R.I.P. Lavonne “Pepper” Paire-Davis, Inspiration for Dottie in A League of Their Own
so long and thanks for all the fish
True Story: The last time I saw the tail end of A League of Their Own, I had to look away so that I didn’t cry (becausethere’snocryinginbaseball). True details: I was running. On a treadmill. At the gym. And the television was on mute. One of the last times I was actually unable to not cry even by great force of will at a movie screening, it was a combination of watching The Muppets and knowing that Jim Henson‘s wife and daughter were in attendance.
So, from this evidence, I postulate that if there was anything guaranteed to make me cry buckets of salt tears, it would have been watching A League of Their Own with Lavonne “Pepper” Paire-Davis, who died this weekend at the age of 88.
“Pepper” Paire was a catcher, shortstop, and third basewoman for the Minneapolis Millerettes, the Fort Wayne Daisies, the Grand Rapids Chicks, and yes, the Racine Belles during the heyday of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s and ’50s. She was one of the major inspirations for Geena Davis’ Dottie Hinson in A League of Their Own, even serving as a consultant on the movie’s set. From the New York Times:
She was 19, working as a welder in a shipyard and going to college part time, when her hobby playing softball in local leagues bore unexpected fruit: she and a friend, Faye Dancer, were recruited to join the Minneapolis Millerettes of the new league…
Playing catcher as well as shortstop and third base, she won pennants with all but the Millerettes, and her 400 career runs batted in tie her for fourth in league history. In 1950, she drove in 70 runs in 110 games for the Chicks.
She even co-wrote the A.A.G.P.B.L.’s victory theme, which is exactly the point at the end of the movie that always gets me right in the who’s-cutting-onions. If there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t seen A League of Their Own and isn’t up on their baseball history, the A.A.G.P.B.L. was an all-women baseball league founded in America during World War II by Phillip W. Wrigley (of the chewing gum), in order to tide public interest in baseball over until the end of the war, as many of its male players were drafted. Said Paire-Davis about her experience playing, “I know what it’s like for your dream to come true, mine did… Baseball was the thing I had the most fun doing. It was like breathing.”
The League shut down in 1954 and was largely a forgotten part of baseball history until the first player reunion in the ’80s, after which followed recognition from the Baseball Hall of Fame, a documentary, and eventually the 1992 film A League of Their Own, directed by Penny Marshall and starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell. For the passing of Ms. Paire-Davis, I think, we can forgive a little crying in baseball.