She Was a Semi-Pro Pitcher and a Physician!
Alta Weiss was born on February 9, 1890, in Berlin, Ohio. She was the second of three daughters born to Dr. George and Lucinda Zehnder Weiss. When Alta was five, the family moved to Ragersville, Ohio.
While Alta enjoyed most outdoor activities and sports, baseball was clearly her passion. She began pitching at an early age, and her ability to play and compete in baseball was outstanding. Her skills exceeded those of more than a few male players who considered themselves accomplished athletes.
By age fourteen, Alta was pitching for boy’s teams. In 1907, at seventeen, while on vacation, Alta played a pickup game of baseball with a group of local men in Vermilion, Ohio. The mayor of the town, H.R. "Squire" Williams, was very impressed with the skill of the young woman who was pitching. He urged the manager, Charles Heidloff, of the semi-pro team, The Vermilion Independents to recruit her. The manager's emotions shifted from surprise to anger. He absolutely refused to sign a woman to the team. The mayor was determined and arranged a couple of exhibition games between two local teams and invited Weiss to pitch for one team.
What he saw left him speechless. When she pitched her 15th strike out in the first game and 9 in the second, it didn’t take the manager long to prepare a contract for her. She was, of course, the only woman on the team, and her male counterparts were skeptical, but Alta soon was one of the boys! She gained the admiration and respect of players and fans alike. Each weekend Alta made the 127 mile trip from her home in Ragersville, to Vermilion, to play ball.
On September 2, 1907, dressed in a blue skirt. Alta made her semi-pro debut and pitched five innings. During the season, she pitched more and more and became known as the “Girl Wonder.” We should note that they paid her at a rate that rivaled the pay the men on the team received. Over 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.
Alta soon became a sensation and noticed for her skill and poise. As pitcher for the Vermillion team, Alta played at League Park, now the home of the Baseball Heritage Museum, against future Hall of Famer, Nap Lajoie and the Cleveland Naps. A special train was even built to run from Cleveland just for those who wanted to see Alta play there! Of her skill Nap said: “she looked to me to have as much as many men pitchers … but really, I was surprised to find that she could pitch so well.” Vermillion beat the Indians that day, 4-2. The lady was a pro! The Vermilion Independents ended their 1907 season with a 5-3 record.
After seeing Alta's performance during her first season, her father was thrilled.. He treated her like a son and encouraged her to continue to play. He even built a heated gymnasium on their property so she could continue her practice during the offseason. Realizing his daughter’s economic potential, a year later, in 1908, Dr. Weiss purchased half-interest in the team and renamed it the Weiss-All Stars. They changed the uniforms to white for the men and black for Alta. When she took the mound for her new team, Alta wore bloomers rather than a skirt. The new team traveled through Ohio and Kentucky during the 1908 and 1909 season. Alta drew record crowds who wanted to cheer her on as she pitched. Alta usually pitched five innings and then played first base for the other four.
At the end of the 1909 season, using the funds from her baseball barnstorming to pay her way, she enrolled in Wooster Academy to pursue a higher education. The year after, Alta enrolled in the medical program at Ohio State University Medical College in Columbus, Ohio. In 1914, she graduated with a Doctor of Medicine degree, the only woman in her class. Alta continued to play baseball until 1922, when she practiced medicine full time.
Alta continued to practice medicine, though, and in 1925, she opened her own practice in Norwalk, Ohio. Two years later, she married John Hisrich. When Alta’s father died, she took over his practice in Ragersville, where she remained for the rest of her life.
Alta never lost her deep love of baseball. She encouraged the neighborhood children to play. One of those children was Lois Youngen, who became the catcher for the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Baseball League.
In 2005, the Women's National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, displayed Alta's uniform.
In 2018, the Baseball Heritage Museum honored Weiss with a re-enactment starring actress Anne McEvoy.
Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings is a children's book written by Deborah Hopkinson in 2003 about Weiss's life. It continues to inspire young baseball players.