Edited from LA Times article in 2002: LaVonne Pepper Paire Davis Interview on Faye Dancer.
For six seasons, between 1944 and 1950, the West Los Ange]es native played center field and occasionally pitched for the Minneapolis Millerettes, the Fort Wayne Daisies, and the Peoria Redwings. "She was a great all-around ballplayer," said Lavonne "Pepper" Paire Davis, Dancer's former teammate and lifelong friend.
Labeled a "fly-catching genius" by sportswriters of the day, Dancer "could go back on the dead run, catch the ball over her shoulder, wheel around and in one motion throw a strike to the catcher in the air from deep center field," said Davis. Dancer also was known for her hitting and base stealing. In 1948, she stole 108 bases.
"She was that rare breed of ball player who could get up to bat, lay down a perfect bunt, then steal second base," said Davis. "Then, the next time up, she could hit the long ball and knock it out of the ballpark. She led the league in both categories at times, in stolen bases and home runs.
Davis, who served as a technical advisor on "A League of Their Own" and was a model for Geena Davis' catcher character, said Dancer inspired the character played by Madonna. According to Davis, Madonna's character "dwelt a little bit more on the promiscuous side for sexual encounters, and Faye had her share of admirers, but her [All the Way Faye] nickname really came from her all-out-style of play. On the ballfield, there wasn't anything she wouldn't do to win. She would crash into the fence to make a catch; she'd dive head first into a base; and if a bunt was needed, she'd lay down a bunt," Davis said. "In the All-American Girls League, we had to wear skirts and look like ladies at all times," Dancer once said. "The guys would look at our short skirts, then look at our legs and wonder how we could slide without taking all the hide off ourselves. Well, we did take the hide off ourselves. I loved to slide."
Dancer's all-out playing style was memorably captured in a 1948 photograph that shows her sliding into third base to avoid being tagged by Marge Wenzell.
A large blow-up of the picture is prominently featured in the All-American Girls Baseball League exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Coopersinwn, N.Y., which includes Dancer's spikes and gloves. Dancer joined Davis and more than 75 other former league members for the opening of the exhibit on Nov. 5,1988.
The daughter of a Water and Power inspector, Dancer was born in Santa Monica in 1925 and grew up in West Los Angeles. She discovered softball in grade school, but threw the ball so hard she typically had to play on the boys' teams. When she was 11, Dancer began playing in a local merchant- sponsored softball league, which played at the Veterans Administration ballpark off Wilshire Boulevard. Always a fierce competitor, she worked hard to improve her game. "I used to practice my slides in the sand at Santa Monica beach, then go home and lie on my bed and visualize my swings while I stared up at my bedroom ceiling," Dancer told the Sacramento Bee two years ago.
From 1940 to 1942, Dancer and Davis were members of the Dr. Peppers, a Class A amateur girls softball team sponsored by the soft drink company. The team played its league games at Fielder Field at Fairfax Avenue and 3rd Street.
In 1943, with many major league baseball players serving in the military, chewing gum magnate and Chicago Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley and others formed the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. In 1944, 18-year-old Dancer and Davis were among six California women ballplayers chosen by the league's West Coast scout to report to league spring training in Peru, IL. Dancer earned a beginning salary of $75 a week, plus $2.50 a day for meals. For three consecutive seasons In the late 1940s, more than 1 million fans paid $1.50 admission to watch the women play.
Dancer and her fellow players traveled the Midwest on a rickety bus, routinely playing 10 games a week. For the women, it was bad enough having to live down being called the Fort Wayne Daisies or the Racine Belles, but they also had to contend with wearing short-skirted uniforms that ranged in hue from bubble- gum pink to lemon yellow. But the women, who played 110 to 130 ball games in four months, were as aggressive and tough as any male player. Davis recalled, "You had to walk and talk and act like a lady at all times, but play baseball like a guy." Dancer may have played baseball like a guy, but she put her own spin on the proceedings, earning a reputation as the 'rebel of the league.' She was forever having fun, raising her skirt up for the fans, doing the splits and handstands when the games got quiet, Davis recalled. "She was just as fun-loving off the field."
Each team had a chaperone and Dancer took it upon herself to initiate them: "She'd put Limburger cheese on the light bulbs in their rooms, replace the icing in their Oreo cookies with toothpaste and smear peanut butter on their toilet seats. "Some of them just couldn't take it," Davis recalled. Despite a 10 p.m. curfew, she and Davis were known to cut loose at night by sneaking out for beers. They'd avoid the coaches and chaperones in the hotel lobby by returning to their rooms via the fire escape.
Dancer once recalled that when she was playing for Peoria in 1947, two gangsters came by to watch. They'd arrive in a blue Packard with bullet- proof glass. "The kingpin liked me," she said. "He offered to buy my folks a new car. He offered me a golden palomino and said he'd put me up in the sporting goods business. Once, he even asked me if I wanted anyone killed. I told him, Maybe the umpire."
