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Collins, Dorothy "Dottie" Wiltse (9/23/1923 - 8/12/2008)
By Richard Goldstein
Dottie Collins, who was a star pitcher in women’s professional baseball in the 1940s and later played a major role in preserving the history of the women’s game, died Tuesday in Fort Wayne, Ind. She was 84.
The cause was a stroke, said her son-in-law, Michael Tyler.
Pitching for six seasons in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, created in 1943 to provide home front entertainment while many major leaguers were off to war, Collins dazzled opposing batters.
She pitched underhand, sidearm and overhand; she threw curveballs, fastballs and changeups; and in the summer of 1948, she pitched until she was four months pregnant. She won more than 20 games in each of her first four seasons. She threw 17 shutouts and had a league-leading 293 strikeouts in 1945 for the Fort Wayne Daisies, when the women’s game resembled fast-pitch softball.
But Collins’s greatest contribution to women’s baseball may have come when its ball clubs had long been forgotten.
The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., had been considering an exhibition on women and baseball during the mid-1980s, but, as Ted Spencer, its chief curator, recalled in an interview, it had little material to display until Collins approached him.
“When I connected with Dottie, the ball started to roll,” Spencer said. “If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where it would have gone.”
In 1987, Collins helped form an association of former players in the All-American league. She drew on her contacts to provide the Hall of Fame with memorabilia from the league, spurring creation of its Women in Baseball exhibit in 1988. Now an enlarged, permanent collection, the exhibit inspired the 1992 Hollywood movie “A League of Their Own,” a reprise of women’s pro baseball during World War II.
Dottie Collins was born Dorothy Wiltse in Inglewood, Calif. Her father, Daniel, a welder for an oil company, taught her to pitch. She played women’s softball in Southern California, then joined the All-American league in 1944 with the Minneapolis Millerettes.
The Millerettes relocated to Fort Wayne, as the Daisies, in 1945, and Collins became a pitching mainstay for them. She had a career record of 117-76 and an earned run average of 1.83.
Some four decades after she retired, Collins reflected on major league ballplayers and said she was none too impressed in light of her feats.
“I pitched and won both games of a doubleheader once pitching underhand,” she told Susan E. Johnson in “When Women Played Hardball.”
“I think I could have pitched a doubleheader overhand, too,” she said. “I don’t think it would be that hard. Nowadays, the men can’t do it, but hell, they can’t do nothin’.”
The All-American league went out of business after the 1954 season, and the images of the young women in their one-piece tuniclike dresses, skirt above the knees, playing before enthusiastic crowds in cities like Fort Wayne and South Bend, Ind.; Rockford, Ill.; and Kenosha and Racine, Wis., faded.
Collins and her husband, Harvey, whom she married in 1946, raised a family in Fort Wayne, and like the other ballplayers of her day, she lost touch with former teammates. But the association that Collins helped found brought those women together again. Collins became its treasurer and an editor of its newsletter, and she was also a spokeswoman for the alumnae as interest in the women grew, an outgrowth of the Cooperstown tribute and the Penny Marshall movie, which starred Geena Davis, Madonna, Tom Hanks and Rosie O’Donnell..
One of her teammates, a rookie with the 1948 Daisies, remembered how Collins “kind of played mother” to her and fellow rookies, teaching them how to conduct themselves as professional athletes, and how she provided emotional support for former teammates over the years.
Her teammate added, “She had a lot of compassion for everybody, and she did a lot of letter-writing to support people who had problems. She was a good shoulder.”
When the Hall of Fame exhibit opened, many of the All-American league’s former players were on hand, accompanied by children who had never known of their mothers’ baseball exploits. Collins said she found the moment immensely gratifying.“The movie is second place so far as we are concerned,” she told The Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1992. “Being accepted by Cooperstown was the greatest thing that happened to any of us."
Contributed by: Helen Nordquist
Submitted on: 10/20/2013
Copyright: New York Times, 8/15/2008