dropped to 5–6 with a 1.35 ERA, while the Chicks were 59–53 and ended fourth. Grand Rapids lost to Fort Wayne in the first round of the playoffs, three games to one. Earp was 0–1 with a 6.25 ERA in one playoff appearance.

In a four-season career, Earp posted a 58–38 record with a 1.35 ERA in 108 games, and went 7–5 with a 1.95 ERA in the postseason.

Earp returned home to West Fork after the 1950 season, and like so many of her AAGBL counterparts became an asterisk in the history of baseball. That all changed in 1992 when a little move called "A League of Their Own starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna put the AAGBL in the public conversation once more.

The league, in it's entirely, had been recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Coopestown in 1988 by the Baseball Writers Assocation, and at that time the official name of thee league was changed to thee All American Girl Professional Baseball League.

Dozens of women who had played in the league showed up in Cooperstown for the special ceremony celebrating the impact and legacy of the AAGPBL in 1988.

And 62-year- old Mildred "Millie" Earp, a small town girl from Arkansas with big time dreams, was among the attendees.

Mildred Earp died in 2017 at her home in in West Fork at the age of 92.

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