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By John B. Holway
With Faye Dancer

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Faye Dancer's career lasted from 1944 -1950. She played in Peoria from the 1947 season on. Card courtesy of Faye Dancer.

Madonna portrays me in the movie "A League of Their Own." She plays a cut-up, and I was the original clown of the league. Rules were always made to be broken, and I think I broke every rule in the book.

I met Madonna when they were making the movie in Skokie, Illinois. I liked her. She was just like anyone else who was earning 60 million a year.

In the All-American Girls' League, we had to wear skirts and look like ladies at all times. The only time we weren't feminine was when we were playing ball. 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.

Today the men can't even play if they have a strawberry, and they're making all those millions. God, whoever thought it would get like that?

I loved to slide. One year I think I stole 100 bases. I've got my picture of me sliding in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

And I could hit home runs. One of my managers said, "I wish I'd have gotten you when you first started, because you had all the natural ability. But you want to swing so hard." Which I did. I hit a ton, because I had more satisfaction doing that.

I started out playing softball in Beverly Hills with Pepper Paire - Geena Davis played her in the movie. Practically every year we were champions; we used to get little trophies.

In 1944 the All-American League sent out super-scouts, and Pepper and I joined Minneapolis, a new franchise. I was just out of high school and made $75 a week, which was a lot of money in those times and tops in the league. Some girls got $45-50. Before I ended up I got $125. That was supposed to be tops, but a lot of gals got more than that under the table. Each team was owned by a different business, and if the girls wanted to work part time, they could make it legit.

I'd say we were on a par with the Class-A or AA minor leagues at that time. From about '45 to '48 the league had

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very sizable crowds, maybe a million people a year. In '46 we went to Cuba for spring training, and we out-drew the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were also training there.
"Faye Dancer was a very nice looking girl very nice looking! But she was crazy. One time she got in a lot of trouble. It was real hot, and she turned the cold water shower on quite long to cool off. The hotel charged the League for the water bill, and that was a lot of money."

Dr Mary Roundtree
catcher

I always wanted the people to get their moneys worth. So a lot of times I'd clown around and do acrobatics in the outfield.

If I made an out, I'd stop by the grandstand behind first base and sit with the fans and say, "Gosh, if you'd been yelling for me, I'd have gotten a base hit. Now, next time I get up, you yell and I'll get a hit for you." Sometimes it worked. Not all the time, but sometimes.

Or I'd hit a single and run it into a double I could nearly always do that - I knew what kind of arms the outfielders had, and it wasn't close.

Or maybe I'd get into a little argument with the umpires, things like that, to get the people in the ball game.

I'd have glass eyes that I used to get from carousel horses, and we'd have a little seance for base hits. We'd gather around and put them on, or keep staring at them and say, "I'm going to get a base hit" or a home run, or win the ball game. We just concentrated on that horse's eye.

I'd go up into the bleachers and hand out a few glass eyes, and the fans would hold them. They looked forward to that and in fact would come down and ask for them.

"Faye was a wild onel But a very good: ballplayer.: She was my pal, but she got in a lot of trouble fooling around. She used to have a rabbit's foot, and when she ran out in the field, she put it under second base. When she wasn't looking I stole the rabbit's foot. God, she came by, ranting and raving: "Who took my rabbit's foot?" And they lost the game. I finally returned it to her."

Thelma "Tiby" Eisen,
Outfielder

One time we were winning seven or eight straight games, and all during the streak we didn't change uniforms, socks, anything. Good God, you had to put cologne on every night! We about stunk each other out of there!

I once got benched for being "overly superstitious." My first manager was Bill Wamby, who made an unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series. He saw us having a seance and said, "You're not playing tonight."

I said, "Why? I'm not hurt."

"You're overly superstitious."

I said, "I've never heard such a ridiculous thing in my life." But believe me, I sat my butt on the bench the whole game.

Wamby didn't know too much about how to handle women. He was going to school to become a minister, and when we'd cuss, he'd look at us with daggers. I thought, "How in the hell did he ever get in with a bunch of girls?" Because he made an unassisted triple play, that was the reason. Other than that, he didn't know too much about the game.

After one-fourth of the season, they made us a road team. We'd get in the bus, travel all night, check into a hotel, try to sleep, and finally play the game with three hours sleep. Of course we were young then.

We had a product to sell, women's baseball, and we did sell it. We were in competition with women's softball, which was well organized in the Midwest. A lot of the softball women were very mannish, had

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Faye Dancer sliding into third base. Dancer loved to swing hard, run hard, and slide.
Photo courtesy of The National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, NY.

men's haircuts, and dressed like men. So we never could be seen in public with slacks on. And we had to go to "charm school," which was the biggest joke, more for publicity.

