From the playground to the pros: Dee White’s ongoing odyssey

John Worthen, Editor

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On a sunny April day in 1946, Delores “Dolly” Brumfield White got in her grandmother’s gray Fleetline Chevrolet with her mother at the wheel and rode to Pascagoula, Miss. for a baseball tryout. She had always wanted to be a baseball player. It was her dream.

That dream in Mississippi lead to her association with the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, a heralded career in women’s professional baseball and ultimately a teaching career at HSU that lasted for more than three decades. But first she had to hone her skills and endure grueling training.

Before she was a pro, she played whenever she could, whether it was on a ragtag, dusty school playground, or with workers who built Liberty ships in Mobile, Ala. near her home. Being a self described tomboy with long, brazen brown hair that curled slightly at the bangs, and athletic, lanky legs, made her the perfect fit when she worked out with the burley shipyard workers who took her in as one of their own.

They believed in her playing abilities so much that after seeing an ad in the local paper about a baseball spring training camp, they contacted her parents to tell them they thought she could make it; they were the reason she went to Mississippi. “My mother wasn’t wild about the idea the guys proposed to her at first,” White said almost 60 years later, as she clutched old photographs of herself at 14.

“They said they would take me to the tryout, but mother wouldn’t hear of that. She said if I went at all she would be the one to take me.”

After the tryouts in Mississippi, White was questioned about her age from the AAGPBL President, Max Carey. When she said she was almost 14, he told her that she was too young, but he did want her to go home and find an organized local team to keep her skills sharpened. White went back home in the summer of 1946 and played with a softball team that was formed from women who worked on the military base in Mobile. Not long after, her mother received a letter from Carey saying he wanted her to come and be a part of the professional women’s league.

Another letter arrived from Carey a few weeks later, requesting that White report to Havana, Cuba, the following year for spring training. But her mother wasn’t totally satisfied that her daughter would be safe. It was only after a team member from the AAGPBL visited with her, and let her know that every girl was chaperoned and there was little risk of anything happening to her daughter, that she agreed to let her be a baseball player.

“After my mother saw that I’d be taken care of, she was a little more comfortable with the situation,” White said.

“So we went to talk to my high school principal and he said it sounded like a good opportunity. He wanted me to take it, so I did.”

In 1947, White said goodbye to her parents and boarded a train in Mobile bound for Miami. There, she took a connecting flight to Cuba, where her career as a professional baseball player soon began.

“It was really hard leaving my parents that day,” White said.

“But when I got to Cuba, I knew I felt pretty good about the situation.” White and her teammates were young, athletic girls that made quite a contrast to the balmy militaristic island. On their off time, they gathered in soda fountains, laughing and talking, but were always under the watchful eye of armed military officials with dark, reflective glasses and lifeless stares. The guards were always around, and the girls were never allowed to go anywhere alone.

“I remember we stayed near the presidential palace and there were always jeeps with armed men in uniform inside,” White recalled.

“Our room had a balcony and a lot of men stood across the street all the time we were there. I was just too young to understand what was going on and I never really thought about anything other than baseball.”

White compared the spring training scenes in the film A League of Their Own, which dramatized professional women’s baseball, to her own baseball related experiences in Cuba. She said that the movie reminded her of what it was like when she first arrived there to play. “The only parts of the movie that were really accurate were the training scenes,” she said. “The rest of it really didn’t accurately show what it was like to be a young girl in the league.” After her training stint in Cuba was complete White, who stood at 5’6″, weighed 125 pounds and played both infield and outfield with a suave familiarity, went to South Bend Indiana to play for the South Bend Blue Sox. In 1948, when her manager at the Blue Sox left for the Kenosha Comets in Keonsha, Wis., he requested that she come to play for his team there. She was at Kenosha from 1948 to 1951, and from 1952 to 1953 she played her final two years at the Fort Wayne Daisies, in Fort Wayne, Ind. Even though she played for three different teams during her professional tour, she said that some of her best and most memorable moments during came while she was in South Bend. One memory in particular took place on her birthday when she was invited to be on a radio show called The Knot Hole Gang. “In the early days of baseball the fences were made out of wood, and it had knot holes in it,” she explained. “If you couldn’t afford a ticket you could knock out one of those knot holes and peak in and see the game.” On the radio show, White was presented with a sweater, and later that night at the ballpark she was pushed out of the dugout by her manager as “I’m a Big Girl Now” played over the loudspeaker. “That was a great moment for me,” she said. “That was my first birthday away from home and I was so happy to be treated so well during my years there.”

When White’s career in baseball ended in 1953 her life took a sharp but not completely different turn, in that she kept her love for sports active by trading time on the field for time in the classroom. After she graduated from college in 1954, she obtained her doctorate in physical education and taught for 31 years in the Health and Physical Education and Recreation Department at HSU. She married Joe H. White from Gurdon in 1977, and became known as she is today as Dr. White, or simply “Dee” to her friends and colleagues. White retired from teaching in 1994, but she has still kept a very active role in university and community relations. She demonstrated her commitment to her former employer by spearheading a group at Henderson called “The Diamond Reddies” that helped raise funds for the new softball field that was built in 1999, and she also organizes monthly retired faculty staff luncheons that are held at the hospital. “Dr. White is a very passionate and driven person,” John Gyllin, former Director of Alumni Services for Henderson, said. “She is a true Reddie in that she has a deep love and commitment to Henderson.”

In addition to her work at Henderson, White also serves volunteer consultant with the city of Arkadelphia’s Parks and Recreation Department. She is also the president of the former players association of the AAGPBL, which keeps her occupied throughout the year attending reunion events and handling business for the non-profit organization. White’s number one goal throughout most of her adult lifetime has been to spread the word of the importance of a woman’s role in the athletic world. She said she feels a great well of pride building up inside her when she sees women athletes competing at the same level as men in sporting events like the Olympics, or the WNBA. “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,” she said. “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.”

For more information on the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, visit their website at www.aagpbl.org.