Doris Sams, Women’s Baseball Star and League of Their Own Inspiration, Dies at 85
so long and thanks for all the fish
There may be no crying in baseball, but maybe they’ll make an exception for this case. Known as one of the best athletes of the women’s baseball league of World War II, Doris “Sammye” Sams, also known as “Dauntless Doris,” died in a nursing home in Tennessee on June 28th.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was founded by Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley in 1943 and sought to fill baseball teams–and stadiums–with women when so many men volunteered or were drafted into the war. The league lasted for more than a decade, and included teams like the Fort Wayne Daisies, the Grand Rapids Chicks, the Racine Belles, and the Rockford Peaches.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League fell from the public cultural lexicon for decades after it ended, but was revived in the hearts of many when it was portrayed in the 1992 Penny Marshall film A League of Their Own.
Sams joined the league just after the war, in 1946, remained there for eight years, and was named Player of the Year twice–once in 1947, when she pitched a perfect game. She played for the Lassies, a Michigan team based first in Muskegon and then Kalamazoo. In 1988, when the National Baseball Hall of Fame honored the women of the league at an exhibit, recalled a particularly harrowing moment in one game:
“That last pitch, a girl just about drove down my throat, it ricocheted off my knee, almost tore off my kneecap, and the shortstop made a great stop and threw her out.”
In her eight-year career Sams made the all-star team five times, both as a pitcher and outfielder. Like all women in the league, Sams was made to wear the uniform: short skirts with little to no protection underneath, designed to put forth the image of “manly grit but feminine grace.” Given the frequency of sliding into bases in the sport, it’s amazing any of these women had skin left on their legs after years in the league. The colloquial term for these abrasions is “strawberries.” Sams spoke to the inconveniences of the required attire:
“Believe me, you haven’t lived until you’ve slid on skin. You talk about ‘strawberries.’ One of the girls dated a Triple-A player who used to say there wasn’t enough money to get him to slide on skin, and he was right.”
In honor of Dauntless Doris and the legacy her and other members of the league leave behind, we leave you with this anthem from A League of Their Own:
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