Saturday, August 23, 2008

dorothy "dottie" collins (1923 - 2008)


I'm sad to report that women's baseball has lost one of its biggest stars. You may never have heard of Dottie Collins, but you've probably heard her tale. Collins, who died this week at the age of 84, was the inspiration behind the 1992 film A League of Their Own, a fictionalized chronicle of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed from 1943 to 1954.

Born in Inglewood, California, in 1923, Collins (née Wiltse) started her career off in organized softball but soon moved over to baseball when she joined the All-American League's Minneapolis Millerettes. As a pitcher who threw a little overhand, a little underhand, and even some sidearm, she won 20 games in her debut season. Collins spent the rest of her career with the Fort Wayne Dasies, amassing a lifetime record of 117-76; an ERA of 0.83; 1,205 strikeouts; and two no-hitters. Not too shabby!

Collins is probably most famous for being the real-life personality behind A League of Their Own's star pitcher and main character, Dottie Hinson, who was played by Geena Davis. As in the film, Collins quit baseball to have a family . . . but let it be known that the real Dottie continued playing until she was four months pregnant! More important to Collins than the movie, however, was the fact that she convinced the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, to create an exhibit—and later, an entire wing—on women in baseball.

I was fortunate to meet several former players from the AAGPBL when I took part in an exhibition game out in Arizona in 2003. The event was a 24-hour marathon game bringing together female baseball players from around the U.S. and a few other countries. It was exciting to see so many young women partaking in our nation's pastime . . . of course I'm talking, here, of regulation baseball, not the watered-down version known as softball that girls are all but forced into today. I'll never forget former AAGPBL pitcher Jeneane "Lefty" Lesko, easily in her 70s at the time, churning out two or three innings of work at about 2 in the morning! I don't believe Dottie Collins was able to make the event, but the spirit with which she played and promoted the game for women and girls was certainly on hand. She will be missed.

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