Sports icon Mary Pratt, who spent five summers pitching in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1943 to 1947 and saw that story told in the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own,” joined a new league Nov. 30 as she celebrated her 100th birthday and centenarian status. Her mother lived to 100 and Pratt had hoped she would, too.
A big party was held at Grove Manor Estates where she moved a year ago from 1000 Southern Artery in Quincy, Massachusetts, and lives in the Memory Care wing. High spirits reigned as birthday and seasonal accordion music was played by Italo DeMasi. Paul Cardullo, executive director, presented highlights from Pratt’s many sports accomplishments. A mischievous Mayor Joseph Sullivan bestowed an invitation from Boston Red Sox president Sam Kenney to come pitch a game next season. Sullivan declared Nov. 30 “Mary Pratt Day” in Braintree, Massachusetts. Versatile entertainer Dick Flavin of Quincy, the poet laureate of the Red Sox, charmed Pratt and several dozen party-goers with poems, songs and good humor. He brought a Red Sox goodie bag with a Red Sox cap, a Xander Bogaerts bobblehead doll, a Red Sox World Series T shirt, his book “Red Sox Rhymes,” and magazines.
Pratt quickly warmed to the occasion, sang her old Rockford Peaches team song, then turned philosophical. “The good things I used to think about sports ... memories, you live on with them, because baseball is baseball, whether it’s today, or tomorrow or 50 years ago,” she said.
“What a wonderful gift baseball is to all our lives and Mary has given that gift for lo, these many years,” Flavin said. “To be in love with baseball is to be forever young.” Then Pratt joined in as everyone sang “Happy Birthday” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and blew out the candles on her baseball-themed cake.
Known in her day as an outstanding pitcher for her controlled slingshot, or windmill windup, Pratt went on to teach physical education in Quincy and Braintree. She was a coach, umpire and helped create new opportunities in sports for females of all ages. Then in her 70’s and 80’s, she continued to dedicate her time and energies to helping women in sports advance to more leadership roles.
“The basis of her whole professional life was the advancement of women in sports,” said Rose Somensini, 87, of South Lancaster.
She was one of four alumni of Sargent College at Boston University, where Pratt was a few years ahead of them, who came to the party. Betty Arnold, 95, of Newton, Lindy Saragosa, 89, of Medford and Cindy Watson, 58, of Medford all said Pratt inspired hundreds of girls and young women as she spoke out passionately over the years about equal rights for women athletes.
“She said it the way it was,” they said.
“Everything Mary Pratt has done for women sports in Massachusetts is incredible,” said Marge Smith, retired director of physical education in the Quincy schools. Linda Lundin of Bridgewater and Kathleen Bertrand, who had Pratt as a teacher, spoke eloquently about her influence.
Pratt pitched at Boston Garden in 1939 and 1940 as part of the Boston Olympets, the first and only women’s amateur softball team. Scouts for the All-American Girls’ Professional League noticed her. The League was started during World War II when the men baseball players were in military service. Pratt pitched in Rockford, Illinois, and then in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Her pitching record in 1944 was 21-15.
She taught physical education for 46 years, including 42 years in Quincy and several in Braintree; worked for the Quincy Recreation Department summer programs and was a school coach and referee in several sports.
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, she moved to Quincy in 1932 and graduated from North Quincy High School in 1936 and from Sargent College in Boston in 1940 with a degree in physical education. In her youth, she participated in basketball, softball, volleyball, lacrosse, field hockey, tennis, archery and sailing. She has been inducted into the New England Sports Museum, Boston University Hall of Fame, and Boston Garden Hall of Fame.