Lavonne “Pepper” Paire-Davis, the inspiration for the 1992 movie, “A League of Their Own,” died of natural causes at her California home Saturday at 88.
“League” is a conventional baseball movie, save that all the players are women. The league in question is the “All-American Girls Baseball League.” It was formed in 1943 by chewing gum magnate and Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley when the draft was sucking up the nation’s male baseball talent. (This was a time when you could refer to a female-type person over the age of two as a “girl” without being hauled up on charges.)
The players wore short skirts and played every day. It was mostly a Midwestern business. The teams had cutsie names like the Fort Wayne Daisies, the Racine Belles, and the Grand Rapids Chicks. Pepper caught and played shortstop for several teams.
In the movie, Pepper is played by the appealing Geena Davis. The less-than-appealing Rosie O’Donnell is also in the movie, but TAS readers can close their eyes while she’s on the screen. Tom Hanks does a good job as the boozy, on-the-way-down manager, Jimmy Dugan. He delivers the now famous line, “There’s no crying in baseball,” after one of his players bursts into tears of frustration.
When the men came back in ’45 and ’46, interest in “girl’s” baseball diminished, but the league lingered on until 1954. Pepper went back to softball, but never forgot her years playing the real deal. “Baseball was the thing I had the most fun doing. It was like breathing,” she said in a 1995 interview. (I can relate. Misfortunately my own talent for the game never approached my love of it, thus a misspent life in journalism. As a youngster attempting to master this difficult game I often wanted to cry, and probably would have had it been allowed.)
For those who haven’t seen it, the movie is worth the time. It contains remarkably few liberal sermonettes considering the subject.
RIP Pepper. I’m sure you’re playing in the highest league now.