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Baseball Analysis  John Holway

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                                            PEPPER AND SALT

                                                 PEPPER PAIRE

                                                An appreciation


                                                By John B Holway


Pepper Paire, the saltiest gal in the old “League of Their Own,” died February 2 in her home in Van Nuys california. She was 88. Her marriage license says her name was Lavonne Davis, but the baseball world knew her as Pepper Paire.

Those who never saw her play can check her out in the 1992 movie that starred Geena Davis as Pepper, doing splits to catch foul flies and bouncing by bus across the midwest prairies 1944-50 with Tom Hanks playing her manager, Jimmie Foxx.

            “We had ten teams in ten towns – like Racine, Peoria, Rockford,” she remembered, “and I had a boy friend in every one.” Make that nine boyfriends. Number ten was a semipro pitcher who was sweet on her “until I hit a line drive through the box that parted his hair.” “Well,” she sighed, “there goes that romance.”

            The bus had no toilets, so how did they manage on long rides? “There’s always a grassy hill some place,” she winked.

            The girls played in short skirts, sliding hard into every base. One wonders how many bases the men’s record holder, Ricky Henderson, would have stolen if he had to wear shorts. “How come you didn't tear the hide right off you legs?” a newsmen asked.

            “We did tear the hide off,” she shot back.

            But the uniforms helped bring out the fans. The old Police Gazette, the number-one reading in barber shops across America, snapped her leaping for a high throw as her skirt flew up. It made the front page.

            Pepper grew up in Depression Los Angeles. Her mother had Olympic swimming aspirations, and Pepper played in a girls’ football league. Her mother gringed when the players “piled on” after a tackle - she knew Pepper was probably on the bottom. The curly head also played softball in Hollywood before movie stars for a few dollars, enough to buy a bag of groceries on the way home to help her mom and brother make ends meet.

            The all-American Girls Professional Baseball League was born in 1943 to fill the gap after many of the big league stars left for the armed forces. She joined the league the next year and had to learn to walk in high heels with a book on her head to prove she was a ”lady.”

            Life, America’s best-selling magazine, covered the tryouts, and the rookie Pepper had to think of something fast to get attention. She grabbed a bat and strummed it like a ukelele while lustily singing a song she had written. The photographer whirled around and clicked. Yep, she made the issue.

            The song went on to become the league’s official anthem.

            Pepper and her best pal, Faye Dancer, became the league cut-ups. Coming in after curfew one night, they stood on tiptoes on a coal pile to pull the rooming house fire escape down. They would have made it, but they climbed in the window just as the manager and the chaperone stepped out of the elevator.

Faye and Pepper made life miserable for the latter by spreading limberger cheese on her light bulb or peanut butter on the toilet seat. It was a game of waits between the chaperones and the players. Guys lined up at the clubhouse exit after the games, but Pepper mnaged to slip them her phone number when the mother Henry was looking the other way.

Meantime she was fending off unwanted passes from managers and reporters, who retaliated by giving her less time on the field and less ink in the paper.

The girls toured Cuba at the same time as the Brooklyn Dodgers, and they out-drew the Bums as the fans flocked to see the Yanqui peloteras.

Tthey played serious baseball. Sophie Kurys once stole 200 bases in a year (the big league record is 118), and Dottie Kamenshek led the league in hitting and may have been the best fielding first baseman ever to play the game; she even got an offer from a minor league club,

            They played hard, and they played rough. When Pepper was injured in a home plate collision, the pain was excuciating, but the doctor told her she was faking it because she couldn't  take a little pain like men could. They found out later that her arm was broken.

            Joe, the love of her life, was a crewman on a bomber overseas. When she got the letter that he had been killed, she bought a six-pack and sat alone all night in the cemetery behind the hotel, crying until dawn. But she played the game the next day.

            The story was retold in the movie, “A League of Their Own.” Pepper was a consultant, teaching Geena Davis how to block home plate and becoming close friends with co-star Madonna, whom she called “just a girl who’s looking for love in all the wrong places.”

Pepper’s song became the film’s theme.

            She told all about it  in her book, “Dirt on the Skirt,” which she said is “suitable for all ages.” She sold it at autograph shows alongside Joe DiMaggio, Ernie Banks, and Johnny Bench. John planted a big kiss on her, which she said was “the only time I've ever been benched.”

            The Hall of Fame recognized the All-American girls and invited them to Cooperstown, which was the occasion for a big reunion.

            Pepper’s final years, like Ted Williams’, were filled with pain. “If I had known it was going to be like this,” she said, “I don't think I would have wanted to be born.”

            She was often asked if women will ever play professional ball again. “If it happened once,” she said, “it can happen again.” As her song says;


                        “Batter up!” Hear that call.

                        The time has come for one and all

                        To play ball.




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