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Dolly Brumfield: A league of her own

I pass it each morning on the way to my office in downtown North Little Rock: A traffic control box at the intersection of Broadway and Maple near Dickey-Stephens Park with a painting on it that honors Dr. Delores Brumfield White from my hometown of Arkadelphia.

At North Little Rock’s Laman Library at 28th and Orange streets, there’s an exhibit running until March 18 titled “Linedrives and Lipstick: The Untold Story of Women’s Baseball.”

The exhibit features photos, game programs and postcards that focus on women’s baseball, dating back to the late 1800s.

That’s right, baseball — not softball.

Brumfield White played a role in that story.

On April 21 of last year, she was inducted into the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame in her native state of Alabama.

Tommy Hicks wrote in the Mobile Press-Register: “Walking down the street to a local playground and ballpark led Dr. Delores “Dolly” Brumfield White places she never dreamed of visiting and on an adventure she is still a part of. It was, she says, simply meant to be.

“Playing baseball at a Prichard diamond led her to a career in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Then there was the time she stopped in a small Arkansas town to get gas and — by way of a telephone booth and a dare — wound up a few days later with a job she held for 31 years until her retirement.

“White ended up teaching in Mississippi because Alabama schools didn’t have organized sports for girls at that time and she wanted to coach. She went on to earn her master’s degree and doctorate at Southern Miss, which led her to a job interview in Arkansas.”

The AAGPBL was popularized by the movie “A League of Their Own.”

Brumfield White spent seven seasons in the league and finished second in hitting her final season.

The movie, which was released in 1992, was directed by Penny Marshall. The cast included Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Tea Leoni, Jon Lovitz and others.

The film was No. 1 by its second weekend in July 1992 and ended up making (on a $40 million budget) $107 million in the United States and $25 million in other countries.

The “there’s no crying in baseball!” quote by manager Jimmy Dugan (played by Hanks) was rated 54th on the list of greatest film quotes of all time by the American Film Institute.

Although AAGPBL is commonly used to describe all 12 years of the baseball league, that name was only utilized in 1949-50.

The league was founded as the All-American Girls Softball League and was changed in 1943 to the All-American Girls Baseball League. The name was changed again in 1949 to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and was changed yet again in 1951 to the American Girls’ Baseball League.

Operations ceased in September 1954.

Chewing gum magnate Philip Wrigley owned the league from 1943-45. It was owned from 1945-51 by Arthur Meyerhoff. Teams were individually owned from 1951-54.

Just two teams — the South Bend Blue Sox and the Rockford Peaches — stayed in the same city for the entire 12 years.

Brumfield White decided to try out for the professional baseball league when she was just 13.

Hicks wrote: “Growing up in Prichard, White said baseball appealed to her, even though she was the only girl playing the game with neighborhood boys and even some older guys from the shipyards. Those shipyard workers told her about tryouts in Pascagoula for a girls baseball league, although at 13 she was too young. At 14, though, she got her chance and made the league.

“After baseball and earning her college degree, she went to Mississippi to teach because she also wanted to coach. She found a job with the help of an uncle. Later, she went to Arkansas looking for a job. She was heading to Monroe, La., for another interview, accompanied by a friend, when they stopped in Arkadelphia for gas. The city had two colleges and she picked the state school, Henderson State, and decided to make a phone call.”

Brumfield White told Hicks: “I told my friend, ‘I kind of like the looks of this place. I’ll see if they’ve got a job.’ So my friend dared me to call. I went to the telephone booth on the corner and looked up Henderson State. I told them who I was, and that I was passing through, and that I was looking for a job in my field and asked if they had a job in my field.

“The secretary said, ‘Yes, we do.’ She invited me up and said the president would be in any time and to come on up. I met with the president, talked with him, and he took me to the P.E. department and showed me around.

“He said, ‘If you’re interested in the position, send us your paperwork.’ I got home, sent in paperwork and within a week I got a call offering me the job. I’ve been here ever since.”