Every team had a chaperone, and I was the one who always initiated them. I put Limburger cheese on their light bulbs, toothpaste in their oreo cookies, and peanut butter on their toilet seats. Some of them just couldn't take it.

Pepper and I did crazy things. We used to go out to the graveyards, take our beer with us, and drink out there.

We were supposed to be in our rooms no later than ten. The coaches and chaperones would be down in the lobby, so Pepper and I used to go up the fire escapes. I'd stand on the car to pull the fire escape down, she'd hand me the beer, and we'd go through the window. I don't know how many times we did that.

One night we went back to the hotel, and we got on the service elevator, and for some unknown reason that damn thing stopped on the main floor, and Wamby got a look at us. All he said was, "You better be able to play ball tomorrow." And up we went.

I tell you, we never played so hard in our lives as we did the next day. We not only won, but both of us got base hits. He never did say anything. But we knew not to do it again the next night, which we didn't.

Both Pepper and I got hurt in '44. She broke her collar bone, and I fractured a vertebrae in my back.
"We weren't supposed to fraternize, but sometimes we did. Did she tell you about after a game, she was lighting a bottle with alcohol in it, and the darn thing caught on fire and she burned her fingertip? We taped it up, and the next day she had to pitch, and when 1 got up to the plate, boy, she threw a fast one by me. I told the umpire, "She's got tape on her hand," and he made her take it off. Boy, she was aiming that ball straight at my head. Luckily I was agile."

Thelma "Tibey" Eisen

Before the season in 1945 we stopped in Arizona to watch Jim Thorpe, who was an Olympic champ in 1912. He had a team, and during the seventh-inning stretch, he would go out and drop kick a football, as old as he was. But his wife was a blonde-haired hussy, and he didn't have enough money to pay for the team's hotel rooms, so Pepper and I offered to stay and play a ball game to get him off the hook. A-1 beer was popular in Phoenix, and when they heard the story, they contributed some money so the Thorpes could get out of town with their bills paid.

[That year the league decided to split up the two trouble-makers, Faye and Pepper, and sent them to different teams. Dancer ended up in Ft Wayne.]

One night Tootie Harnett and myself went to Starved Rock, Illinois, and were having fun eating and drinking

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some beers. When we got back, we saw the manager, Marty McManus, who used to play with the Detroit Tigers, waiting in the lobby. We didn't want to get caught, because we knew we'd get sent home. Out back there were some beer barrels and a coal pile, and up the coal pile I went, but I couldn't quite reach the fire escape. Tootie said, "Let's go bring the beer barrel." So we stood on the barrel on the coal pile and finally got the fire escape down enough so I could get on it, and we went up to the third floor. I got a finger nail file out to cut the screen, and as soon as I started cutting, the elevator door opened and out stepped all the chaperones and managers. They figured we were all in bed by now.

I ducked, and luckily they didn't see me, and finally I cut the hole in the screen, and we got in. Tootie went one way and I went the other. I was rooming with Tiby Eisen, and I knocked on the door quietly. My clothes were black as the ace of spades, and I just threw them in the dresser drawer and got in bed.

After that day Tootie and I would go to a Catholic church and put holy water on our foreheads. I'm not a Catholic, but I went to Mass because I thought holy water was lucky.

Pretty soon Tiby's saying, "Heh, better get up, time to go to breakfast." I turned over and went back to sleep, and when she got downstairs, she heard everyone talking about the beer barrels and the coal. Marty McManus was saying, "That takes the cake. As long as I've been in baseball, I never heard anything like that before."

Tiby came back and said, "They're all talking about it and think it was you, because you didn't go down to breakfast."

After that every day Tootie and I would go to a Catholic church and put holy water on our foreheads. I'm not a Catholic, but I went to Mass because I thought holy water was lucky. Tootie later became a nun.

It took a couple of years before we really sold ourselves to the people. Pretty soon the wives and kids


The Peoria Redwings 1947 team picture. Faye Dancer is in the first row, third from the left.
Photo courtesy of the Peoria Public Library.

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These two Peoria gangsters would come to see us play in Kenosha and Racine. Here would come this old, blue Packard with bulletproof glass. The kingpin liked me. He gave two dinners for my parents, and a brunch. He offered to buy my folks a new car. He offered me a golden palomino, and he said he'd put me up in the sporting goods business if I stayed in Peoria. I said, "Never." Once he even asked "me if I wanted anyone killed. I told him, "Maybe the umpire."

came out to the games, and you got to know 'em, like family. They'd call you by your first name and say, "We'd like to have you over for a barbecue."