Dancer retired from professional baseball in 1950. After leaving the league, which was disbanded in 1954, she took a job as an electronics technician for Hughes Aircraft. She worked for 35 years as an electronics technician for a power generator manufacturing company in Santa Monica, where she lived. In 2000, not long after being laid off from her job, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "She was a tough lady," said Davis. "She fought every step of the way to win [in baseball] and she went out that way, fighting every step of the way." Dancer never married. "The love of her life was killed in the war," said Davis. She was survived by her brother, Richard.
This Califorina blonde with a colorful personality was truly the "Ty Cobb" of the AAGPBL in both ability and temperment. Her speed, her uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, playing the batters intelligently, backing up all plays, plus a great throwing arm marked her as one of the best of the league in centerfield. She even filled in as a pitcher for the Daisies going 10 and 8. Flying feet, a cloud of dust, generally means that Faye is coming into second or third ahead of the throw. A dependable hitter, she was quite a home run hitter.Always a chatter box, some even called her a miniature Lippy Duroucher. One of Faye's highlights was a game in which she hit three homers over the fence.
By Tim Wiles
Known as “All the Way Faye” for her exuberance both on and off the field, Faye Katherine Dancer was a complete ballplayer who featured baseball’s traditional five tools: she could hit, hit for power, run, throw, and catch. Moreover, she was a fan favorite who thrived in the spotlight and displayed good humor and joie de vivre both on and off the field. Born April 24, 1925 in Santa Monica, CA, she was the youngest of two children born to Lloyd Augustus Dancer and Olive Victoria Pope Dancer.
Dancer grew up excelling in sports, particularly softball, playing on semi-professional softball teams along with LaVonne “Pepper” Paire Davis, with whom she was recruited by Bill Allington for the AAGPBL in early 1944.
The five- foot, six-inch freckled blonde, who batted and threw right-handed, was assigned to the Minneapolis Millerettes in 1944. As an 18-year-old rookie, she batted a career-high .274 (third in the league), with two home runs—both grand slams—a career high 48 RBI, and 63 stolen bases. “She was that rare breed of ballplayer who could lay down a perfect bunt, and then steal second base,” recalled “Pepper,” “Then, the next time up, she could hit the long ball.”
The Millerettes moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana for the 1945 season, and were renamed the Daisies. Dancer played in 108 games, leading the league with three home runs. The Daisies finished in third place in the six-team league, but won their first round playoff series against the Racine Belles, with Dancer hitting .308, with two homers and 8 RBI in the 4-game series. The Rockford Peaches took the championship round, though Dancer kept up her torrid pace, hitting .286 in that series.
Outfielder-first baseman Dancer continued to star for the Daisies in 1946, playing in 110 games and racking up a career high 257 total bases. But Dancer also debuted a new facet of her game, going 10-9 with a 1.93 e.r.a. as a pitcher. Early in the 1947 season, she was traded to the Peoria Redwings along with Alice DeCambra for Thelma “Tiby” Eisen and Kay Blumetta, in the largest trade in league history up to that point.
After a so-so season in 1947, Dancer returned to form in 1948, leading the Peoria Redwings into the playoffs. She recorded career highs in six offensive categories: 122 games, 89 runs scored, 109 hits, 6 home runs, 55 walks, and 102 stolen bases, second only to baserunning wizard Sophie Kurys. Her home run and runs scored totals were also second in the league. A Headline from that season reads: “Dancer is High Test Fuel That Makes Wings Explosive.” Despite three hits in three games by Dancer, the Redwings were swept in the first round by the Racine Belles.
She did not play in 1949, perhaps due to lingering injuries caused by her all-out style of play. Dancer would slide headfirst—although she was particularly adept at hook slides as well, crash into outfield fences, and dive for balls. One sportswriter dubbed her a “fly catching genius,” and “Pepper” recalled that she could fire strikes to the plate from centerfield after catching balls over her shoulder. On the bases, she was aggressive and fearless. “I loved to slide,” she once remarked, rejecting the notion that skirted play might cause players to be conservative about hitting the dirt.
She returned to the Redwings in 1950, retiring after the season due to a ruptured disc, caused by sliding. She returned to California and worked as an electronics technician for many years.
The free-spirited Dancer didn’t just entertain fans with baseball heroics, however. She also turned cartwheels and caught fireflies on the field, and once called an official timeout to get a drink of water. “I was forever having fun, raising my skirt up for the fans, doing the splits and handstands when the games got quiet,” she recalled. “Faye had her share of admirers, but her nickname really came from her all-out style of play, remembered “Pepper.” On the ball field, there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to win.”