I realize now that I was surrounded as a child by true pioneers in the area of women’s sports — Delores Brumfield White, Bettye Wallace and Jane Sevier at Henderson; Carolyn Moffatt and Tona Wright at Ouachita.

In an extensive biography of Brumfield White that’s posted on the Henderson website, Fred Worth of the Society for American Baseball Research wrote: “In the spring of my first year on the faculty at Henderson, I went to an intramural softball game involving a couple of faculty teams. One of the teams was the one from ‘down the hill,’ the Health, Physical Education and Recreation faculty. Not surprisingly, they had a pretty good team.

“But the thing I remember most was not the players or even the game. One of the fans sticks out in my memory. As is common, there was one particularly vocal fan. What was not common, though, was the type of things said by this fan. Usually such vocal fans are using volume to hide the fact that they have no idea what they are talking about. This fan, a woman, was vocal but also knew exactly what she was talking about. This was my introduction to Dr. Delores Brumfield White, better known as Dee or Dolly.”

Brumfield White was born in Prichard, which is near Mobile, on May 26, 1932. The area produced or was the home of Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee and Satchel Paige.

In other words, baseball was big.

Worth wrote: “As was the case with many youngsters, Dee began to dream of being a baseball player. Such a dream was surely unrealistic — but something happened in 1942 that made it less far-fetched. As World War II began to demand a greater commitment in manpower, many minor league teams went out of business due to a lack of able-bodied players. To fill the void, Philip Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, decided to form the AAGPBL. His theory was that there were sufficient quality female players to satisfy the public’s desire to watch baseball. The league began play in 1943.

“In 1946, the shipyard workers heard about tryouts for the AAGPBL and encouraged Dee to try out. They even volunteered to drive her to Pascagoula, Miss., for the tryouts. Her mother was open to the idea of tryouts but was not open to the idea of the workers taking Dee. She said that if anyone was going to take Dee to Pascagoula, she would.

“Dee impressed league officials at the tryouts. Afterward she spoke to Max Carey, the league president and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. When Carey found out Dee was ‘almost 14,’ he told her she was too young. But he also encouraged her to continue working on her skills, encouraging her to join a local team. Returning to the Mobile area, Dee joined a softball team made up of women from the area military base.

“Not long after the end of the 1946 season, Carey contacted Dee, inviting her to join the AAGPBL. A few weeks later, a letter from Carey arrived, asking Dee to report to Havana, Cuba, for spring training in 1947.”

Her mother was not excited about the idea of a young daughter going to Cuba.

“One of the league’s players visited with the family,” Worth wrote. “She assured them that the players were well taken care of and explained the role of the chaperones that traveled with each team. This conversation allayed Mrs. Brumfield’s fears, and Dee was permitted to go.

“Dee left but, as she got on a train for Miami, homesickness hit very strongly. However, once she arrived in Havana, the focus on baseball made everything easier for her. The players were always under the watchful eye of their chaperones, as well as armed military officials in Cuba.”

She played in Indiana for the South Bend Blue Sox in 1947. The team was managed by a former Notre Dame assistant football coach named Chet Grant.

The league expanded to 10 teams in 1948 and split into two divisions. Brumfield White was traded to the Kenosha Comets in Wisconsin. She played for Kenosha through the 1951 season, when the team folded.

She spent the 1952 season with the Fort Wayne Daisies, who were managed by Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx and won the league championship. Her last season in the league was 1953, again playing in Indiana for Fort Wayne.

Brumfield White attended college during the offseason and graduated from Alabama College for Women (now the University of Montevallo) in 1954. Her first teaching job was for two years at Shaw, Miss., in the Delta followed by seven years at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi.

The move to Arkadelphia came in 1963.

On Oct. 13, 2007, the softball field at Henderson was named the Dr. Delores “Dolly” Brumfield White Softball Field.

She once told an interviewer: “I think that we as young women baseball players all those years ago sort of forged the way for girls today to be able to do the things they do. It makes me really proud to know that I had a part in making it easier for women to be involved in sports. I’m so proud.”

She has a right to be proud. She’s a remarkable woman.

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