A movie made for the Baseball Hall of Fame about Josephine Morhard’s Little Big League program in the Cleveland area
“Mrs. Morhard and The Boys: One Mother’s Vision … The First Boys’ Baseball League … A Nation Inspired”
Ruth Hansford Morhard
The publishing info:
Citadel Press/Penguin Random House Canada, 352 Pages, $27, released Feb. 26
The review in 90 feet or less
When you stumble onto a story that has less to do with the sport it’s trying to use as a foundation and more about the history of someone’s life who accidentally became attached to it in somewhat of a desperate measure, you’ve found something that shouldn’t be kept a secret.
Josephine Morhard’s life story is worth telling on its own, and by the time we get around to the baseball angle of it, you figure out how a sport gave her only son some structure, discipline and a chance to shed himself from a Depression Era plight.
The unsinkable single mom, twice-divorced, resourceful and resilient, reads like a Louisa May Alcott character. Her own daughter-in-law, Ruth Hanford Morehard, who barely knew much of Josephine when their lives crossed, recounts this personal tale that involves her husband Al (aka, Junior), who in passing mentions some interesting parts of his mom’s life as they’re cleaning out her attic.
A film surfaces of Josephine and her youth baseball organization she started in Cleveland, years before such a thing took national prominence in Willamsport, Pennsylvania in the late 1930s.
The author, who has a background in Creative Nonfiction writing from Stanford and has taught public relations writing, pieces it all together with some literary license, basing information on Josephine’s diary entries and notes left about her life. The first 140 pages are needed to establish how Josephine reached a point in her life where she needed something to help alleviate her son’s anxiety while she was working six days a week to make ends meet. She knew Junior and the neighborhood friends would form pickup baseball games in empty lots. She could do better.
Her ability to navigate local politics and bring in sponsors leads to an organized youth baseball league is a magnificent result of her work. With that, she got the hometown Cleveland Indians to supply Little Indians uniforms, which led to Cleveland Indians star players like Bob Feller, Roy Weatherly and Jeff Heath (who dated her daughter during his rookie season) to enter the story. There’s even Hal Lebovitz, a Cleveland sportswriter who ended up in Baseball’s Hall of Fame writer’s wing, integrated as one of the league’s first umpires.
The Indians’ old home field, League Park, not far from Josephine’s meat market, also becomes a character in the book.
It’s phenomenal to see how this all came together, and even moreso to have access (above) to that film that started the project. The writing may be a bit over-flowery at times and miss a few marks on baseball terminology. But those are only slight trip ups in the overall success of this project.
How it goes down in the scorebook
A fine Mother’s Day gift for fans of any baseball game taking place on May 12.