Indeed, June Peppas recalled a game where she came to bat with two runners on base and down by two runs in the eighth. Peppas belted a home run over the center field wall, to put the Racine Belles up by a run. Or did she? Dancer managed to convince the umpire that the ball had bounced over the fence, and Peppas returned to second with a double and one RBI. Peoria won the game, and later that night at a restaurant, Dancer approached Peppas to apologize for the trick play.
Off the field, Dancer was a merry prankster, who enjoyed initiating new chaperones. She recalled replacing the filling in their Oreos with toothpaste, spreading limburger cheese all over their light bulbs, or smearing peanut butter on their toilet seats. She also kept chaperones and managers busy worrying over her whereabouts, as she liked to go out and drink beer, often enlisting more well-behaved teammates in capers like drinking beer in cemeteries, where no one would come looking for them. She also enjoyed stealing the ubiquitous blowfish which often hung from the ceilings in taverns. Her exits from hotels via fire escapes, and returns via staff elevators were legendary. In the off season, she traveled with Jim Thorpe’s all female barnstorming team, the Thunderbirds, members of the National Softball Congress.
Dancer was superstitious, always closing her door three times before a ballgame, and collecting glass eyes from stuffed animals and carousel horses, which she then passed around for good luck. She enjoyed a good rapport with fans, and spoke to them on her way on and off the field. One fan in Peoria, who happened to be a mafia kingpin, took a shine to her and tried to ply her and her family with meals and gifts. “One time he even asked me if I wanted anyone killed,” she recalled. “I told him ‘Maybe the umpire.’” She added that she made sure he knew she was kidding.
Dancer never married, as the love of her life was killed during World War Two, according to “Pepper.” She did settle down, however, and quit drinking almost thirty years before her death. “At some point you make a promise to yourself,” she commented. She became a board member of the AAGPBL Player’s Association, and served as an advisor for the filming of the movie “A League of Their Own.” It was widely reported that she was the inspiration for the character played by Madonna.
In 2000, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she died at the age of 77 on May 22, 2002, of complications related to cancer surgery.
In her six year career, she recorded 488 hits in 591 games. She drove in 193 runs, hitting 53 doubles, 14 triples, and 16 home runs. She tallied 1080 total bases along with 352 steals, and her career batting average was .236. As a pitcher in two seasons, she was 11-11 with an e.r.a. of 2.28. “I’ll probably be remembered as a crowd favorite, a little crazy,” she once said. “I always had fun.”
In preparing this biography, the author relied on Dancer’s clipping by at the National Baseball Hall of Fame library in Cooperstown, New York.
Author: Tim Wiles
Contributed By: 08/18/2013
Copyright: SABR/AAGPBL Joint Biography Project
Faye Dancer, one of the top players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s, has died. She was 77.
Dancer, the inspiration for the "All the Way Mae" character played by Madonna in the 1992 film, "A League of Their Own," died May 22 after breast cancer surgery at UCLA Medical Center, a former teammate and lifelong friend said Friday.
"She was a great all-around ball player,'' said Lavonne "Pepper" Paire Davis, who served as technical adviser on "A League of Their Own" and was a model for Geena Davis' catcher character.
For six seasons from 1944 to 1950, Dancer played center field and pitched for the Minneapolis Millerettes, Fort Wayne Daisies, and Peoria Redwings.
In 1948, Dancer stole 108 bases.
"She was that rare breed of ball player that could get up to bat, lay down a perfect bunt, then steal second base," Davis said. "Then, the next time up, she could hit the long ball and knock it out of the ballpark."
Known for her hustle, Dancer's playing style was captured in a 1948 photograph that shows her sliding into third base to avoid being tagged. It is displayed in the All-American Girls Baseball League exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., which includes Dancer's spikes and gloves. Dancer joined Davis and more than 75 other former league members for the opening of the exhibit on Nov. 5, 1988.
Dancer was born in Santa Monica in 1925 and grew up in West Los Angeles. She discovered softball in grade school, but threw the ball so hard she typically had to play on the boys' teams.
As Davis recalled, "You had to walk and talk and act like a lady at all times, but play baseball like a guy."
Dancer retired from professional baseball in 1950, four years before the league disbanded, after injuring her back while sliding.
She returned to her off-season job as an electronics technician for Hughes Aircraft. She then worked for 35 years as an electronics technician for a power generator manufacturing company in Santa Monica, where she lived.
In 2000, not long after being laid off, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"She was a tough lady," Davis said. "She fought every step of the way to win in baseball and she went out that way, fighting every step of the way."
Dancer never married after her fiance was killed in World War II.
A graveside service was held at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica.
Author: Los Angeles Times
Contributed By: Helen Nordquist
Copyright: Los Angeles Times (AP)