Let's talk about Maud Nelson, one of the first women to play baseball.
Maud Nelson is a hard woman to find out definitive facts about. That’s three fold:
- she played back in the 1900s
- she was a barnstormer rather than a major league baseball player.
- she was a woman
The first and the last issue should be easy enough to understand (even if the “she’s a woman” reason is distasteful at best). As for the second issue, barnstorming, here’s some quick background: Barnstorming was when teams would travel from town to town to play exhibition games against local and semi-pro teams outside of a formalized league. I don’t know if it’s true, but the image often invoked is teams playing in a farm with a barn in the backdrop. These teams often had to embrace a spectacle factor, often utilizing pre and post game entertainment.
So, with those three caveats, let’s see what we know about Maud.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is Maud Nelson’s name? Well, she was born Clementina Brida on November 17, 1881 in Austria. Sometime after her birth, her family immigrated to the United States.
She began as a starting pitcher at 16 for the Boston Bloomer Girls. “Bloomer teams” were baseball teams, often composed of 7 women and 2 men (a sidenote: one of the all time best baseball players Rogers Hornsby got his start on a Bloomer Girl team but I digress). The teams got their name from the bloomers, or Turkish-style trousers, that the women playing baseball wore although they’d soon switch to the same pants their male counterparts wore.
Maud Nelson (sometimes spelled Maud with an “e” and sometimes with a last name of Neilson or Olson) travelled all across America making a name for herself. One of her Bloomer teammates would
In 1905, the Boston Herald wrote of her:
The feature of the game was the pitching, batting and fielding of Miss Neilson. She made three base hits, and had four put outs and four assists and made no errors. In the five innings she pitched she struck out seven men.
Nelson’s ability was such a draw for crowds that she had to pitch everyday, where she’d usually pitch three to five innings before handing the ball to another pitcher (usually the other high quality pitcher on the team, Edith Lindsay) and Maud would move to play third base, where she also performed excellently.
Maud would go on to play for other teams, including the American Athletic Girls and the Cherokee Indian Baseball Club.
In 1901, she was playing for the Chicago Bloomers when its owner John B. Olson Jr. decided to reform the team around Maud, considered to be the best woman pitcher ever. He renamed the team the Chicago Stars and tried to play down the crazy antics associated with barnstorming teams and highlight the team’s baseball talent.
A Greensville paper wrote of the team, “The extent of the players’ talent frequently surprised writers, spectators, and opposing teams who thought the local team would win each game handedly.” The paper would go on to talk more about Nelson as being able to “regulate the speed of her delivery and deal out curves which puzzle the best of hitters.” She had “mastered all the professional twirlers, and pitches with ease and grace.”
In 1903, Maud and Olson decided to leave the Bloomers and all the other girls quit after. Olson and Maud would later get married.
Not only was she a player, but she was also a scout who found male and female talent for a variety of barnstorming teams. This type of front office thinking would continue in 1911, when Maud Nelson and John Olson became the owner-managers of the Western Bloomer Girls. After her husband died in 1917 from pneumonia contracted while crossing Lake Michigan., Maud went back to playing baseball for the Boston Bloomer Girls.
Some of her timeline is spotty, but we do know that in 1922 she was managing the Chicago All Star Athletic Girls.
In the early 1920s, Maud married Costante Dellacqua. In either 1926 or ‘27, she proposed to Costante that the two of them buy a baseball team. This would be the All-Star Ranger Girls. She would take her co-ownership duties very seriously. She’d often go ahead of the Ranger Girls to find other teams to book games with, then taking the time to scout out those teams’ strengths and weaknesses to report back to her team.
She maintained the team until the Depression made it too difficult to sustain a team. In the 1930s, Maud retired to a house in the neighborhood of Wrigley Field with her husband. The two lived there until her death on February 15, 1944.
Maud Nelson was a true baseball player. She knew how to manage a team, how to accurately scout a player, and how to deal with all the difficulties of owning a team. And she could play. Pitching, hitting, fielding, she did it all. And she played the game from when she was 16 until she was 41 and that’s a career in any league.