Dorothy Kamenshek, 1925–2010
The female ballplayer who inspired A League of Their Own
Dorothy Kamenshek was considered by many to be the greatest female baseball player of all time. An inspiration for the Geena Davis character in the hit 1992 film A League of Their Own, Kamenshek played first base for the Rockford, Ill., Peaches in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1943 to 1953, capturing batting titles in 1946 and 1947 and finishing among the league’s top 10 career batting leaders. “She was the greatest ballplayer in our league,” said Lavone “Pepper” Paire Davis, a catcher for 10 years in the league. “She could hit with power, she could bunt, she could run, she could slide, and she played a great defensive first base.”
Born in Norwood, Ohio, outside Cincinnati, Kamenshek was raised by her widowed mother and “played sports on neighborhood sandlots,” said WashingtonPost.com. She was playing for an industrial league softball team in Cincinnati in 1943 when she tried out for the newly minted professional league, the “brainchild of Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley, who wanted to find a way to keep fans coming to the ballpark when male ballplayers were away at war.” After passing the tryout, the 17-year-old signed a professional contract, “making more money than she could have in most jobs available to women in those days.”
A left-hander, Kamenshek had a career .292 average and stole 657 bases, said The New York Times. She slid frequently, despite wearing the mandatory short skirt—part of a uniform designed to appeal to male fans. “At first, they just came to see the skirts,” Kamenshek recalled, “and then we showed them we could play.” Kamenshek made leaping catches at first base, sometimes doing a split in the air for good measure. Former New York Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp called Kamenshek “the fanciest-fielding first baseman I’ve ever seen, man or woman.”
Kamenshek was pegged at No. 100 on Sports Illustrated’s list of the 100 greatest female athletes of the 20th century, said the Chicago Tribune. Known as “Kammie” to her friends and “Dottie” to fans, she led the Peaches to four championships before retiring in 1953. (The league folded in 1954.) In 1950, a men’s minor league team in Fort Lauderdale tried to buy her contract, “but the girls league board rejected the offer.” The 5-foot-6-inch, 135-pound Kamenshek later called the effort a “publicity stunt,” and said she was happy to remain with her team in Rockford.
Kamenshek, who moved to Southern California after her professional baseball career ended, earned a degree in physical therapy from Marquette University and worked as a physical therapist for children. Baseball, she said, “gave a lot of us the courage to go on to professional careers at a time when women didn’t do things like that.”