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Sun December 29, 2013
Remembrances

'League Of Their Own' Inspiration Didn't Mind A Dirty Skirt

Originally published on Mon December 30, 2013 7:50 am

Before turning the page on 2013, All Things Considered wanted to tell you stories you haven't heard — unknown stories about people you've heard of, and unknown people who have affected your lives in ways you can't imagine.

The passing of one sports legend went largely unnoticed this year. She's a figure you might know from the movie A League of Their Own, starring Geena Davis and Tom Hanks.

Lavonne "Pepper" Paire Davis made her mark with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s, a time when young women just didn't play ball.

"You had to live down this image of being a girl ballplayer; that was not the most popular thing to be in our era," Davis said in a documentary in the late 1980s, also called A League of Their Own. "They looked at you kinda funny, you know, why weren't you in the kitchen? And were you really a ball player? ... The image was not that great."

Pepper Paire, as she was known at the time, was tough — a hard-playing catcher who really loved the game.

After seeing the documentary, director Penny Marshall got the story made into the Hollywood feature. That version hit theaters in 1992. Pepper served as a consultant on the film.

She was also a driving force in the effort to win recognition for the league in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And she wrote a memoir, Dirt in the Skirt, reflecting on her time as a professional ballplayer.

"It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was doing something I loved, I was with people that were great people," Davis said. "It's the second dearest memory in my heart, and the first one would be my son, my daughter, my grandson. [The League] ranks right up there, awful close to it. Close enough to be warm."

Davis died in February at age 88.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

The passing of another sports legend went largely unnoticed this year, a figure you probably know from the movie "A League of Their Own."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN")

TOM HANKS: (as Jimmy Dugan) Are you crying?

BITTY SCHRAM: (as Evelyn Gardner) No.

HANKS: (as Jimmy Dugan) Are you crying? Are you crying? There's no crying. There's no crying in baseball.

RATH: Lavone "Pepper" Paire Davis made her mark with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s, a time when girls just didn't play ball.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN")

ANNOUNCER: Customarily, baseball skill is first acquired in childhood. And up to now, most little girls have concentrated on their knitting rather than their hitting. These high-steppers were the exceptions.

LAVONE PAIRE DAVIS: You had to live down this image of being a girl ballplayer. That was not the most popular thing to be in our era.

RATH: This is "Pepper" Paire Davis speaking in a documentary made in the late '80s also called "A League of Their Own."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN")

DAVIS: They looked at you kind of funny. You know, why weren't you in the kitchen? And were you really a ball player? And especially, you wore a skirt. The image was not that great.

RATH: If you're thinking, man, she does not sound like the type to cry during a ball game, well she wasn't. "Pepper" Paire, as she was known at the time, was tough, a hard-playing catcher who really loved the game. That documentary was seen by Penny Marshall who got the story made into the Hollywood feature. Paire was also a driving force in the effort to win recognition for the league in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And she wrote a memoir reflecting on her time as a professional ball player.

DAVIS: It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was doing something I loved. I was with people that were great people. It's the second dearest memory in my heart, and the first one would be my son, my daughter, my grandson. AAGPBL ranks right up there, awful close to it. Close enough to be warm.

RATH: Lavonne "Pepper" Paire Davis, who died this year at age 88.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AAGPBL VICTORY SONG")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) To play ball. We're the members of the All-American League. We come from cities...

RATH: By the way, this song from the movie was the real league anthem co-written by "Pepper" Paire.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AAGPBL VICTORY SONG")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Our chaperones are not too soft, they're not too tough. Our managers are on the ball. We've got a president who really knows his stuff, we're all for one, we're one for all, we're All-Americans! Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.