Born: October 9, 1933
Town: Garfield & Passaic
Joan Berger was born October 9, 1933 in Passaic. Her father, known to one and all as “Slim,” was an accomplished semipro player who taught Joan the game and often brought her out of the dugout during pregame arm-ups to take infield grounders. As an eight grader, Joan became a member of the Garfield Flashettes, a women’s softball team formed by her father. One of her teammates was Dolores Lee, one of the state’s top players.
Slim Berger was a bird dog for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. In 1949, at his urging, Joan attended a tryout for the AAGPBBL. She was good enough to earn a spot, but at age 15 she fell short of the AAGPBBL’s minimum age.
Two years later, after graduating from high school, he she made the roster of the Rockford Peaches. She played right field for Rockford in 1951, but was still technically a rookie in 1952 when she made the All-Star team as a second baseman. She played second, third and short for Rockford in 1953 and 1954, batting a career-best .280 in 1954, which was the AAGPBBL’s final year of operation. In all, Joan averaged .250 for her career, with 173 runs scored, 78 stolen bases and 119 walks against 75 strikeouts (in a pitching-dominated league).
After the league folded, Joan’s old Rockford manager, Bill Allington, formed an all-women’s traveling softball team called Allington’s All-Stars. Joan and her teammates traveled from town to town in a caravan of station wagons, taking on local men’s teams. The All-Stars played their final game in 1958. The team featured a number of AAGPBBL luminaries, including Betty Foss (1952 Player of the Year), sluggers Katie Horst and Jean Geissinger, pitcher Joanne Weaver and glamorous Dottie Schroeder.
After coming off the road, Joan married Andrew Knebel. They lived in Lodi and had three sons. In 1988, she was included in the Hall of Fame exhibit on the AAGPBBL. Joan worked for the Ferrero candy company for many years before retiring in her early 60s.