I'd say, "Well, set a date up and I'll be there."

They'd invite you to their homes, where you could sit around in the basement by the pool table and maybe have a couple cans of beer and stuff to eat. We got to know them real well. At the end of the season the kids used to bring me little gifts.

I used to tape together love letters the other girls had torn up. And I asked the owner of Cooper jockey underwear in Kenosha, "Isn't there any way you can make undershorts for women, same as for men?" The front was different, that's all. All the girls had those made.

Alma Ziegler played second base. One time Zig got a blister on the bottom of her foot, and I said, "I can fix that for you, Alma." I got some alcohol and broke the blister and cut it off like a nut with a pair of scissors. Needless to say, in two or three days the thing got infected. She still brings that up to me every time she sees me: "That's something I'll never forgive you for. Why did I let you do it?"

[In '47 Faye played with Peoria under Leo Schwall, who also coached at Notre Dame. She calls him her favorite manager.]

These two Peoria gangsters would come to see us play in Kenosha and Racine. Here would come this old blue Packard with bulletproof glass. The kingpin liked me. He gave two dinners for my parents, and a brunch. He offered to buy my folks a new car. He offered me a golden palomino, and he said he'd put me up in the sporting goods business if I stayed in Peoria. I said, "Never." Once he even asked me if I wanted anyone killed. I told him, "Maybe the umpire."

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Thelma "Tiby'" Eisen played with Dancer on the 1947 Redwings squad for forty-seven games. This card was produced by the A.A.G.B.L. in 1984.
Card courtesy of the author.

A lot of these little taverns had blowfish, big round fish that had thorns. We stole those. What did we need a blowfish for? It was just the idea of taking them, that was the main thing.

One tavern owner told us, "I won't charge you for your drinks tonight if you'll give me my fish back."

I said, "I don't know anything about your fish."

He said, "You were the only people in this room, and I'd like my blowfish back."

And paintings! Once I had to climb up on a table because one was up high to keep people from stealing it. When I brought it back to the hotel, Lillian Jackson said, "You're going to take this damn thing back," and I took this big oil painting back and said, "I found this in the

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apartment where I live." The owner was real happy. God, I got free beer for the rest of the night.

In the Midwest there were a lot of fruit and vegetable stands. The stands would be all lit up, but the owners would be in bed. One night we must have stolen at least 32 cobs of corn. It's a wonder we didn't get shot.

In fact, two times people did shoot up in the air. It sure as heck scared us! I was running back to the car, and it was so dark I fell right into an irrigation ditch, in mud clear up to my knees. Zoom - in the mud I went. A couple girls had to get me out.

After I left baseball my cousin said, "Why don't you go into business for yourself?"

I said, "Do what?"

She said, "Clean windows, clean rugs."

I said, "That's a great idea." And then I spent 28 years with Henry Radio at $8 a hour. On Sunday I did gardening work. So I was busy seven days a week.

People said to me, "You must lie awake nights thinking these things up." But I didn't. They just came naturally.

Now I think I owe about $17,000 on credit cards. The bill never goes down. Every time I buy a lipstick, I know I'm going to pay for it for the next ten years.

I still correspond with "Charlie" up in Lone Pine, California. He used to come up from Niles, Michigan, to see our games. We've never seen each other outside of sending each other snap shots, and we talk over the phone sometimes.

When they were making "A League of Their Own," we went to a White Sox ball game. Ozzie Guillen, the shortstop, wrote his telephone number on a ball and threw it up to us and told us to give it to Tracy Reiner to write down her number. She just kept the ball, didn't throw it back.

Now I'm on the board of directors of our All-American Girls' Baseball Association. They said, "When you give an interview, why don't you leave out the beer? People will think everybody in the league drank." And they're right. A lot of the girls didn't drink; a lot of them never touched it. For 30 years I haven't had a drink either.

But it was fun. It was great fun. I always said, if it ever became work, I'd quit.

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Rappaport, Doreen, Callan, Lyndall and Earl B. Lewis (Illustrator). Dirt on Their Skirts: The Story of the Young Women Who Won the World Championship. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2000.

Madden, W. C. The Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League: A Biographical Dictionary. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers, 1998.

Gait, Margot F. Up to the Plate: The All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Minneapolis: Lerner Publishing Group, The, 1995.

Macy, Sue. A Whole New Ball Game : The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. New York: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1995.

Hanmer, Trudy J. All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Morristown, New Jersey: Silver Burdett Press, 1994.

Browne, Lois. Girls of Summer: The Real Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Toronto: Harper Collins Canada, Limited, 1992.

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