Interesting People throughout History!Ohio’s “Girl Wonder” of BaseballAlta Weiss

Published on

By Pam Teel

More than 100 years ago, it was a woman athlete who attracted trains full of baseball fans to Cleveland, Ohio. Advertisements in the papers boasted all about her pitching skills.

Miss Weiss was born on February 9, 1890, in Berlin Heights, OH, a small town in Tuscarawas County. Her parents were Dr. George Bitikofer Weiss and Lucinda Zehnder Weiss. In 1895, the Weiss family moved from Berlin to Ragersville, where her father established his medical practice.

Alta began pitching at an early age. She enjoyed an array of outdoor activities and sports growing up, but baseball was her passion. It was clear that her ability to play and compete in baseball was phenomenal. Her skills exceeded many of the male players, who considered themselves accomplished athletes. Her father practiced with her and encouraged her to continue playing by establishing a two-year high school so she could play on its baseball team. Dr. Weiss was instrumental in planning Alta’s education and athletic life.

 By age 14, she was pitching for boys’ teams, but her baseball career didn’t officially kick off until 1907, when she was 17.  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 the mayor 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 dressing in a blue skirt and receiving pay that rivaled even the male players. More than 1,200 fans attended the game in which Weiss pitched 5 innings, giving up only 4 hits and 1 run. By the time Weiss made her second appearance on September 8, she was already being hailed as the “Girl Wonder” in the press.

 According to Vermilion News, so many fans wanted to see Weiss play, that special trains had to be run to Vermilion from Cleveland and surrounding towns. Weiss pitched 8 games for the Independents during their 1907 season. More than 13,000 fans saw the games, including a season high of 3,182, who witnessed her debut at Cleveland’s League Park on October 2, 1907. At least a dozen newspapers covered the story. The Independents ended the 1907 season with a 5-3 record.

Realizing his daughter’s economic potential, Dr. Weiss bought half interest in the team, at the end of the season and renamed it the Weiss All-Stars. He changed the team uniforms to white for the men and black for Alta. Alta usually pitched five innings and then played first base for the rest of the game. During the winter months, her father continued encouraging her love of the sport by building a heated gymnasium onto their barn so she could continue to practice during the off season. 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.

Aside from establishing a local high school, her father also built Weiss Ball Park, where Alta played on the town’s younger “second” team. Alta practiced all winter.  To develop her physique, Dr. Weiss outfitted the gymnasium with body-building equipment, basically treating her like an athlete in training. Working hard to market Alta’s baseball image, he created a folklore around her extraordinary pitching ability.

Dr. Weiss was very successful in promoting his daughter, and in 1907, she became the Independents’ star pitcher, and   a celebrity in the Cleveland area. So many fans wanted to see her pitch. The press loved Alta and enjoyed doing write ups in the paper about her. She was always applauded for her extraordinary ability and phenomenal pitching. Touring Ohio and Kentucky, the Weiss All-Stars played to record crowds of appreciative fans, many of whom tossed money onto the infield after particularly good plays.

Following the summer of 1908, Alta attended the Wooster Academy in preparation for college. Two years later, she entered the Starling College of Medicine in Columbus (now The Ohio State University Medical College). The funds from her baseball days paid the way for her higher education. During these years, she still played some baseball, but after 1910, her pitching appearances became fewer. College and the death of her sister Irma, who had provided companionship during the travel, had both been factors.

 Alta graduated as a Doctor of Medicine, in 1914, the only female in her class to receive a Doctor of Medicine Degree.  Eventually, in 1925, she opened her own practice in Norwalk, Ohio.

She married John Hisrich in 1927, though the couple would eventually separate. Upon her father’s death in 1946, she returned home to Ragersville, Ohio, to take over her father’s medical practice. She never lost her love of baseball and always encouraged neighborhood children to play baseball. Weiss passed away in 1964 at the age of 74. She truly helped paved the way for women in baseball.

In 2005, Alta’s 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.