Dorothy Kamenshek: All-American Girls Professional Baseball League & Seven-Time All-Star Player
Dorothy Kamenshek, nicknamed “Dottie” and “Kammie,” was born in Norwood, a small suburban town outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, on December 21, 1925. She remained an only child throughout her life to her Austrian-born parents.
Dorothy’s father, who emigrated to the United States at Ellis Island under the name of Nikolaus Kamanschek, passed away from pneumonia while she was not yet 10.
Her mother, widowed and working long hours to support herself and her small family, refused to allow her daughter to enlist in the Army to become a nurse later in life, as Dorothy originally dreamed of.
To prevent Dorothy from remaining home alone so frequently, Dorothy’s mother encouraged her to play sports at the local neighborhood playgrounds. Dorothy quickly turned out to enjoy softball tremendously and proved to be a natural at it, eventually playing in a local league throughout her teenage years. When she was 17, her speed in the outfield and her strength at the plate during a game caught the eye of a scout visiting Cincinnati.
It was 1943 and Dorothy was one of 30 local girls invited to try out at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois, for the new All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The league was specifically created by chewing gum magnate, Phillip Wrigley, along with other Midwestern investors with the intention to keep Americans’ morale afloat during a time when men across the country were being drafted to fight in World War II.
To Dorothy’s surprise -- as she often expressed throughout her lifetime that she never thought of herself as “the best”, much less “good enough” for the league -- she qualified for the Rockford Peaches. Along with her teammates and other players across the league, Dorothy was required to attend Charm School in the evenings and was not allowed to go on unchaperoned dates nor drink, smoke or swear.
Baseball fans did not immediately embrace the new all-female league for various reasons. The teams across the league had feminine names, from the Milwaukee Chicks to the Racine Belles and the Fort Wayne Daisies, and all players were required to wear skirts. The dainty uniforms also incited much teasing from a cynical, scant crowd who did not take Dorothy and her teammates seriously.
But Dorothy became a key player in driving the audience’s interest and earning the respect of thousands across the country as she quickly moved on to first base from an outfield position just as quickly as the league’s attendance rose from 500 to over 10,000 attendees each game.
Selected to seven All-Star teams, Dorothy held the highest batting average of the league and only struck out 81 times throughout her 3,736 appearances at the bat throughout her career. Fascinated by her abilities, a men’s minor league from Fort Lauderdale, Florida offered her a contract in 1947, which she turned down, deeming it a publicity stunt for the league to capitalize on her fame as a woman, yet without any real plans to actually let her play.
In 1953, Dorothy retired from baseball due to a longtime back injury, happy to pursue her lifelong dream of going to college. She had already begun to attend classes at the University of Cincinnati during the offseason, but decided to pursue physical therapy after her time with the league.
She eventually earned her degree from Marquette University and moved to California, where she supervised approximately 100 physical therapists at the Los Angeles County Crippled Children’s Services Department.
Dorothy passed away at the age of 84, in 2010, having never married and leaving no surviving family member behind. The 1992 film, A League of Their Own, is loosely based on Kamenshek’s character and career. In 1999, Sports Illustrated named Kamenshek as one of 100 Greatest Female Athletes of the 20th Century.
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