Women at Play: 25th Anniversary Edition

For the past several years I’ve posted a free chapter from one of my books as part of my New Year’s blog. That book has been Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies.

But this year’s giveaway chapter comes from my best-known book, Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, published twenty-five years ago (Harcourt). The paperback version has been out of print for twenty years, and there has never been an ebook version.

Until today. I’m publishing Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball as an ebook. A text-only ebook, because photo permissions cost way too much.

All the stories are here: Maud Nelson, Margaret Gisolo, Jackie Mitchell, Babe Didrikson, Dottie Collins, Rose Gacioch, Jean Faut, Lois Youngen, Bernice Gera, Pam Postema, Julie Croteau, the Sun Sox. And more. All the original sidebars are here, as are the charts, credits, etc.

The new cover design is by Robin Koontz. The baseball on the front cover was given to me by Nellie Kearns, who played with Maud Nelson’s All-Star Ranger Girls during the 1930s.

The free chapter is below.

WAP-EBOOK

 

 

Jean Faut

 

In seven years of overhand pitching, two perfect games were pitched in the All-American Girls Baseball League—and Jean Faut of the South Bend Blue Sox hurled them both. “She had great strength,” says catcher Shirley Stovroff, “and she was very smart. She had a mixture of pitches—fastball, curve, drop, slowball—and she had excellent control.” The league’s leading hitter, Dottie Kamenshek, evaluates Faut this way: “She put them all just where she wanted.” Pitching overhand was never foreign to the Blue Sox ace. She grew up playing hardball, and when the league switched to overhand, Jean was like a fish in water, moving effortlessly through the environment.

Few pitchers were able to make a successful transition from underhand to overhand. Among those who did were Dottie Wiltse Collins, Joanne Winter, and Helen Nicol Fox. Those who couldn’t went back to softball or, like Connie Wisniewski, converted to another position. By 1948, when the league went overhand, softball had all but obliterated baseball as a sport for women, and ironically the AAGBL, which started out by capitalizing on the softball craze, found as it moved toward the more exciting and exacting game of baseball that pitchers were suddenly difficult to find. In desperation league managers began to convert their hardest-throwing outfielders (who naturally throw overhand) into pitchers.

These converted outfielders learned about pitching from their managers, from watching their teammates, and from being on the mound themselves. Their knowledge was only as deep as their league pitching experience. Jean Faut’s was not. “I had more experience than most of the girls in the AAGBL,” she contends. “I came into the league with a fastball, a sharp curve, screwball, drop and change—and a lot of deviations from these basic pitches.” Born January 17, 1925, in East Greenville, Pennsylvania, Jean grew up two blocks away from the practice field of a semipro baseball team. She hung around the field and yearned to play, and by the time she was thirteen the players had taught her how to pitch. Faut learned so well that when she was still in high school she pitched several exhibition games for the semipro Buck-Montgomery League, an experience she describes as “a great thrill.”

In 1946 a scout from Allentown, Pennsylvania, offered the five-foot-four, 137-pound young ballplayer a chance to attend AAGBL spring training in Pascagoula, Mississippi. “The rookies went in first,” she remembers. “All the representatives were there from the cities, the board of directors. They chose who they wanted.” After finishing fifth out of six teams in 1945 with a 40-60 record, the South Bend Blue Sox would have been among the first to select players. Board Director Harold Dailey, who had smarted so badly from losing Rose Gacioch to Rockford in 1945, wrote of the 1946 tryouts, “We got Wirth and Faut out of the deal.”

The Blue Sox started Senaida “Shoo Shoo” Wirth as shortstop and Jean Faut as third baseman. “I had a strong arm,” she says, “so third was a natural spot.” Late in her rookie season, the league permitted some sidearm pitching and manager Chet Grant asked Faut to take the mound. Although she didn’t like to pitch sidearm because “it’s not very good for your arm, almost like throwing a screwball,” she started twelve games, winning eight and losing three. The League went to overhand in 1948. “I was ready then,” she states. “I was home free.”

When Jean Faut moved to South Bend, Karl Winsch followed her there. A pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, Winsch was called up to the majors in 1946 along with his roommate Del Ennis, who flourished there. But Winsch sustained an injury in spring training that ended his career. When that happened, he moved to South Bend and in 1947 he and Jean were married. In that year, Chet Grant sent his sophomore to the mound in forty-four games, and she posted a 19-13 record with a 1.15 ERA. By midseason, Jean was pregnant; she gave birth to her first child in March 1948. Writing about the Blue Sox 1948 season, Harold Dailey opined that “Faut was not in condition until July owing to the drag on her by pregnancy.” Starting thirty-four games, she compiled a 16-11 record.
Faut turned twenty-four years old before the 1949 season started. “I started to mature,” she reflects. “You get better, your control gets better. You work on new pitches.” The overhand ace was now in her element. In 1949 she started thirty-four games and racked up a 24-8 record and a 1.10 ERA.

