Kamenshek, Dorothy (1925—)
Kamenshek, Dorothy (1925—)
American athlete who played first base for the Rockford Peaches (1943–52) and was considered the best player in the history of the All-American Girls Baseball League. Name variations: Kammie Kamenshek; Dottie Kamenshek. Born on December 21, 1925, in Cincinnati, Ohio; attended the University of Cincinnati; graduated from Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1958.
Considered the best player in the history of the All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBL), Dorothy "Kammie" Kamenshek was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on December 21, 1925. Coming from a poor family (her father died when she was nine), she wanted to join the army to learn a skill, but her mother would not hear of it. Instead, Kamenshek was allowed to take a bus to Chicago and try out for the new all-girl baseball league. (Her mother was convinced that her daughter would fail and soon be on the bus home.) Out of 250 hopefuls, however, Kamenshek was one of two Cincinnati women who made the final cut of 60 (the other was Betsy Jochum ).
Kamenshek, standing 5'6" and weighing 135 pounds, started in the outfield with the Rockford (Illinois) Peaches, having played that position during her years on an industrial softball team. After a dozen games, she switched to first base and remained there for the rest of her career. Her fielding set her apart from other first-base players, particularly her ability to stretch in every direction while keeping her foot on the bag. "Kammie was ahead of her time," said Peaches teammate Rose Gacioch. "She used to make a split at first base the way they do in the majors now. It's like they learned from her." Though blessed with natural ability, Kamenshek never stopped working to better herself. "I practiced my footwork in winter on a pillow," she explained. "I threw it on the floor in front of a full-length mirror and pretended the pillow was first base. You try to make yourself as long as possible. I practiced shifting my feet. I stayed flexible year round."
As good as she was at first base, Kamenshek could also swing a powerful bat. In 1946, she won the AAGBL batting title with a .316 average, and she triumphed again the following year, hitting .306. In 1948, when the smaller 103/8" ball was introduced, her averages went up. She hit .334 in 1950 and .345 in 1951. She could both drop a bunt in place when necessary, or drive the ball to the outfield. "She was a great hitter," said South Bend Blue Sox hurler Jean Faut . "The free wingers were not too bad for me to handle, but she was a punch hitter and she gave me a lot of trouble." Indeed, Kamenshek was the bane of many pitchers, garnering a lifetime batting average of .292, the highest of any long-time league player. In 3,736 at-bats, she struck out only 81 times.
Kamenshek's talent was such that at one point the Fort Lauderdale club of the Florida International League tried to lure her to the minor league, but the AAGBL would not release her. Kamenshek was also dubious about the offer, thinking that it may have been designed "to draw in an audience," rather than to advance women in baseball. "I didn't want to be a guinea pig, so I turned the offer down."
In 1950, the Peaches fans held a "Kamenshek Night" in Beyer Stadium to honor her. Friends, family, teammates, and fans showered her with so many gifts that a truck had to be brought in to cart them away. Manager Bill Allington told reporters that Kamenshek "had a good cry and three hits." In spite of a back injury, she finished out that season and another, retiring from baseball in 1952 and pursuing a second career in physical therapy. After graduating from Marquette University in 1958, age 32, she worked for several years in Michigan as a physical therapist before moving to California in 1961. There she became chief of the Los Angeles Crippled Children's Services Department. "I
ended up in the Orange County Who's Who for work in physical therapy," she said. "I'm just as proud of that as I am of my baseball."
Gregorich, Barbara. Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1993.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts