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Collins, Dottie (Wiltse), A Great All-American Pitcher During the Forties

By Jim Sargent

dottie collins
Th
e Rockford Peaches were in first place in the All-American Girls Baseball  League when they traveled to Fort Wayne late in the 1945 regular season, but instead of sweeping a double-header from the Daisies on Sunday, August 19, at Northside Field, the Peaches lost by scores of 5-1 and 1-0. On top of that, Fort Wayne's ace right-hander, Dorothy "Dottie" Wiltse, hurled and won both games.

Not only did Wiltse stop Rockford twice in one evening, but afterward, while enjoying refreshments with her five roommates, she met her future husband, Harvey Collins. He was a baseball fan and Fort Wayne resident and had just returned from a four-year hitch with the Navy in the Pacific.

Harvey, born and raised in Lone Oak, Arkansas, had moved with his family when he was seven to Fort Wayne. He was a senior at Northside High by the time Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor and other American bases in the Pacific on December 7, 1941. The next day he and several friends went to the Navy recruiting office and enlisted. World War II was the last patriotic war in United States history, and thousands of young men joined the colors in late 1941 or in 1942.

Harvey trained for three months in "boot camp," shipped out to Hawaii, and spent most of the war in Honolulu working as a Navy supply clerk. He also pulled several months of guard duty on Johnson Island near the equator in 1945, when U.S. forces believed the Japanese might invade several islands.

Back in Fort Wayne, a few days after Japan surrendered, Collins saw the twin bill won by Wiltse and the Daisies. Afterward, his longtime friend Jimmy Haskins asked Harvey to help deliver two cases of beer to the upstairs apartment where several Daisy ballplayers lived.

When the two young men made the delivery, Harvey met Dottie Wiltse, a pretty, personable, outgoing young woman with brown eyes and auburn hair. "On the way out," Collins recalled, "I asked her, `Would you like to play golf tomorrow?'"

The result? After the next season, Dottie learned how to play golf, and the couple was married on March 10, 1946.

Wiltse's double-victory evening was the first of two that month. She repeated her twin-win feat against Grand Rapids eight days later, on August 27, 1945. On that occasion, a pair of away games, she won the 9-inning opener and the 7-inning nightcap. The Daisies beat the Chicks by scores of 14-0 and 3-1.

"I remember winning both of the double-headers," Collins said, "but I always remember the two wins in Fort Wayne against Rockford for two reasons. One, I met Harvey, and number two, it was great to beat Rockford. Rockford, you know, was the number-one team. It was just great to beat`em."

One of the All-American's top pitchers of the underhand era (before 1948), Dottie Wiltse Collins fashioned a record of 29-10 with a stunning 0.83 ERA in 1945, leading the league in strikeouts with 293. As a rookie traveling with the Minneapolis Millerettes the previous summer, she was 20-16 with a 1.88 ERA.

But the Minneapolis franchise failed after one season, and the Millerettes relocated to Fort Wayne in 1945 and became the Daisies. Wiltse, always a fan favorite, continued to be one of the AAGPBL's top pitchers and most popular players.

Her lifetime record was 117 wins and 76 losses, her ERA for 223 games in six years was an impressive 1.83, and she won more than 20 games in each of her first four seasons.

But Dottie's `48 campaign (13-8, 2.01 ERA) was cut short when she became pregnant with the couple's first baby, Patricia, who was born on December 22, 1948. Collins worked at home in 1949, made a comeback in 1950, and then retired from baseball.

Thereafter, Dottie raised her family, giving birth to their son Daniel on March 18, 1954. All the while she worked at various jobs, including for Baseball Blue Book in the 1960s. By that time Harvey was the general manager of a Fort Wayne auto dealership.

In retrospect, Dottie Wiltse came a long way in her professional baseball career, which, like most All-Americans, began when she excelled as a teenager at several sports, including fast-pitch softball.

Born on September 23, 1923, in Inglewood, California, the only child of Daniel and Eleanor Wiltse, Dottie grew up loving sports. A competitive girl, she was coached by her father, a longtime semipro player in the Los Angeles area.