Unlike Lois Florreich, another great hurler of the overhand era, Faut didn’t have intimidating speed. Outstanding hitters such as Dottie Kamenshek rank Faut as the best pitcher of the League’s overhand days despite her lack of velocity, recognizing that what matters is whether the pitcher gets the batter out, not the speed of the ball as it crosses the plate. Yet many hitters’ perception of greatness is thrown off by speed: they rank the pitcher who gets them out on a blazing fastball higher than the one who gets them out on an adequate fastball, or on a combination of pitches. Umpires, too, were baffled by Faut’s success. One of the umpires even stepped into the batter’s box during practice and bragged, “I can hit you.” So Faut whiffed him. “Afterward, he still didn’t understand why he couldn’t hit me.” Even her own manager, Davy Bancroft, said he just didn’t understand why batters couldn’t hit her.

“My biggest asset was control,” Faut explains. “I have very strong wrists and could do things with the ball. I got that way splitting wood by the hour when I was a kid.” Her variety of pitches also helped. “I had a good curveball and could throw it overhand, three-quarters, or sidearm. If overhand, it went straight down. I threw a screwball, like a slider, but not often. And a fastball. I could throw them with different speeds.” And if, as they say in the majors, 90 percent of pitching is mental, Jean Faut had that, too. “Part of my success was that in my mind I could record the pitches and the order of pitches I threw to each girl, so they never saw the same thing twice. I was a mathematical whiz in school. They’d never know what was coming, so they’d start guessing. When batters start guessing, they’re never right.”

Some analysts of the All-American Girls Baseball League say that the reason batting averages went up so dramatically in the last third of the league’s existence was that there were few really good overhand pitchers. Faut disagrees, naming Lois Florreich, Maxine Kline, and Millie Earp as great overhand hurlers. She should know, for in addition to 35-45 pitching appearances a year, Jean often played an additional forty games at third base, where the Blue Sox counted on her fielding and hitting. Faut believes that the hitters coming into the AAGBL in the 1950s were strong athletes who mastered baseball hitting. She points to the Weaver sisters in particular: “Betty Foss would run the bases and the dirt would fly up. One time I was pitching and Betty Foss hit the ball straight at me. It came so straight and fast I couldn’t see the spin, couldn’t react. I saw the seam and then it hit me in the stomach, there wasn’t even time to get my glove up. When I undressed, I saw the stitch marks on my stomach.”

Strong hitters or not, Jean could handle them. On July 21, 1951, she pitched a perfect game in Rockford against the Peaches, retiring twenty-seven batters in a row. Dottie Kamenshek, who prided herself on not striking out, whiffed twice that night. It was, says Kammie, “the best game I’ve ever seen pitched. It was just perfect. Overpowering.” The next morning, the South Bend Tribune reported that “Jean Faut, a sturdy gal with a lot of heart, a fast ball that hops, and a curve that breaks off like a country road pitched a perfect no-hit, no-run game to subdue the Rockford Peaches, 2-0, at Playland Park Saturday night. . . . The chances of a no-hit game were never mentioned in the Blue Sox dugout during the game, according to baseball superstition, but the crowd of 1,490 were fully aware that baseball history was in the making.” Whiffing eleven of the twenty-seven batters, the Sox hurler got behind the count on only two. “She threw three balls to Eleanor Callow in the fifth and then fanned her. One other time she threw three balls, then two strikes, and the batter grounded out.”

Faut’s 1951 pitching record was 15-7 with a 1.33 ERA. She was chosen Player of the Year and helped lead the Blue Sox to their first Shaughnessy Series victory. In 1952 she went 20-2 (a .909 winning percentage), posted a 0.93 ERA, and once again helped lead her team to a series victory, batting in the cleanup position. With the playoff series tied, she hurled the deciding game against the Peaches, hitting two booming triples for extra measure. In 1953 she pitched her second perfect game, this one against the Kalamazoo Lassies on September 3. That year she was again elected Player of the Year, only the second person in League history to receive the award twice (the other was Doris Sams).

In major league ball, Hall-of-Famer Christy Mathewson compiled a .665 winning record and a 2.13 lifetime ERA, while later-day greats such as Sandy Koufax (.655 and 2.76), Bob Gibson (.591 and 2.91), and Tom Seaver (.603 and 2.86) had somewhat lower winning percentages and higher ERAs. Jean Faut’s career statistics are 140 wins and 64 losses—a .686 winning percentage and a 1.23 ERA. Of all her accomplishments, she is proudest of her ERA, because “that’s the most important statistic of a pitcher.”

