Lavone “Pepper” Paire Davis was born in May 1924 in California. She attended the University High School in West Los Angeles. From the very beginning “Pepper” had a couple of passions in her life…..Baseball and writing. From the time she was old enough to walk, she played ball with her Big Brother Joe and from the time she was old enough to talk, wrote Poems and songs in her head, then wrote them down when old enough to write. Pepper grew up during the 1930’s depression, playing softball three nights a week, bringing home gas money and food from her sponsors. Baseball became a way of life for her, something similar to breathing.
So it follows that at age 19, even though she was working a defense plant and going to UCLA part time, she dropped everything to become a part of a unique moment in Sports History! In 1944 she joined “The All American Girls Professional Baseball League”. The only Women Pro Baseball League to ever exist. Mr. P.K. Wrigley put up $100,000 to start the League in case Major League Baseball folded because of World War II. That didn’t happen, but the Girls Pro League became a success in the smaller towns. The gals came first on the Sports page and first in the hearts of the small town families. Pepper went on to play ten years as a pro, playing on five championship teams in her career.
She was traded three times and each time, the new team went on to win Championships. She was consistently high in RBI’s and consistently low in strikeouts, proving herself a clutch hitter when the chips were down. She wrote The All American League Song in 1944 while in spring training and it quickly became the heart and soul of the League. “All For One - One For All – We’re All Americans”!
The song went on to be used three times in the movie that was to come out 50 years later. When Director Penny Marshall decided to tell the story of these heroic American women that history has over looked, it became inevitable that Pepper be the Consultant and Technical Director for the movie “A League of Their Own. Pepper’s life was spread out all over the movie as composite character Geena Davis played her part as the real life catcher for the Racine Bells. While Pepper will tell you that while the truth was somewhat manipulated, it was still 70-80% true. Penny Marshall’s chore was to take the 12 years, 10 teams and a war and cram it into a two hour movie. Since Hollywood is not found of paying royalties, real life names were changed. Examples included The Harvey Bar (Mr. P.K. Wrigley of the Gum), and Jimmy Dugan (the Great Hall of Famer Jimmy Foxx, known as Double X). And Jimmy Foxx became Peppers manager for the 1952 Fort Wayne Ball club, not the Rockford peaches. Pepper will also tell you that Jimmy was a gentleman, not the obnoxious drunk they portrayed him. But it was well known that Jimmy did indeed sit on the end of the bench, tip his hat to the crowd and sometimes went to sleep as the girls ran the team. When Jimmy left, he was quick to tell the girls they were all MAJOR LEAGUERS.
When the league folded in 1955, Pepper married her Navy Flyer Bob Davis and settled down to raise her family. She became Auntie Pepper, the Mom Pepper with two boys and a daughter and eventually grandma Pepper with five grandchildren. Her history literally became a forgotten thing. Scrapbooks and memorabilia became buried in boxes and closets because no one believed the importance of the League except her family members. But even they had no clue as to how important it had all been. The chain was broken, so to speak.
Then just as all was forgotten, the 1982 league reunion in Chicago occurred. The gals finally got together again after 40 years and re-energized themselves. Suddenly the media took notice and the AAGPBL was rediscovered all over again. David Hartman asked Pepper to be on Good Morning America and the chain linked up again. Then came the newspapers and magazine articles, TV and radio talk shows. It all snow balled in to the movie and finally after 50 years, the Hall of Fame acknowledged them in November 1988. Now you can see a huge display of their playing days, along with memorabilia of the time gone by. It literally became Pepper’s Field of Dreams.
Pepper quickly became the darling of the media, handling all of the publicity for the All Americans for the up coming movie. With her writing talent, her sense of humor, and her years of baseball experience, she was a true natural for the job. She gained the notoriety and became the first women coach for the World’s Children Baseball Fair. The organization was dedicated to getting the children of the world together and teaching them baseball and she loved it. And did we mention that former professional and Hall of Famer, Joe DiMaggio and Sada Hara Oh were two of the main sponsors.
While teaching at the Worlds Children Baseball in San Diego, she met Mike McHali, Founder of the N.A.B.A., and an adult baseball league for men of all talents and ages who just wanted to play baseball. Pepper was quick to ask where it said Baseball is only for guys. Mike agreed and Pepper became the spokesperson for Women’s National Adult Baseball Association. Over 30 leagues went up around the US and looking to expand into Canada, Hawaii and Australia. The Australian Government brought Pepper there in 1994 to throw out the first pitch for a 30 team Women’s League. She has made history again and wanted to be a part of a real World Series for Women’s Baseball.
Pepper also heads up “The Legendary Ladies of Baseball” which features 4 key players from the four original teams from the All American League. Included were Pepper Davis – Racine Bells, Dorothy Kamenshek – Rockford Peaches, Marge Wenzell – South Bend Blue Sox, and Lefty Hohlmayer – Kenosha Comets. They appeared for 38 weekends the next year at The Big Sports Cards and Collectors Shows all over the country, hobb knobbing with former MLB stars Joe DiMaggio, Lou Brock, Ernie Banks, Duke Snider and Buck O’Neal. All were signing autographs and selling memorabilia.
And if that wasn’t enough, Pepper held 68 speaking engagements for the WNABA in 1994 and was much in demand as a speaker for schools and charities. She was on the Board of Directors for the Paralysis Project, an organization dedicated to wiping out spinal cord injuries. Board President was former MLB player Don Newcombe and her follow members were Mark Spitz, Olympic swimming star, Art Aragon, Boxing’s Golden Boy, hockey great Rogie Vachon, Bill Chairman of the L.A.Lakers and Annie Meyers Drysdale, UCLA Great Basketball player and only woman to play in the NBA. The Wizard of Westwood, Coach John Wooden was always ready to present awards at their annual fundraising dinner.
And finally, after more than 50 years, Pepper is preparing to publish her own book, “Dirt in the Skirt”, to set the record straight on her life and fellow players from the All American League. The book is due to be released in 2008 and will no doubt be a hot item. While it’s mostly about Pepper’s life, it will also provide a true account of the league and the incredible period of sport history that has never been told by another player. The movie will only be a tip of the iceberg, as Dirt in the Skirt will take you far beyond the imagination of what really happened in those exciting years.
Pepper will also tell the behind the scenes story on how the movie “A League of Their Own” was made. She spent two months on location with the film and came to know all the talented people involved (including Madonna). Pepper has formed many loving friendships with the younger actress like Tracy “Betty Spaghetti” Reiner and Megan “Marla Hooch” Cavanagh. Tom Hanks himself will give the introduction to the book and Penny Marshall signs off for it.
Pepper is still committed to giving gals the chance to play baseball. “It happened once, it could happen again”. And if it does, I want to be a part of it. Like my song says…………………….
Batter up, Hear That Call, the Time Has Come For One and All……To Play Ball”