March 28, 2019, the Cleveland Indians will play the Minnesota Twins on Major League Baseball’s opening day. But more than 100 years ago, it was a woman athlete who attracted trains full of baseball fans to Cleveland, Ohio.
Born in 1890, Alta Weiss was the second of three daughters, her father a physician in Ragersville, Ohio. She began pitching at an early age, and her father encouraged her by establishing a two-year high school so she could play on its baseball team.
The Girl Wonder of the Mound
In 1907, 17-year-old Alta Weiss played a pick-up game of baseball with a group of local men in Vermilion, Ohio. The mayor of the town was so impressed that he suggested to the manager of the semi-pro Vermilion Independents that she should join the team. At first, the manager refused to a sign a woman, but he arranged a game between two local teams and enlisted Weiss to pitch for one.
After her 15th strike-out on the mound, the manager asked her to join the team, creating a sports sensation.
On September 2, 1907, Weiss made her semi-pro debut, pitching five innings. She pitched seven more games that season and became known as the “Girl Wonder,” dressing in a blue skirt and receiving pay that rivaled even the male players. The Independents ended the 1907 season with a 5-3 record.
Advertisement boasts Weiss’s baseball skills.
During the winter, her father continued encouraging her love of the sport; he built a heated gymnasium on his property so she could continue to practice during the offseason. In 1908 he purchased a semi-pro team for her and named it the Weiss All-Stars.
1908 team photo of the Weiss All-Stars.
The All-Stars traveled across Ohio and Kentucky during 1908 and 1909, and Weiss drew record crowds eager to watch her pitch. Later that year, she entered Wooster Academy to pursue higher education.
A railcar advertises a game between the Weiss All Stars and the Woodville Orphans. Photo: Bowling Green State University.
From Pitcher to Physician
In 1910, she began her medical training at Starling College of Medicine (later The Ohio State University Medical College) in Columbus, Ohio, paid for by her baseball career. She became the only woman in her class to receive a Doctor of Medicine in 1914.
Starling College of Medicine in the early 1900s. Photo: The Ohio State University Libraries.
During World War I, Weiss took over the practice of a doctor in Sugarcreek, Ohio, who was enlisted to fight. The war, combined with the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, shook Weiss’s love of medicine. She claimed that she never “had great enthusiasm for the profession after that.”
Nevertheless, she persisted. In 1925, she opened her own practice in Norwalk, Ohio, and married John Hisrich in 1927, though the couple would eventually separate. After the death of her father, Weiss took over his practice in Ragersville and remained there for the rest of her life.
Alta Weiss never lost her love of baseball, though. She continued to encourage neighborhood children to play the sport, including Lois Youngen, who went on to become a catcher for the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Baseball League. Weiss died in 1964 at the age of 74.
Lois Youngen, a Westfield Center, Ohio native, is pictured here in the 1950s. Photo: All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
In 2005, her unique uniform was displayed in the Women’s National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and in 2018, the Baseball Heritage Museum honored Weiss with a re-enactment starring actress Anne McEvoy. Author Deborah Hopkinson wrote a picture-story book for children in 2003 entitled Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings about Weiss’s life, a book which will continue to inspire young baseball players for years to come.
Weiss’s uniform on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.