Lavonne “Pepper” Paire-Davis, a star of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s and an inspiration for the central character in the movie A League of Their Own, has died, her son said Sunday.
Paire-Davis died of natural causes in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles on Saturday, her son, William Davis, told the Associated Press. She was 88.
Paire-Davis was a model for the character played by Geena Davis in the 1992 hit A League of Their Own, which also starred Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna and Tom Hanks as the crusty manager who shouted the famous line, “there’s no crying in baseball!”
In 1944, Paire-Davis joined the league, created out of fear that World War II would interrupt Major League Baseball, and played for 10 seasons.
She was a catcher and shortstop, and helped her teams win five championships. She chronicled her baseball adventures in the 2009 book Dirt in the Skirt.
“I know what it’s like for your dream to come true, mine did,” Paire-Davis said in an AP story in 1995, when she was 70. “Baseball was the thing I had the most fun doing. It was like breathing.”
After graduating from high school, she enrolled at UCLA as an English major, worked as a welder’s assistant at the shipyards in Long Beach, and spent every spare moment playing in local softball leagues.
Her heart, however, belonged to hardball.
“Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to be playing softball,” she said in 1995. “But I’d rather have played competitive baseball.”
The All American Girls Baseball League was founded in 1943 by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley. Most of the league’s talent came from greater Chicago, but Paire-Davis was one of a half-dozen players scouted and chosen from California.
The players wore skirts and the teams often had cutesy names, but the players maintained a genuine big league lifestyle, playing 120 games over four months.
“We played every night of the week,” Paire-Davis said, “doubleheaders on Sundays and holidays.”
She won championships with the Racine Belles, the Grand Rapids Chicks and the Fort Wayne Daisies, but she never actually played for the team featured in the film, the Rockford Peaches.
“That’s Hollywood,” she said. “They had to take 10 teams and 12 years and make it into two hours.”
The league was “temporarily suspended” in 1954. Play was never resumed.
Davis said his mother spent much of the rest of her life as a sports fan – she rooted for the Dodgers, Angels and Lakers – and an advocate for her favorite game.
“She taught me how to switch hit when I was 3 years old,” said Davis, one of two sons, a daughter, four grandkids and an older brother who survived Paire-Davis. “She touched a lot of people around the world with her baseball exploits. She was a great ambassador for the game.”
Paire-Davis said, looking back from 1995, that she couldn’t “honestly tell you I knew the history we were making back then.”
But, she said, “I can tell you we knew we were doing something special.”