Dorothy “Dottie” Kamenshek was the Babe Ruth, so to speak, of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the only women’s professional baseball league in baseball history.
She passed away on May 17, 2010 at age 84. The Gina Davis character in A League of Their Own was named after Dottie and loosely based on her.
The AAGPBL lasted 12 seasons from 1943 through 1954. At its inception, the “girls” played a game that was closer to fast-pitch softball than what we think of as baseball.
However, as the league matured, the rules changed until by the end of the 1954, the lady ballplayers were essentially playing baseball.
Here’s the All-American Girls Professional Baseball Association’s webpage describing the evolution of the AAGPBL’s rules.
Dottie played for the Rockford Peaches throughout her 10-year career (1943-1951, 1953). She started as an outfielder but quickly moved to first base.
According to this wikipedia article , She won the AAGPBL’s batting title in 1946 with a .316 average and again in 1947 at .306.
Dottie was the league’s all-time batting leader with a career .292 mark, and she was elected to seven All-Star teams (1943, 1946-1951).
Dottie would have likely played all 12 years the AAGPBL was in existence, but her career was prematurely ended by back problems; how many slugging first basemen have had their careers cut short by back problems? More than few.
Here’s a photo of the 1948 All-Star Team . Dottie is the brunette (although they almost all look brunette in the black and white photo) at the bottom left. She has the intense look of ballplayer determined to be the best.
As its 12-year history suggests, the league had some success. It was originally created with the idea that it would fill a gap created by the contraction of the minor leagues during World War II, when most healthy young men were in the service.
The majors and the high minor leagues (what would now be considered AAA and AA) all continued play throughout the war, mainly by promoting players from the lower minors and calling players out of retirement to fill their depleted ranks.
Phil Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, provided financial support for the new league, and Dodgers President Branch Rickey was also on the league’s initial board of directors.
Wrigley originally proposed that the women’s league play in major league parks when the men’s teams were on the road. The other major league owners, showing their usual level of interest in creative new ideas that might increase revenue, nixed the idea.
The league ended up starting play in 1943 in only four small cities: Racine and Kenosha, Wisc.; Rockford, Ill.; and South Bend, Ind. The league had a successful first season and added teams in Minneapolis and Milwaukee for the 1944 season.
Ironically, while league attendance increased, the two big city teams didn’t do well and moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., and Ft. Wayne, Ind., for the 1945 season. League attendance topped 450,000 that year.
The league eventually added two more teams in Peoria, Ill., and Muskegon, Mich., and even conducted Spring Training in Florida, Mississippi and Cuba.
As mentioned above, as the league matured, the game played became more like men’s baseball; and the early emphasis on the players’ sex appeal gave way to athletic performance on the field.
In the first three years after WWII, the league routinely drew between 2.000 and 3,000 fans a game, not much different from what many teams in the Independent A Northern League and American Association draw today. Attendance peaked in 1948, when a 10-team league drew over 900,000 fans.
However, 1948 was also the year that television really got underway (including the televising of major league games), and league attendance declined after that.
Also, as the game the AAGPBL played became more like men’s baseball, it became harder to find young women who could enter the league without training beforehand, since most of the talent base had only played women’s softball.
Here’s an article on the history of the AAGPBL if you want more information.