I am a huge baseball fan. I’m talking crazy, obsessed, nut-type of fan. In fact, when the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016, I lost my freakin’ mind … seriously, it was both scary and comical at the same time. I get lost in the sport, emotionally, and totally invested.
You see, baseball is in my blood.
No really, it is deep within my family blood lines. Since I was a little kid, from about the age of five years old on, baseball has been a form of communication, a love language actually, within in my family. Sports, in general, really. I can remember sitting in my grandparents’ rec room with my mom, Mom-mom, and Aunt Clem.
It was a weekend ritual. Even as I got older, I used to carry a radio around with me to make sure I caught the games. I love the sound of the announcers giving the play-by-play … it just always made me feel like I was part of the game, at the field, with the smells of hotdogs and pretzels and popcorn filling the air.
And, for me, there was (and still is) no place like Wrigley Field. My family on the other hand, were all Philadelphia Phillies fans. Me, being me, as stubborn as a mule, and always determined to blaze my own path, chose my team at the age of five. Back then we only got local channels (we were living on the East Coast, as both my parents are from there), TBS and WGN. Well, for me, WGN was the greatest channel ever as a kid.
Even through the small television set, I thought Wrigley Field was magical. The ivy on the walls, announcers like Harry Caray, the players, the uniforms … all of it. So, I chose the Cubs. Or, perhaps, somehow, they chose me. Needless to say, I was a goner from that moment on. Investing energy and emotions on all my Chicago teams.
Now, we were a baseball family. And, a football family (later I fell in love with both hockey, boxing, and basketball, as well … my Grandpa Britton would be so proud).
Yet, there was a family secret about baseball I never knew growing up.
Fast-forward to later years, when my sister got super interested in our family lineage. She started to dig in and research our family tree. And, in her research, she stumbled across something that profoundly changed our lives and further deepened my love of the game, the game of baseball.
For what she found out was that my maternal great-grandmother (my mom’s grandmother) was the first women to ever own a Major League Baseball (MLB) team.
That’s right, my great-grandmother own the St. Louis Cardinals for 6 years … and, all before women even had the right to vote!
What we found out was the my great, great grandfather, Frank Robison, and great, great uncle, Stanley Robison, actually helped to start the Cleveland Spiders (now, the Indians), and then moved their streetcar business to St. Louis and took over ownership of the Cardinals when they did. My great, great uncle then bequeathed the team to my great-grandmother: Helene Hathaway Robison Britton.
What!!! When my sister found this out, we were shocked. Well, at least us kids were. It seems my family thought it wasn’t any big deal so they never really discussed it. As we learned more, we found pictures and memorabilia of my great-grandmother’s time as an MLB owner.
My sister’s research led to a baseball historian, Joan Thomas, catching wind of our story and requesting that she be able to write a book, “The First Woman of Baseball” in honor of my great-grandmother’s story. I remember it all like it was yesterday.
Later, the St. Louis Cardinals organization reached out to tell us there were putting together an exhibit to honor “Women in Baseball” and they wanted to put something very special together to honor Helene. So they did, with my family’s help.
In June 2017, my mom, sister, brother and I were invited to Busch Stadium in St, Louis, MO to honor my great-grandmother. My mom got to throw out the first pitch that day, as she is the only granddaughter of Helene. We were given the VIP treatment and learned so much about the history and legacy my great-grandmother created.
For starters, it seems Helene was the one responsible for initiating Women’s Day at the ballpark, where women (again, remember this was before women had the right to vote) were able to attend baseball games without a male escort.
Turns out, from what the historians can trace, it also appears Helene may have been the first women to own any major sports team in the Western Hemisphere.
Did I mention that baseball is in my blood? It runs so deep within my family history. And, the more I learned about Helene, the more I see the fire that both my sister and I have to change the world, to blaze our own paths, to create our own living legacies.
For Helene dared to do the unthinkable. She dared to set herself apart. She chose to take the challenge presented to her when she was given the team. For six years, she fought, she used her voice, and she championed women’s rights in the realm of sports. She played in a fierce 'good-ole-boys' club, and through many challenges and struggles (you can just imagine how she was treated, as there weren’t many who appreciated her position).
Yet, she showed up. She chose to be brave. She chose to lead. And, she made history (or her-story) in doing so.
Yes, baseball is in my blood. Deep, deep, deep in my blood.
To learn more about my great-grandmother’s legacy, please check out Joan Thomas beautiful book: “The First Woman of Baseball: Helene Hathaway Robison Britton and the St. Louis Cardinals”
An excerpt from the book:
“Baseball s First Lady is the story of Helene Hathaway Robison Britton, the first woman owner of a major league baseball club, and her influence on the evolution of the St. Louis Cardinals. Late in life, Cardinals owner M. Stanley Robison willed his club and ballpark to niece Helene Britton. This transfer in 1911 marked a break in the gender barrier in the executive level of Major League Baseball, as Helene, a young wife and mother of two, confidently accepted her inheritance. Operating among baseball s magnates of the day, she attended owner’s meetings as an equal and took an active role in running her club all at a time when society dictated that a lady should not attend a baseball game without a male escort. Despite facing serious domestic problems during her tenure as owner, she proved herself worthy of her uncle s trust. Facing competition from one, and then two other St. Louis clubs, she maintained the Cardinals for six years, selling when the club showed promise for another century."