This Dennis McCarthy column was first printed on Nov. 14, 2004 beneath the title “A league of her own — pro baseball legend Pepper Davis recalls her diamond days in the sun.”
Pepper Davis opens the display screen door of her tiny Van Nuys bungalow on a Friday, sliding one other bowl of cat meals out onto the entrance porch for the neighborhood strays.
“The thing is, I don’t even like cats that much; I’m a dog person,’” the 80-year-old widow says. “But I can’t let these child strays starve, so I feed them, and so they grasp round my yard all day.
“I can see the headlines now,’” she says, laughing. “‘Cat Lady Jailed — Used to Play Baseball.’”
With that, one of the best feminine baseball gamers to lace on a pair of spikes turns her wheelchair round and heads again into her shrine.
Back to tables lined with scrapbooks stuffed with baseball packages and newspaper clippings of her exploits with the Racine Belles, Grand Rapid Chicks and Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Back to partitions lined in framed sports activities pages and pictures of Pepper with the best ball gamers of an period when main league baseball was compelled to take a backseat to warfare.
When some extremely proficient feminine athletes grabbed a bat and glove and stuffed in for the guys. Running out onto the discipline of goals in skirts to maintain the spirit of baseball alive for 12 years in the nation’s heartland throughout World War II and Korea.
It was all chronicled in the 1992 film “A League of Their Own.’” Actress Geena Davis portrayed a personality primarily based on Pepper and her buddy, Dottie Kamenshek — two of the finest gamers in the league.
“We were damn good, and we proved it,’” Pepper stated Friday, smiling as a couple of extra neighborhood strays climb up on the entrance porch of the cat woman who used to play baseball.
Her mother and father named her LaVone, however none of the boys known as her that. She was at all times “Pepper”‘ to them — the child sister who discovered to play hardball from her older brother, and fairly quickly turned the first choose when the boys selected up sides.
“Being a redhead was a stigma back then, so they nicknamed me ‘Red Pepper’ to rub it in. The name stuck when I went to play for the Dr. Pepper baseball team.’”
She went to University High School in Los Angeles, changing into good associates with a fellow pupil named Norma Jean Baker, who would change her title to Marilyn Monroe after highschool.
Pepper went on to turn into a riveter and welder in a navy protection plant in Culver City, till a baseball scout knocked on her mother and father’ door one night time when she was 18.
Her baseball skills had caught the eye of promoters with a loopy thought of beginning a ladies’s baseball league round the Chicago space. Was she ?
“My family was poor, money wise, so I jumped at the chance,’” Pepper stated. “Heck, I would have jumped at it if they were rich. The league was paying $75 a week, plus $2.50 a day in meal money. All the girls were sending money home to their families.’”
The guide on Pepper was she had a fairly good bat, however a gun for an arm. They moved her from shortstop to catcher, the place she performed for 3 completely different groups in 11 years — all of them profitable the championship when Pepper was behind the plate.
“There were 10 teams in 10 towns, and I had a boyfriend in every one of them,’” she says, with a twinkle in her eye. “We performed a ballgame each night time, with a doubleheader on Sundays and holidays.
“I give up in 1954, a year earlier than the league folded, as a result of I had lastly discovered the proper man, and didn’t wish to let him get away.
“I got married, put my scrapbooks away and became a mom.’”
In 1958, she and her husband, Bob Davis, moved into this tiny Van Nuys bungalow, constructed in 1928, and raised three kids.
Her baseball career was over. Men had been residence from warfare. The ladies’s league turned nothing however a small footnote in baseball historical past for the subsequent 35 years.
Even a particular ceremony in 1988 inducting Pepper and the whole All- American Girls Professional Baseball League into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown didn’t trigger a blip on the public’s radar display screen.
That blip didn’t come till movie director Penny Marshall made a film.
Growing up, Bill Davis had heard all the tales, seen the scrapbooks in the closet. He knew his mother had performed skilled baseball, but it surely by no means actually hit residence what all of it meant.
“Then the movie came out, and it was, ‘Wow, that’s my mom.’ All of a sudden, everyone wanted to talk to her, have her come to their events all across the country.’”
Pepper and her teammates turned stars once more — touring to charity capabilities throughout the nation — changing into associates alongside the manner with the best male gamers of all time, together with the man she thinks was the finest baseball player of any period — Joe DiMaggio.
But it was the respect they discovered late in life that meant the most to the ladies, Pepper says in a guide she’s simply completed writing, “Dirt in a Skirt.” She’s on the lookout for a writer.
“Wherever we went, people asked if we could have beaten the guys,’” Pepper says. “Well, we beat some of the males’s groups we performed in exhibition video games.
“One man, a catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, got here as much as me at one occasion, and stated we had performed an exhibition sport towards each other in Fort Wayne again in 1948.
“Going into the ninth inning, we had been beating them 3-1. He stated their supervisor known as them collectively in the dugout and reminded them they had been going to New York to play the Yankees subsequent.
“Did they really want to tell the Yankees that the Fort Wayne Daisies had beaten them? They rallied and beat us by one run.’”
The child performs catcher, his grandmother’s previous position.
“I think she’s still better than me,’” 13-year-old Riley Robert Davis says. “She has a great arm.”
Pepper Davis smiles. She’s been working together with her grandson — making an attempt to get him to launch the ball a little bit earlier so he can nail the runner at second.
At 80, her knees are shot, and she or he will get round most of the time by wheelchair. And, when the climate will get chilly like it’s now, each one of her 10 fingers, every of which she’s damaged many instances enjoying baseball, actually aches.
But Grandma nonetheless has a fantastic arm.
Pepper Davis, née Paire, died on Feb. 2, 2013. She was 88.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He could be reached at [email protected]