Dorothy 'Dottie' Kamenshek, 84

Dorothy "Dottie" Kamenshek dead; women's professional baseball player

Dottie Kamenshek was called the best player in women's baseball and was once recruited to play for a men's professional team.
Dottie Kamenshek was called the best player in women's baseball and was once recruited to play for a men's professional team. (National Baseball Hall Of Fame Library)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dorothy "Dottie" Kamenshek, 84, often considered the finest female baseball player ever and whose exploits with the Rockford Peaches in the 1940s helped inspire the movie "A League of Their Own," died May 17 at her home in Palm Desert, Calif. A family friend said she had lingering complications from a stroke suffered nine years ago.

Ms. Kamenshek was only 17 when she joined the Rockford, Ill., team in 1943, the first year of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Chicago Cubs owner and chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley established the league to keep baseball before the public eye when male ballplayers were drafted into the military during World War II.

The women's league became a popular attraction in the 1940s and early '50s, and Ms. Kamenshek was acknowledged as its greatest all-around player. She twice won the league's batting title, was named to seven all-star teams and was once recruited to play for a men's professional team.

In 1999, Sports Illustrated named her one of the 100 greatest female athletes of all time.

Wally Pipp, a onetime New York Yankee who lost his job at first base to Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig, called Ms. Kamenshek "the fanciest fielding first baseman I've ever seen, man or woman."

In the 1992 film "A League of Their Own," Geena Davis played a character named Dottie Hinson that was said to be based on Ms. Kamenshek and another star player, Pepper Paire Davis. Ms. Kamenshek, who was often known as "Kammie" during her playing days, was a consultant for the movie and spent two days teaching the actresses how to turn a double play.

"Our skills were as good as the men's," she told baseball historian John B. Holway for an article in Baseball Research Journal. "We just weren't strong enough to compete with them."

Ms. Kamenshek, who was 5-feet-6 and 135 pounds, was playing for a softball team near Cincinnati when she tried out for the fledgling women's baseball league. She was signed as an outfielder before making the transition to first base.

The Rockford Peaches were one of the four original teams of the All-American League, as it became known, along with teams in South Bend, Ind., Racine, Wis., and Kenosha, Wis.. By 1948, the league had expanded to 10 teams across the Midwest and drew almost 1 million fans to its games.

The women's rules evolved from a modified form of softball to an almost exact duplicate of men's baseball -- except that its players wore above-the-knee skirts. The women played up to 120 games in a four-month season. Each team had only 15 players, which meant that they often played with serious injuries as well as constant abrasions, or "strawberries," from sliding into bases on their bare legs.

The players were expected to follow one simple rule: "Look like women. Play like men."

They had to keep their hair at shoulder length and wear makeup even while playing and were required to attend a charm school run by cosmetics doyenne Helena Rubenstein. Chaperones traveled with the teams, and drinking, smoking and unauthorized dating were forbidden. Still, some of the ladies of the diamond managed to have colorful escapades, as recounted in "A League of Their Own."

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