I was contacted by Kensington Publishing, of New York City, to see if I would like to review some of the books they publish. Since they publish various genres, they will send two or more book synopses for me to choose from. I selected the book I would like to let you know about, they mailed it to me and we’re off to the races!
The first book I chose is “Mrs. Morhard and the Boys” written by Josephine’s daughter-in-law, Ruth. The cover of the book and title could mislead you. At first glance one would believe it is all about baseball. That’s only part of the story. There is much more to the book. It’s a biography of Josephine Morhard shared in two doubleheaders.
GAME #1: EARLY LIFE OF JOSEPHINE – She was one of 17 children and lived 1891-1978. Her early years were on a farm, and although she was an excellent worker on the farm, she already showed her independent spirit when, at age five, she set fire to straw near the pig-pen because she couldn’t push her red wagon over it. This resulted in burning down the pig shed and killing 100 pigs. Also at 5, she showed her impatience by going fishing and not catching fish fast enough for dinner, she appropriated sticks of dynamite from limestone miners, lit them and threw the dynamite into the fish pond, resulting in dozens of fish on top of the water.
However, every day was not a strike against her. She was determined to enter school over a year early, and did so. She would not let any of her siblings mow in the front of the house because she was the only one to mow it straight. This game includes other innings about her wanting to marry at 12, being the boss of the maple syrup farmhands and trying to break in a colt, which she was thrown from and was unconscious and her dad’s punishment.
GAME #2: JOSEPHINE’S STRUGGLES (MEN) – At the age of 12, she ran away from home because of her strict father and the whippings he used to give her and had a series of jobs (each one trying to advance her position) helping mothers take care of their children and sometimes living with grown siblings. Josephine was at a medicine show and a man offered to walk her to her employer’s house. She was attacked by the man, but she left him much worse off than she was by having him flee with a bloody face caused by using an unusual instrument.
Josephine was encouraged to go to a business school, which her family paid for, where she took stenography. Once again, Josephine had to defend herself when going for a job interview. She slammed the door on the man who said he wanted to hire her and ran.
Josephine was married twice and divorced both men because they were drunkards and physically abusive to her. Out of the marriages came two children, Geraldine and Al, whom they called Junior. He was nine years younger than his sister. As her second marriage ended, Josephine received in her settlement one of the meat stores that she and her husband ran.
GAME #3: BASEBALL - Josephine’s home and meat market were close to Cleveland, Ohio, and the Cleveland Indians major league baseball team. With no husband to guide Junior, she started a little league baseball team for Junior and his neighborhood boys to get them off the street. However, her main goals were to teach the boys responsibility, hard work, baseball fundamentals, respect, good character and values.
Josephine established herself as trustworthy, persistent and someone others wanted to please. She went to the Mayor; a contractor who was building a strip mall and had some land left and finally officials of the Cleveland Indians, their players and owner to continually improve the baseball fields where the boys played until they were playing home games in the Cleveland Indians’ stadium while the Indians were on the road.
Josephine not only organized Little League baseball in 1937, she helped with fund-raisers, donated money from her meat market and helped her neighborhood.
A movie was produced to ship to many cities in the United States. One person who called her wanting a copy of the movie was Carl Stotz, of Williamsport, PA. In 1939 Carl’s teams played their first games and is now given credit for “founding Little League baseball”.
GAME #4: MUCH DESERVED HONOR - Because of the Great Depression and World War II, Josephine had to leave Little League baseball to tend to her meat market.
In 1968, 30 years after she started Little League, Mrs. Morhard, then 77, was honored at a surprise reunion with many men who had been involved in her program from all over the United States. Al, her son, became a lawyer and then a judge. Other men were involved in sports, a doctor, owner of an 11 market grocery chain, and elected into the writer’s wing of National Baseball Hall of Fame. The three original umpires attended along with players and management from the Big League team, Cleveland Indians.
It certainly seems like all of Mrs. Morhard’s efforts succeeded by looking at the small example above! The book also serves as a history lesson about life during the depression, World War II and the advancement of women’s rights.
A GREAT BIG THANKS to both Mrs. Morhards, (Josephine, the REAL founder of Little League) and Ruth (her daughter-in-law, who wrote this most deserving biography of Josephine). I’m sorry that because of COVID-19 I and so many others will not be able to watch the competition from Williamsport, PA this year. However, the timing was perfect to read this book to bring back wonderful memories of baseball in the past.
Jeff Hall of Honey Brook contributes columns to Tri County Record.