Long before Mo'ne Davis, another female baseball phenom

Edith Houghton displays her photograph at age 12 as a shortstop on the Philadelphia Bobbies in 1924. Shown at age 89, she died last year at age 100.
Edith Houghton displays her photograph at age 12 as a shortstop on the Philadelphia Bobbies in 1924. Shown at age 89, she died last year at age 100. (File Photograph)
Posted: August 16, 2014

As implausible as Mo'ne Davis' journey to the Little League World Series might seem, she's not the first 13-year-old female phenom from Philadelphia to experience a remarkable baseball adventure.

In 1925, Edith Houghton, already the Philadelphia Bobbies' starting shortstop, traveled to Japan with that women's professional team for a series of games against Japanese men.

"For young women in 1925, to be playing baseball and to be going to Japan - well, that was pretty exciting," Houghton, who died last year at age 100, told The Inquirer in 2001.

That trip - the highlights were preserved in a diary archived at the Baseball Hall of Fame - wouldn't be the most notable item in Houghton's obituary. In 1946, the Phillies made her baseball's first - or perhaps second - female scout.

The daughter of a semipro player, Houghton was born in North Philadelphia. The tomboy honed her skills on a field near 25th and Diamond, proving so precocious that boys quickly nicknamed her "The Kid."

In 1922, the 10-year-old read about a tryout for the Philadelphia Bobbies, a new pro team whose name derived from the era's "bob" hairstyle. She walked to Fairmount Park and soon was the team's shortstop.

Wearing a baggy uniform, Houghton was briefly a sports-page fixture. After a game in Lancaster, a local newspaper reported that the "10-year-old phenom covered the ground at shortstop for the team and made herself a favorite with fans."

The barnstorming Bobbies held their own against male teams across America. And on Sept. 23, 1925, they departed Broad Street Station, bound for Seattle, from where they would sail to Japan on the President Jefferson. The trip was organized by Philadelphia promoter Paul Barth.

Details of the games have disappeared, but, according to Nettie Gans' diary, the Bobbies, using a male pitcher and catcher, won 60 percent of their Japanese games.

On the trip, Houghton and her teammates - all but two Philadelphians - viewed dozens of silent movies, survived an earthquake in Osaka, shopped in Tokyo, met actors, journalists, and an English earl, and experienced seasickness.

"I wish I could remember more about it," Houghton said in 2001, "but I was so young. . . . All of the girls were older than I was, so when they wanted to smoke and drink, they didn't do it in front of me."

The trip ended with a Nov. 16 game in Kobe. Houghton and the Bobbies returned to Philadelphia, to considerable fanfare, on Dec. 6.

"PHILADELPHIA AT LAST!" Gans exclaimed in her diary. "I don't know how we stood still [for the pictures], we were so excited."

Houghton went on to play for several women's baseball teams, including the New York Bloomers. She was a Navy Wave during World War II and reportedly hit .800 for a female service team.

In 1946, she was working as a buyer for a local hardware chain when Bob Carpenter asked her to scout for his woeful Phillies. Though she was the first designated female scout, the White Sox previously used the services of Bessie Largent, whose husband, Roy, was on their payroll.

"It's not hard to pick them out," Houghton said at the time. "You look for natural ability. The rest comes with training."

She left scouting in 1951 and stayed in the Naval Reserve until 1964.


ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com

@philafitz

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