Lavonne “Pepper” Paire-Davis, a 10-season All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player who inspired the character portrayed by Geena Davis in 1992’s A League of Their Own, died of natural causes on Saturday in Van Nuys, Calif. She was 88.
Her death was reported Tuesday by the sports blog Big League Stew.
“I know what it’s like for your dream to come true, mine did,” the Los Angeles-born Paire-Davis told the Associated Press in 1995, when she was 70. “Baseball was the thing I had the most fun doing. It was like breathing.”
As depicted in the movie, which fictionalized much of what happened and changed the names of the players (Geena Davis’s character was called Dottie Hinson), the women’s league arose during World War II. In fact, it was chewing-gum magnate and Chicago Cubs owner Philip W. Wrigley who put it together, out of concern that pro baseball would have to shut down because all the men were overseas.
That never happened, but heroines such as Pepper Paire, as she was known in her playing days, had some glorious moments in the sun. “We played every night of the week,” she said, “doubleheaders on Sundays and holidays.”
According to her New York Times and AP obituaries, Paire-Davis was a 19-year-old, part-time UCLA student and already part of the war effort – working as a shipyard welder – when she and a friend, Faye Dancer, were recruited for the new league’s Minneapolis Millerettes team.
Over 10 seasons she would also play catcher, shortstop and third base for the Fort Wayne Daisies, the Racine Belles and the Grand Rapids Chicks, wining pennants for those teams. According to The Times, she tied for fourth place in the history of the league with her 400 career runs batted in.
The newspaper also notes she was as skillful off the diamond as she was on it, by not only having boyfriends in many cities, but also by managing to escape her chaperones.
She is survived by two sons, William and Robert; a daughter, Susan; four grandchildren; a brother; and a 2009 memoir – Dirt in the Skirt.