The decade of the ballgirls: An interview with former Cubs ballgirl Kathy Wolter

The Chicago Cubs sent an email to their fans last week announcing their plans to pay tribute to the decade of the 1980s during the current seven-game homestand as part of the team’s season-long celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday.  In that official release, the team pointed to “important moments” in the ballpark’s history, like the “first night game and the ‘Sandberg Game,’ as well as the beginning of traditions like Harry Caray’s 7th inning stretch.”

Perhaps the team is suffering from a bout of selective memory, but they seem to have forgotten what truly made the Wrigley Field experience different in the 1980s from every other decade: the ballgirls.

If you were male and a Cubs fan in the 1980s, you probably remember Marla Collins.  Heck, you probably fantasized about her.  Maybe you still do.

From 1982 to 1986, Collins was the Cubs ballgirl.  The team paid her $150 per game to retrieve foul balls while wearing a Cubs uniform that included extra-short shorts for those hot summer days.  The late, great Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray was one of Collins’ biggest fans and would often be distracted from the game by her.  Some viewers found this habit of his annoying if not disturbing.  But it was what made Harry different from most every other sports broadcaster out there.  He was genuine and never pretended to be anything other than what he was.

Perhaps the Cubs’ amnesia has something to do with the controversial ending to Collins’ career as a ballgirl.  The Cubs fired Collins in the middle of a dismal 1986 season after she posed nude for Playboy magazine.  According to Chicago Tribune columnist Fred Mitchell, she was fired for breaking the “family-oriented spirit” of the Cubs.  Playing lousy baseball apparently didn’t wreck that family-oriented spirit, as all of the players kept their jobs despite a 5th place finish in the NL East that year with a dismal 70-90 record.

Mike Royko, the late Tribune columnist, wrote of Collins’ dismissal: “Of course it’s hypocritical. But hypocrisy is the very backbone of our sexual moral standards.  Many of our most outstanding bluenoses are secret lechers.”

In a 1989 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Collins observed the irony of the Cubs hiring and putting her in the shortest of shorts, and then firing her for taking them off.  “You don`t put anyone with lots of curves in real short shorts and a tight shirt if you don`t want her noticed.”

No, you don’t.  The reality was that Collins was oftentimes as popular if not more popular than the players.  The Cubs knew that, which is why they went looking for a replacement for her.  Enter Kathy Wolter and Mariellen Kopp.

Wolter and Kopp, dubbed by Harry Caray “The Blonde” and “The Brunette,” respectively, for obvious reasons, were, in Wolter’s own words, the other Cubs ballgirls.

Wrigleyville Nation’s Randy Richardson caught up with Wolter as the Cubs readied to celebrate the decade of ballgirls at Wrigley Field.

Randy: Tell us how you became a ball girl for the Chicago Cubs.

Kathy:  In 1984, I auditioned for a group named The Chicago Cubs Spirits.  Our group escorted guests to the pitcher’s mound to throw out the first pitch, took pictures with fans, worked benefits, and represented the Cubs at various events around the city.  When the ballgirl position became available, I had established a working relationship with the organization and was asked to come in to interview.

Randy: Were you a Cubs’ fan then?

Kathy: I was raised a Cubs fan.  In fact, when my grandfather was young, he would buy a ticket to Opening Day each season.  At the end of the game, each boy who cleaned the stands would receive a ticket for the next game.  He was at every game all season and told great stories of those days.  Once a Cubs fan, always a Cubs fan!

Randy: You followed Marla Collins, who was removed after she posed nude for Playboy.  What was it like to come in under those circumstances?

Kathy: I felt bad that I got the position because Marla lost it.

Randy: I think a lot of fans remember Marla but might not remember that there were two other ball girls that followed her. Why do you think that is?

Kathy: Marla Collins was the Cubs ballgirl, she made the position famous….we were just the other ballgirls.

Randy: Did you know Marla at the time, and if so, what advice, if any, did she give you?

Kathy: I had actually met Marla a few times before I became a ballgirl; unfortunately, I did not have any contact with her after she left.

Randy:  Do you ever hear from either of the other two ball girls, Marla or Mariellen?

Kathy: I have spoken to mutual friends of Marla’s, but unfortunately not to her directly, and I have lost all contact with Mariellen.

Randy: What was your most memorable experience as a bal girl?

Kathy: I have so many memorable experiences as a ballgirl, but one of my favorites actually happened my second day on the job.  Daryl Strawberry hit a foul ball and I actually felt the brush of wind as it passed my face.  It was terrifying as well as exciting, and I thought, “Wow, I’m in the big leagues here!”

Randy: What was your worst experience as a ballgirl?

Kathy: I literally did not have any bad experiences at all.

Randy: Tell us about your nickname, “The Blonde.”  How did that come about and what did you think of it?

Kathy: That was simply another name game of Harry’s….one of us was blonde, the other brunette.  We didn’t have all those different shades of hair color back then but I can just imagine all the fun Harry would have had with them.

Randy: Did you get to know Harry Caray? What are your thoughts about him today?

Kathy: I did get to know Harry and thought very highly of him.  My mother and grandmother went to most of my games so they came through the office entrance with me.  Harry would pass them on his way to the booth and was always kind and jovial to them…that won my heart immensely.

Randy: Did you have any kind of a relationship with any of the players?  Did you have a favorite player at the time, and, if so, what about him made him your favorite?

Kathy: I would go on the field with the umpires and if they were not on the field by the time the National Anthem started, I would stay in the dugout until it ended. One day, while waiting in the dugout, some of the players tried to give me a “hotfoot” where they light your shoelaces on fire while you aren’t looking, and Ryne Sandburg stopped them.  Of course, he was my favorite from that day on, and I felt accepted by the other players since they included me in the “fun and games.”

Randy: Why did the Cubs decide to stop using ballgirls?

Kathy: I did ask why ballgirls were no longer going to be hired, and the organization stated they would be utilizing the batboys instead; however, it’s my opinion that there was too much controversy with regards to Playboy and they didn’t want that to be synonymous with baseball, apple pie and the Cubs.

Randy: Looking back at the experience, do you have any regrets or misgivings about it? Would you have done anything differently? Would you do it all over again, if given the chance?

Kathy: Being a Cubs ballgirl was such an incredible experience for me.  I still feel fortunate for the opportunity.  When I was hired, I decided I was going to try my own version of breaking the “curse” by intense concentration throughout the game instead of the normal wild cheering.  In retrospect, I wish I had just gone crazy-happy with the rest of the fans.  And of course I would do it over again and again and again.

Randy: Do you think the Cubs will ever have ball girls again? Should they have ball girls again? Why or why not?

Kathy: I would like to see the ballgirls in place again.  It would give young ladies some great experiences as well as bringing in more girls to the game!

Randy: Tell us what you’ve been doing since your stint as a Cubs’ ballgirl.

Kathy: After my Cubs ballgirl job, I went on to model for a couple more years, did a lot of traveling for several years, started a jewelry company and got married just five years ago.  I have some of the most incredible memories from my job as a Chicago Cubs ballgirl…and once a Cubs fan, always a Cubs fan!

Randy Richardson is the author of CHEESELAND. An all-new edition of his Wrigleyville murder mystery, LOST IN THE IVY, was released by Eckhartz Press on Opening Day.

Grass Pattern in Photo: Grass pattern Wrigley Field / Alex Ford / CC BY 2.0 / Alteration: Cropped