Lavone Paire Davis, women’s baseball league player and film inspiration, dies

February 6, 2013

Lavone Paire Davis broke every one of her fingers at least once during her time as a star catcher for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II. But never did she cry.

“There’s no crying in baseball,” said Mrs. Davis, often called “Pepper,” when asked years later how she endured the pain while keeping her composure. Mrs. Davis, a mainstay of women’s baseball in the 1940s and ’50s, died Feb. 2 at a hospital in Van Nuys, Calif. She was 88.

She had respiratory ailments, said her son William Davis.

Her line was later immortalized in the 1992 hit film about women’s baseball, “A League of Their Own,” which featured Tom Hanks as a gruff, no-nonsense manager who barked at his players that there was “no crying” in the sport.

The star player, portrayed by Geena Davis, was partly based on Mrs. Davis (no relation). Mrs. Davis wrote the league’s official song, which was featured in the movie. She also was a consultant and technical adviser for the film.


Lavone Paire Davis was a mainstay of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s and 1950s. (Courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, NY)

The all-women’s league was established in 1943 by Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum mogul and owner of the Chicago Cubs, to keep baseball alive as American men went off to war.

During her 10 years in the league, Mrs. Davis played for teams including the Grand Rapids Chicks, the Fort Wayne Daisies and the Racine Belles as catcher, shortstop and third-base woman. Several of her teams won league championships.

“We were damn good, and we proved it,” Mrs. Davis said in 2004.

Wrigley was adamant that the players act like ladies at all times. In interviews, Mrs. Davis recalled the strict rules in place for the women: enrollment in charm school, skirts as uniforms, shoulder-length hair or longer, chaperones when they went out, and no slacks or smoking in public.

“You have to do all that,” she said, “but when you get on the field you have have to play baseball like a man.”

The teams played every night of the week with doubleheaders on Sundays and holidays. She led the league in runs batted in and had the top fielding percentage for a catcher in 1950.

The hardest challenge during that time, she recalled years later, was “waiting for my brother to come home from the war.”

Lavone Agnes Paire was born May 29, 1924, in Los Angeles. During the Depression, she won cash prizes and groceries playing for business-sponsored neighborhood softball leagues.

She learned how to play baseball from her brother and the neighborhood boys. She became known as “Pepper” because of her fiery red hair.

“Being a redhead was a stigma back then, so they nicknamed me ‘Red Pepper’ to rub it in,” she told the Daily News of Los Angeles in 2004. “The name stuck when I went to play for the Dr. Pepper baseball team.”

She was scouted in 1943 for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and began playing in 1944. Mrs. Davis, then 20, had been attending UCLA part time and working electronic jobs for Hughes Aircraft as part of the war effort. She dropped everything to join the league.

“Some laughed at us, but after they saw us play they changed their minds,” Mrs. Davis told the Times of Trenton, N.J., in 2010. “We were supposed to be at home cooking and instead we were at home plate hitting.”

Mrs. Davis quit the league in 1953 after meeting her future husband, and the league folded a year later. After raising her children, she became involved in multiple charities and organizations that promoted women’s rights and involvement in sports. She self-published an autobiography, “Dirt in the Skirt,” in 2009.

For decades, the all-women’s baseball league was largely abandoned to history — even after the players were featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s first-ever exhibit on women’s baseball in 1988. The 1992 film, by director Penny Marshall, revived the league in the popular imagination.

Her husband of more than 35 years, Robert Davis, died in 1987. Survivors include three children, William Davis of Santa Clarita, Calif., Rob Davis of Minturn, Colo., and Susan Gardener of Los Angeles; a brother; four grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

Mrs. Davis recognized that the female players were not just playing baseball, they were preserving an American tradition.

“We were keeping baseball alive,” she said in 2010. “That was our job.”