Although Faut was a real team player, her life on the Blue Sox was that of a loner. It wasn’t just that Jean was married and therefore didn’t room with another player or take part in their pregame or postgame activities. And it wasn’t just that she was raising a child. In 1951, Karl Winsch became manager of the South Bend Blue Sox, a job he held until the league folded. Under Winsch, the Blue Sox won their only two championships, but there was tremendous dissension on the team. Groups of players wouldn’t talk to the manager, and then they wouldn’t talk to Jean. Winsch wouldn’t talk to Jean, either. “Neither side communicated with me” she says. “It was a big squabble.” At the end of the 1953 season, she retired from baseball at the age of twenty-eight because it was just too rough being married to the manager.

“I suffered because I wasn’t playing,” she remembers. At first, she’d go to the games and sit in the stands, but that would make her miserable because she wasn’t playing. So, “to fill the void I went to the bowling center.” Jean became such a good bowler that in 1960 she turned pro, retiring from that status in 1988. Today she bowls with the senior women’s tour. Her highest game to date is a 299, just short of perfect.

In 1946, the same year that Jean Faut attended the league tryouts, another Pennsylvania woman went to spring training in Pascagoula. For nine years, Ruth Williams played for the South Bend Blue Sox and then the Kalamazoo Lassies. She’ll always remember one game. “Jeannie Faut beat me in sixteen innings, one to nothing, back in 1952,” says Williams. “She was pitching for the Blue Sox, I was with the Lassies. I had pitched forty consecutive shutout innings, then I got tied up with Jeannie. She was the best player in the league. She doubled off me in the sixteenth, moved to third on a bunt, and scored on a sacrifice fly. Figured it would be Jeannie that would end my streak.” It figured because Jean Faut was to pitching what Dottie Kamenshek was to hitting and Sophie Kurys was to base stealing—without peer.

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To purchase the 25th anniversary edition of Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, click here.

 

Minor Gift: A Free Chapter

New Year’s Day is a good time to start the year off right by sharing with others, and so I’m sharing a chapter from my book, Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies. In 2014 I shared both Chapter 9, “Summary, Scene, and Conflict” and Chapter 10, “Subplots,” and now I’m sharing Chapter 5, “Minor Characters.” (At this rate you can read the entire book for free . . . over the next twenty years.)


5 Minor Characters

Novels contain minor characters as well as major ones, and while it’s not necessary for a writer to know as much about the minor characters as about the major ones, it’s still necessary to know something about them. Mainly, it’s necessary to know their function in the plot.

To Name or Not to Name
There are two levels of minor characters. The first kind play a role in the book. They speak, they act, they interact with the protagonist. Because they speak, act, and interact, a writer will think about these minor characters and develop them to a certain degree.

The second kind of minor characters are those who have one short function in the novel and aren’t heard from again. Or if they’re heard from again, it’s merely in the same capacity or function as they first appeared. You might consider these to be minor-minor characters. In Dirty Proof the doorman of the building Suzanne lives in falls into that category, as do several of Suzanne’s fellow typesetters. In Sound Proof I usually have Frank refer to the sheriff’s deputy as “the deputy” rather than by name. The job description is easy for readers to remember, especially in a novel that contains many characters.

Whether or not to name minor characters is a difficulty all writers face. Obviously the minor characters who speak, act, and interact with the hero need names. But what about the minor-minor ones, such as the doorman or deputy?

The rule-of-thumb I try to follow in writing a mystery is: what would my protagonist observe and need to know? How would he behave? If my hero were a cop investigating a case, I think he would take down the name of practically every character he encountered. Although, in order to not burden the reader with unnecessary details, this could be written as “I wrote her name in my notebook.” If the point of view is third person: “Khrank wrote the doorman’s name in his notebook, right under the name of the concierge.” But if, later, this doorman were to play a role in the book, perhaps because his last name turned out to be the same as the last name of the murder victim’s brother-in-law, then the writer needs to give the name as the protagonist writes it down — else the writer wouldn’t be playing fair with the reader.

If your hero is an amateur detective, whether or not she notes or writes down or remembers the name of the doorman or the concierge all depends on how observant she is, how conscious she is of gathering evidence, whether or not she intends to question this person, and a whole host of other things. An amateur detective doesn’t have the status, authority, or training of a member of the police force, nor that of a private investigator (who has had training). In some ways you have more freedom to allow your protagonist to slip up when you’re writing about an amateur detective. Or to be way nosier than even a private detective might be.

How you write about your minor characters depends on who is telling the story (point of view will be discussed in a later chapter) and what kind of detective she is. If you stay true to what your hero would say and do and observe, you will name or not name your minor characters appropriately.

Function of Each Character
Minor characters serve a function in the novel. They might be used to move the plot forward by providing information, for example, or by taking actions that clarify things. Or by saying something relevant, perhaps without knowing that they’ve done so.

