Gloria Elliott (nee Cordes) was born on September 21, 1931. However, as most girls her age grew to womanhood during the prosperity of the post-war economic boom, becoming secretaries, teachers, etc., Cordes took a drastically different route. She became a bona fide professional baseball player.
Growing up during World War II in Blue Collar Staten Island, New York, Cordes loved baseball. The 8th of 11 children, she constantly played “street ball” with her brothers and their friends basking in the glow of the Golden Era of Major League Baseball. As most of her teammates her age grew old enough to play organized ball, she tried to play with her local church league. She was not allowed to play without the permission of the local pastor. He eventually relented and allowed her (as well as another girl to play). They were only allowed to play together.
Never one to miss out on opportunity, she tried to play with the local PAL (Police Athletic League) as well. Unfortunately, the PAL tried to remind Cordes of her place in society. They shut her down. Nonetheless, Cordes would not stay down for long.
Cordes found creative ways to play. Local guys, who played with her as a kid, allowed her to play until infield practice was over. Nonetheless, once they realized how good she really was, they quickly reminded the coach that it wasn’t her place to play. Cordes, who could take a punch with the best of them, found a mentor in George Bamberger. A former Major Leaguer and Staten Island Boy, not much older than Cordes herself, used to let Cordes work out with him. Bamberger would go on to play for three seasons with the New York Giants as well as the Baltimore Orioles. He would later become the pitching coach for the Baltimore Orioles and manage the New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers.
Jim Hamilton, a 30-year vet and Chicago Cubs scout, was Head of Procurement for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The AAGPBL was a woman’s professional baseball league that existed from 1943 to 1954. Hamilton and his staff were responsible for scouting girls from California to New York. The league was originally designed to keep professional baseball in the public eye during the war years. However, once World War II was over and the league was no longer “needed”, it had to find creative ways to draw attention to the now fledgling experiment in professional women’s sports. One way the procurement team did this was through traveling exhibitions.
In 1949, Cordes went to see the Springfield Sallies and Chicago Colleens play one of these traveling exhibitions in New York. The league’s procurement staff got the most out of these exhibitions as they could. They held open tryouts simultaneously with these events. Never to miss an opportunity, Cordes ran down to the field when given the chance. She threw a couple of pitches and, the next thing she knew, there was an invitation in the mail to attend a mid-west tryout.
So, how did the blue-collar Cordes family react to their daughter, the eighth of eleven children, being invited to go halfway across the country to play professional baseball? Her brother had a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals, but homesickness got the best of him. So, for her parents, forward thinking for the time, they could not be more proud of their eighteen year old daughter and the opportunity she created for herself.
The average household income in the United States by 1950 was $5000. Women made up no more than thirty percent of the work force. A fourth of those positions were clerical. If Cordes didn’t get on the train, she was looking at life as a secretary.
A secretary in Manhattan around 1950, Cordes recalls, made about $30 a week. However, by signing to become one of twenty-five women with the league from New York City or New York State, Cordes’ made $50 a week. By the time the league folded, she was making $100 a week. By twenty-two years of age, Gloria Cordes was making $200 more a year than the average household income. By putting their eighteen year old on that train at Grand Central Station, the Cordes family handed their daughter more opportunity than any of the “Seven Sisters” could have offered her at the time.
Gloria “Cordie” Cordes made her debut with the AAGPBL, playing with both the Muskegon as well as the Kalamazoo Lassies and Racine Belles in 1950. She was a starting pitcher who threw and batted right. In 1951, as the league rebranded itself the American Girls’ Baseball League (AGBL) , Cordie rebranded herself a Battle Creek Belle for part of a season. She would finish her career as a Kalamazoo Lassie. She played 112 games a season, 56 at home and 56 away, all at night.
In her five-year career, Cordie never had an earned run average (ERA) over 3.63 (her first season). Her career best ERA came in 1952 with a 1.98 ERA. She also had a career best win-loss record that year, going 16 and 8. She would make the All Star Team that year as well as in 1953. In her last three years, she never had a winning percentage (PCT) under .542. Her career best PCT also came in 1952, with a .667 PCT. Cordie won 12+ wins in each of those three final years.
By professional pitching standards, Cordie was smaller in stature. At the height of her 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 and both have seen pretty ugly years as well.
The troubles of Lincecum’s 2012 campaign are well documented, but are something 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.
Cordie never had serious arm problems. In fact, former professional major leaguer, Dave Bancroft helped her to slow down her warm up and improve her curve ball. She might have been a professional caliber pitcher, but Cordie is quick to remind you that she was still an eighteen-year-old girl at the time of her tryout. She felt that first season of her career was her low point due to her extreme homesickness. It is hard to imagine, but this was still her first time away from home.
The managers did not treat their players differently because they were girls. So, Cordie credits her first host family for helping her to not get back on the train for Grand Central Station. The Kravitz family kept her busy as if she was one of their own. Also, the players 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, she her ERA improved playing for two well-documented helpless teams. 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.