According to George Weiss, Alta Weiss threw a corncob at a cat, trying to save a bird that the cat was after, “with all the follow-through and wrist-snap of a big league pitcher.”
The Weiss family moved from Berlin to Ragersville in 1895 when Alta Weiss was just 5 years old. Here she went to school and played ball with the boys. By age 14 she was pitching for boys teams, but her baseball career didn't officially kick off until she was 17.
Ray Hisrich, Alta Weiss's grandnephew and president of the Ragersville Historical Society, tells us how that happened. “She went to Vermilion over the summer, and someone saw her playing ball there, discovered her,” he said.
That would have been in summer 1907, and the man who discovered her was Vermilion's Mayor H.R. Williams. After meeting with him, Alta Weiss signed on with the Vermilion Independents, a minor league team, and word about her began to spread.
Some 1,200 people came to her first game with the Vermilion Independents, and later in the autumn of 1907 she was invited to play in Cleveland's League Park. More than 3,000 people came to see her play in Cleveland. By the end of the night she and her team had won the game seven to six and the hearts of Ohio's baseball fans.
Journalists in particular loved following her career. In one 1908 interview when asked about her uniform, she famously said, “I found that you can't play ball in skirts. I tried. I wore a skirt over my bloomers and nearly broke my neck. Finally I was forced to discard it, and now I always wear bloomers but made so wide that the fullness gives a skirt-like effect.”
With Alta Weiss quickly rising to stardom, her father decided to build her a massive gymnasium in Ragersville so that she could train throughout the week. He also built her a ballpark: the Weiss Ball Park. She practiced hard, becoming particularly skilled at throwing the fastball, knuckleball and spitball.
Throughout all of this she was still attending school. “She actually finished her high school and then went to prep school in Wooster,” Hisrich said. “She graduated from Ragersville High School, which was a two-year school, and then she went to prep school in Wooster and then down to Starling Medical College, which is now the Ohio State University.”
Her high school graduation was in 1908, the same year that her father bought a large share of the Vermilion Independents, renaming the team to the Weiss All-Stars. Throughout her career with the Independents she would travel 130 miles each weekend to Vermilion.
After her schooling ended in Wooster, she attended the Starling Medical College in Columbus, which is now the Ohio State University College of Medicine. She studied to become a doctor like her father, and in 1914 she was the sole female graduate. She paid her tuition with the money she earned playing semipro baseball.
Alta Weiss continued to play baseball semiprofessionally until 1922, traveling all over Ohio and Kentucky. She then retired but continued playing baseball casually. In 1927 she married Ray Hisrich and moved to Norwalk. Later when her father passed away in 1946, she moved back to Ragersville to practice medicine for a few more years before retiring as a doctor. She passed away Feb. 12, 1964.
In addition to playing ball, Alta Weiss was an accomplished musician, singing and playing piano and violin.
“She used to hunt,” Hisrich said. “She smoked cigars and everything else.”
Today the Ragersville Museum has a display in honor of Alta Weiss, which you can see by appointment over the winter or on Sundays when the museum is open in the summer. Her uniform is displayed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. In addition several books have been written about her including “Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings,” a children's book by Deborah Hopkinson.
Published: December 13, 2016