They can also be used to complicate the plot, throwing a monkey wrench into things, perhaps sending the chase off in a different direction. Further, they can be used to shed light on other characters, either by being similar or by being very different. Minor characters can also be used to elucidate and enhance the setting.

As you create minor characters, you will find yourself giving some of them names and even occupations. Perhaps you know the physical description of some of them, but not all of them. Let your instincts guide you in this respect, as they guided me. Here are a few of the minor characters in Sound Proof, with notes I made before I began writing the novel.

Personnel
Nola Grayson — Mary’s attorney, conference go-to person
Function: reflects light on Shelby Stubbs; reveals what could be a motive for murder; is a contrast to Mary

Teachers
Kofi Quay — African drummer
Function: as an outsider to American culture, he comments on that culture; he quietly teaches others, including Frank, the power of music

Students
Cindy Ruffo — mountain dulcimer player
Function: adds to the setting by her background and behavior

Vendors
Kim Oberfeld — sells fiddles, autoharps, guitars
Function: adds to the setting; adds to plot advancement by giving Frank information

Because these minor characters speak, act, and interact with Frank Dragovic during the course of Sound Proof, I had to flesh them out. I needed to know some of their externals and internals: personality and character. Here are my notes on Cindy Ruffo:

Students
Cindy Ruffo — mountain dulcimer player — has a family, husband and seven children, from Missouri, drives an old van she lives out of during the festival, makes her own clothes, religious, believes in the devil, she saves her money (of which there is very little) in order to come to Midwest Music Madness once a year. She saved her money to buy a beautiful mountain dulcimer by a well-known luthier: this instrument was stolen at Midwest Music Madness.

As my notes indicate, I created minor character Cindy Ruffo for several different reasons. I wanted to show that many people who play folk music and attend festivals are poor people: music is a joy they can create for themselves and in company with others. This aspect of Cindy contributes to the setting of Sound Proof. I also wanted to show how important a musician’s instrument is to him or her, whether that person is rich or poor. The instrument has a personality and a life for the musician, and the loss of an instrument (especially through theft) is a physical and emotional blow. The instrument is mourned. Sometimes avenged. In the face of murder (that of Shelby Stubbs), some readers may cast aside any concerns about theft. But I wanted Frank’s initial job — finding the instrument thief — to remain important. The more the reader feels empathy for Cindy, the less the reader will undervalue Frank’s search for the thief. Finally, at many of the musical festivals I attended there was always a small group which played and sang religious songs, sometimes all night long. Cindy helps me show that segment of the folk music tribe. In short, Cindy is not only a developed minor character in Sound Proof, she serves certain story and setting purposes.

When creating minor characters, ask yourself what purpose each one serves. To complicate the plot? To shine light on a problem? To enrich the setting? In a mystery it’s very easy to create minor characters who serve only the purpose of providing information that the detective needs. Try to make your minor characters serve more functions than that single one.

Combining Characters
In creating minor characters (and major ones, too), you might, in the planning stages of your novel, end up creating too many. Not too many for the pages of the novel to handle: novels come in all sizes. But too many for readers to handle. When you give your novel over for critique, listen to whether people are confused by certain characters. Usually the reader will say something like, “I couldn’t keep A and B straight.” Or, “I couldn’t tell U and V apart.” Or, “I kept forgetting who Z was.”

Such remarks could indicate that you need to strengthen the characterization of the characters in question: make these novel people come to life. Or such remarks could mean that you have too many characters serving identical functions.

After I finished Sound Proof I asked readers to critique it. And one of the most frequent remarks I received was that readers found it difficult to distinguish between various minor characters. (Remember: I needed more minor characters than you will probably ever need, because I was writing about a festival.)

Now, it’s a fact of life that the characters you as a writer create are real, vivid, and utterly distinct to you. But not necessarily to the reader. I know this because when I’m a reader, I often find myself confused by characters I can’t remember or distinguish. So as a writer, I remembered my experiences as a reader, and when I rewrote Sound Proof I conflated two major characters into one. I also conflated two minor characters into one. And I totally deleted four other minor characters. Here are my rewrite notes:

Guy and Max — combine into one character
Jing and Bliss — combine into one character
Paul — delete
Destry — delete
Abby — delete
Penna — delete

Six months after I rewrote Sound Proof, I had no idea who the deleted characters had been or what function they had served. Zero idea. In retrospect, I didn’t need these characters at all. You too, either in your initial writing (moving the story from notecard or outline stage to manuscript stage) or in your rewriting, may find the need to combine either major or minor characters. If some instinct tells you to do so, I highly advise doing it. Better to have five minor characters, each of whom the reader finds memorable, than to have fifteen whom the reader fails to recognize.

SOUNDPROOF-Cover

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The dead bodies are few, the examples plentiful in Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies.