Shirley Burkovich, AAGPBL legend, passes away

March 31st, 2022
Shirley Burkovich (far right) played in the AAGPBL from 1949-1951.

Shirley Burkovich, a former All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) player, passed away on Thursday. She was 89 years old.

“We are heartbroken to share the sad news of our friend, Shirley Burkovich, passing away today,” the International Women’s Baseball Center wrote in a Tweet. “Shirley was a founding director of the IWBC, [a] fierce advocate of girls in sports and one of the loveliest people to call your friend. We love you, Shirley, now and forever.”

Born in Pittsburgh, Burkovich began her baseball career playing with her brother and the neighborhood boys in a town just outside of Swissvale, Pa.

In late 1948, her brother convinced her to try out for the AAGPBL, which was born out of World War II and ran from 1943-54. A couple of weeks later, she got a telegram asking her to report to Spring Training in Missouri.

At just 16 years old and still a high schooler, Burkovich spent her first year in the AAGPBL with the Muskegon Lassies. Burkovich spent the 1950 season with the Springfield Sallies and Chicago Colleens, who toured the eastern part of the United States, before playing for the Rockford Peaches in 1951, her final season. Burkovich played in 37 games during her three-season career, serving as a utility infielder and outfielder. She even made a few appearances on the mound in 1951.

She was nicknamed “Hustle” thanks to her “boundless intensity on the field.” During her time in the league, Burkovich’s favorite memory was hitting a game-ending single to center field in an extra-innings game.

After the 1951 season, Burkovich “could see that the league was not going to last” and decided to retire. She took a job working at Pacific Bell (now SBC) in California and stayed there for 30 years, retiring in 1983.

In the 1992 film “A League of Their Own,” which was a fictionalized story of AAGPBL activities, Burkovich played the role of older Alice ″Skeeter″ Gaspers, an outfielder for the Rockford Peaches. Burkovich is one of the few AAGPBL players who had a speaking part in the movie.

In retirement, Burkovich stayed active in baseball. She conducted baseball clinics for kids through organizations like Kids in Sports and Sports Educators of America. Burkovich was in attendance for each Trailblazer Series, a tournament launched by USA Baseball and Major League Baseball in 2017 aimed at providing playing, development and educational opportunities to girls who play baseball. She was also a staple at Major League All-Star Games when AAGPBL players made appearances.

Burkovich never stopped serving as an advocate for women and girls in baseball. She was active in the AAGPBL Players Association, serving as the organization's treasurer for many years. She was also a founding member of the International Women's Baseball Center.