As the girl who was never comfortable in a dress and preferred baseball card-collecting to playing with Barbies, I completely connected with the characters in the 1992 film “A League Of Their Own”. Before then, I’d had no idea that women had ever played baseball, let alone in skirts. But they did, and they did it with so much grace and charm they won over the men (and women) who said it would never work.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was created during WWII because the owner of the Cubs–P.K. Wrigley–was afraid of all the money he’d lose while the men were off to war. At the time, the idea of a bunch of women gracing the field was laughable, but the assembled players soon shut up all the naysayers with their impressive skills. They would go on to play for eleven years and be honored in the Hall of Fame.
One of the standout players of the AAGPBL during those years–1943-1954–was Lavonne “Pepper” Paire-Davis. She had an arm like a rocket and a love for the game that won out over the multiple injuries she sustained…so it’s no surprise that she provided the inspiration for the film’s main character, Dottie, played by Geena Davis. And while there are significant differences between Paire-Davis’s actual life and that portrayed by Dottie–like the fact that she wasn’t actually a Rockford Peach (she was a Racine Belle, however!)–it’s not hard to see why she was chosen by producers to provide inspiration for the movie.
Outside of her professional career, Paire-Davis played softball, but she always said it couldn’t hold a candle to her true love.
“I know what it’s like for your dream to come true, mine did,” Paire-Davis said. “Baseball was the thing I had the most fun doing. It was like breathing. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to be playing softball. But I’d rather have played competitive baseball.”
Paire-Davis passed away over the weekend at the age of 88, and though a little bit of women’s history has gone with her, we’ll always have the Hall of Fame to remind us of what she and all the other ladies of the AAGPBL accomplished. She also wrote a book about her experiences called “Dirt In The Skirt”, which I highly recommend.