Wilma Briggs: A league of her own

Wilma Briggs (Photo courtesy of the Heritage Hall of Fame)

Wilma Hannah Briggs, also affectionately known as “Willy” or “Briggsie,” passed away on September 4, 2023 at the age of 92. Born in East Greenwich on September 4, 1930, Briggs lived an extraordinary life. In 1948, Briggs entered the American Girls Professional Baseball League and played in the league until 1954. She stood 5’4” tall and weighed in at 138 lbs. Oddly enough, she batted left-handed and threw right-handed. She led the league in home runs during the 1953 season and is second in the rankings for the all-time home runs — she had 43, Eleanor Callow had 55. Briggs was also one of only 14 players to have 300 or more career runs batted in. In 2013, she was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.

Briggs played baseball in high school on the boy’s team, which was unheard of at the time, before entering the league as a member of the  Fort Wayne Daisies in Indiana. Years later, her time in the American Girls Professional Baseball League inspired the iconic film A League of Their Own.  Briggs played for the Daisies for six years before joining the South Bend Blue Sox in 1954. She began her career in right field for the Daisies, until their left fielder broke an ankle. Briggs was switched to left field and remained in that position for the rest of her career.

In her first two seasons, she hit two home runs; by 1953, she increased that to a league-leading nine home runs. In 1954, she ranked second with 25 home runs to close out the league’s final season. She was voted the best defensive outfielder in 1951 with a fielding average of .987 and helped Fort Wayne win pennants in both 1952 and 1953 before closing out her career in 1954 with South Bend.

Her life was filled with more than just baseball. Her journey began at her family’s dairy farm, known as Broken Elm Farm. When she graduated from Barrington College she became the first member of her family to earn a college degree. She dedicated herself to elementary education for 23 years, introducing  the concept of “no child left behind” long before it became law. 

Her Christian faith was the foundation of her entire life. She said her faith led her to accomplish all she did. Briggs served as the Sunday school superintendent at Rocky Brook Church, where she taught generations of believers of all ages. She dedicated herself to these pursuits, even taking on the role of church treasurer, a position she held for 13 years, and for two years held the treasurer position for the Eastern Mass and RI Conference of the Advent Christian Church.

Briggs lived a life of achievement marked by accolades and recognition. She has been inducted into numerous athletic halls of fame, including; the RI Heritage Hall of Fame, East Greenwich Athletic Hall of Fame, International Scholar Athlete Hall of Fame, and the RI Slow-Pitch Hall of Fame. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League ended in 1954, but in 1988 the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY unveiled a permanent display honoring the league and women who took part in the experience. In 1990, Briggs became the first woman to be inducted into the East Greenwich Athletic Hall of Fame and was also elected to the first AAGPBL Players Association Board of Directors. In 1991, she received the first annual Game of Legends Award for her 38 years of contributing to women’s softball in Rhode Island. On November 20, 2021, Briggs was inducted to the Rhode Island Slow Pitch Hall of Fame. 

Briggs also was a source of inspiration for people through her media appearances, interviews, and speaking engagements. She became a sought-after speaker, appealing to athletes, church groups, and people from all walks of life. 

Wilma Brigg’s love, care, and patience touched countless lives. Despite having taught so many, she never had children of her own. She cherished her extended family and doted on her many nieces and nephews. Shortly before her passing, she reflected on her accomplishments, humbly saying, “I don’t know why God has blessed me like this over the years. I just tried to do things the best I could.” Her words echoed her favorite Bible passage, Colossians 3:23-24, which reminds us to serve with all our hearts. 

Her life was a life of service, one that will influence all those fortunate to  discover this extraordinary woman’s legacy.