Doris Sams, who pitched a perfect game and set a single-season home run record in the women’s professional baseball world of the 1940s and 50s that inspired the movie “A League of Their Own,” died Thursday in Knoxville, Tenn. She was 85.
The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said her cousin Gordon Sams.
Sams was one of the leading players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, founded in 1943 by Phil Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, to provide evening entertainment in Midwestern towns and keep interest in baseball alive when the majors were losing most of their players to military service in World War II…
Playing for Michigan’s Muskegon Lassies and their successor franchise, the Kalamazoo Lassies, from 1946 to 1953, Sams, who was 5 feet 9 inches and wore glasses, pitched underhand, sidearm and overhand, as the rules governing deliveries evolved.
She hit a league-record 12 home runs in 1952, playing in 109 games; she hit better than .300 in each of her last four seasons; threw out many runners playing the outfield when she was not pitching; and she was the league’s player of the year in 1947 and 1949…
Doris Jane Sams was born in Knoxville on Feb. 2, 1927. A grandfather and her father, Robert, played semipro baseball, and she joined with two older brothers in playing baseball as a youngster. By 11, she was playing fast-pitch softball on a team with much older girls. She also won a regional marbles tournament and was a Knoxville city badminton champion before turning to pro baseball after a tryout in 1946.
She was soon a star and shared the covers of Dell publishing’s 1948 major league yearbook with Ted Williams — he on the front, she on the back. She estimated that she was paid about $4,000 a season.
After retiring from baseball, Sams held an office job with the Knoxville Utilities Board. She never married and had no immediate survivors.
The Hall of Fame displayed one of Sams’s player-of-the year trophies along with her Louisville Slugger bat when it opened its permanent exhibition on women in baseball.