Dottie became so good at softball that the boys in her neighborhood asked her to play for their sandlot team. She began pitching and usually won, earning quite a diamond reputation.

At age twelve, in 1936, Dottie latched on with the Mark C. Bloome fast-pitch softball team in the Beverly Hills League. The chance to live her ballplaying dream came after several weeks as bat girl. During the final game of the Los Angeles ExaminerTournament, played before 10,000 fans at old Wrigley Field, Bloome's pitcher faltered early.

The manager sent his bat girl to the mound, and the team rallied to win the Southern California Championship, and Dottie's ball career was launched. It was the first time she ever pitched a league game, and she was always proud of her 1936 trophy.

Dottie played basketball, volleyball, and field hockey in gym classes. At that time in California girls were not allowed to participate in interscholastic sports, except tennis.

In 1939, playing for Goodrich Silvertown, Dottie helped her team win another Southern California Championship. The caliber of competition is illustrated by her teammates, three of whom likewise became All-Americans: Alma Ziegler, Charlene "Shorty" Pryer, and Louella Daetweiler.

After graduation in 1941, Dottie, an attractive athlete who stood 5'7 1/2" and played at 125 pounds, landed a job in the office at Payne Furnace. In return, she pitched for Payne's semipro team. The team won often and captured several championships. Dottie particularly remembered one big victory in Phoenix over the Arizona Ramblers, who, she recalled, "were a well-known fast-pitch softball team and about the best in the country."

By 1944 Wiltse's fame won her a tryout for the All-American League. It was arranged by Bill Allington--Dottie's former manager who, as a result of his scouting in 1943, would join the league as Rockford's manager in July 1944.

In fact, six Los Angeles girls traveled to Peru, Indiana, tried out, and made the league. The six were Wiltse, Faye Dancer, Thelma "Tiby" Eisen, Alma Ziegler, Lavonne "Pepper" Paire, and Annabelle Lee. Dottie, Faye, and Tiby were allocated to the Minneapolis club for the 1944 season.

In the early years, the AAGPBL played a game close to fast- pitch softball, which had boomed as a sport for women in the 1930s. In fact, printed programs from the 1943 season called it the All-American Girls Softball League. Reflecting the gradual transition in the game, the programs in 1944 read: All-American Girls Professional Ball League. In 1945 the circuit named itself the All-American Girls Base Ball League, and in `46 the word Baseball was substituted. Today the initials AAGPBL are commonly used.

Compared to fast-pitch softball, the crucial differences were that nine (not ten) players were used, and runners could lead off and steal bases. Both rules speeded up the pace and the scoring of All-American games.

When Wiltse joined the "glamour league," as girls often called the All-American, the Minneapolis Millerettes and the Milwaukee Chicks were the two new expansion clubs. Each was located in a good-sized city, but neither attracted many fans.

In Minneapolis, fans liked the Millers of the International Association, but most disliked seeing the Millerettes play at Nicollet Park. Fans sat too far from the All-Americans, since the girls normally played on a smaller diamond. When finances dwindled, the league ordered the Millerettes to play all road games in the second half of the season.

Wiltse, the club's top hurler, produced a good first season. Finishing with a 20-16 record, she struck out 205 hitters and walked 130 in 38 games--even though she hit a career-high 44 batters!

Despite the near-perpetual bus rides and hotel stays, Dottie recalled it as a great year:

"You've gotta consider how young we were. We didn't care. I don't even remember being upset about that.

"We were young, we were having a good time, and we had money in our pockets. We didn't care that we were the `orphans.'

"That's what I keep telling young people that I talk to. This was the greatest thing that ever happened to us. We didn't have TV. We didn't have swimming pools. We didn't have tennis courts. We didn't have any of those recreational places.

"Kids today look at me with their mouths open. They can't believe it, you know. So we didn't care how many hardships we had. Most of the girls had never been away from home before."

 

 

Dottie's father was thrilled when his daughter was offered a contract, but Collins recalled that her mother cried a lot about her daughter leaving home to play ball. Still, the Wiltse's, like the parents of most All-Americans, traveled to see their daughter play once or twice a year.

On the other hand, so little was the league discussed in later years that few of the ballplayers' children knew about it:

"That came out when we went to Cooperstown in 1988. So many of the kids didn't even know their mothers had ever played pro ball. It was amazing! It was a case of most of the girls going home, putting their scrapbooks and equipment in the attic, and never getting them out again."

"I've had more than one kid say to me, `Well, I knew my mother played softball, but I never knew she did all of this!'"

 

Dottie continued, "We just didn't talk about it, you know. We all went our own ways, and we had other things to do in our lives. I didn't even go to the ball games after I quit the league. I was ready to change my life, I guess you might say."

Still, as an All-American, Collins was an outstanding pitcher. Her league highlights, besides hurling the four complete-game victories in the two double-headers of August 1945, include:

  • pitched two no-hitters within 17 days in 1945, blanking Rockford on June 29 and South Bend on July 15
  • set league milestone by pitching 17 shutouts in 1945, a record which was tied by Racine's Joanne Winter in 1946
  • pitched her third extra-inning game in seven days in mid-1947 to beat the Racine Belles in 15 frames, 2-1, breaking a string of nine straight Fort Wayne losses--which included Dottie's one-run loss in the 13th inning on a bad fielding play seven days earlier, and a defeat in 11 innings, 1-0
  • lost a 7-inning duel with Dottie Mueller of the Peoria Redwings in first game of a double-header in Fort Wayne in August 1948, 1-0, and announced her retirement afterward because she was expecting her first child
  • returned to pitch the 1950 season, having made the successful transition to overhand pitching in 1948, and posted a 13-8 record and a 3.46 ERA in 26 games

Asked about her pitches, Dottie explained, "I threw the fastball, of course, but the curveball was my best pitch, overhand and underhand, either way. I had a terrific curve. And I used to throw a `rise ball.' I had a `slow ball,' or a change-of- pace, but I wasn't too good with the slow ball."

"I had a ball that went in and dropped, so I had four pitches. But the curve was my best pitch."

Her favorite league memory? "The people we met, including the fans, and the lifelong friendships that were created."

Her least-favorite AAGPBL memory? "I can't think of any. It was all such a great experience."

A fine all-around athlete, once she took up golfing with Harvey, Dottie continued to play. From 1957 through 1993 she regularly competed in the Fort Wayne City Tournament, winning the title in 1971 and claiming the runner-up spot five times. She also captured several Elks Club golf titles, coached bowling and golf in Elks Club children's leagues, and coached a year of girls baseball.

As the years passed, the league remained dormant in the minds of hundreds of women like Dottie Collins. Finally, in 1980, former player June Peppas started a newsletter. That publication grew in leaps and bounds, and it led to the now annual reunions and a growing interest in the historic league.

In 1987 an AAGPBL Players Association was formed at a meeting held in the home of former pitcher Fran Janssen of South Bend, and Collins played a leading part. Dottie became treasurer and the main newsletter editor, two positions she held until 2000.

Also, Collins was a the main spokesperson for the league between the mid-1980s to 2000. She became a major organizer of the reunion in Cooperstown in November 1988, when the Baseball Hall of Fame opened the display on Women in Baseball. 

The All-American was popularized by the 1992 movie, A League of Their Own. While the film is a fictionalized account of the 1943 season, mainly it accurately represents life in the league.

For those who want to read more about the AAGPBL, these are some of the best books:

Girls of Summer, by Lois Browne (paperback, 1993);

A Whole New Ball Game, by Sue Macy (Henry Holt, 1993);

Women at Play, by Barbara Gregorich (paperback, 1993);

When Women Played Hardball, by Susan Johnson (paperback, 1994).

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. (contact Tim Wiles) is soliciting former All-Americans to donate copies of printed materials and clippings in order to establish files on each player.

The Players Association  is interested in locating "lost" players. As of mid-1997, the association had compiled statistics for more than 600 players.

As Dottie said, "Whether you played one game or for every year the league existed, we want to find you. The memories of some of those who hardly played at all are sometimes the most gratifying."

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Contributed by: Jim Sargent
Submitted on: 12/29/1997

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