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Dale Gear – Baseball’s Best Kept Secret
If you’re a die-hard fan of the game of baseball, you’ll want to keep reading. There’s more to baseball than salaries, championships, endorsements, and fan rate. It is also a sport deeply rooted in much of world history. Yes, I told the history of the world. Many historic events occurred decades ago in the game of baseball which helped shape the civil rights landscape in the United States of America.
In 1901, women in the United States were still on the long and difficult road to gaining their civil rights under the law. In 1903, the National League of Women’s Unions was formed to advocate for better wages and working conditions for women. Amidst all of this struggle and progress, there was a secret story unfolding in the game of baseball that no one knew about, a secret so closely guarded that it lay dormant for 100 years until only to have the silence finally broken by a lady named Winifred Gear Swanson. You might be wondering who Winifred Gear Swanson is and that would be a good question to ask. So here’s the correct answer, it’s Dale Gear’s 96-year-old great-granddaughter; the only woman to have played professional baseball in the major leagues! Your eyes are not deceiving you at this moment; I wrote that she was the first and only woman to play major league baseball.
Dale Dudley Gear played for the Washington Senators in 1901 as an outfielder and pitcher in their very first year in the American League and it was also Dale Gear’s very first and only season. The team manager at this time was Mr. Jimmy Manning; he had convinced Dale Gear to promise that she would not divulge her true identity to anyone, so it remained an open family secret in the Gear household for decades. Imagine the implications that could have flowed from the news that a woman was playing alongside men of that day. As I had mentioned before, women were just beginning to achieve very minimal levels of equality within society, a woman playing baseball would have been completely unknown, and as she is in the society of today it still is.
The Encyclopedia of Baseball actually lists a Dale Gear as having been an active player for the Washington Senators in 1901 as an outfielder and pitcher who batted .232 as an outfielder and had a 4-11 record and an era of 4.03 as a launcher. Although the Encyclopedia lists Gear, there is no mention of his gender, only a middle name that hints at his being male. Winifred Gear Swanson states that it is true that Dudley was her middle name, but it was the “family” name, so it was not at all uncommon for female relatives to use it.
Ms Swanson has plenty of evidence to back up her claim that her great-grandmother was indeed Dale Gear, the baseball player. She was able to produce a birth certificate which mentions her name and under the section marked gender, girl is indicated. She also has very important and precious memories. A team signed a photo of the Senators that reads “Our Dale, the best ball player in the country.” And if that’s not enough, Ms. Swanson also produced an autographed baseball with Dale Gear’s signature on it. This ball and other memorabilia were to be auctioned off to raise money to build a women’s baseball museum in Lone Elm, the town Dale lived in, and we can all guess who will be the first inductee. Ms. Swanson felt it was time to share this great story with the rest of the world, and I thank her for that. It’s an important piece of history, and an inspiration to boot. There are so many things that can be achieved by women in today’s society, whether in sport or any other endeavour, and we are blessed to have these precious stories and pieces of story to remind us that the impossible is more possible than we can imagine. with perseverance and passion.
Barry Halper, a well-known sports memorabilia collector, managed to get a used Dale Gear uniform, which had a giant W on the front and not really a number. When asked why he bought this one as opposed to the HOF uniforms he is known to collect, his reason was simple, it belonged to a woman. How did he know? He found a secondhand bra inside the uniform, the only bra to have even been worn in a professional Major League game, that’s a bra I wouldn’t burn in the name of progress. Looking at the photos of Dale Gear, I honestly have to say she was the prettiest pitcher/outfielder I’ve ever seen. As a female sports fan and collector of sports memorabilia and cards myself, I can appreciate this story on many levels. As a woman, this story has an even bigger picture, a picture that should inspire and inspire all women to set their goals and not that there are no limits, anything can be achieved if you try, even if you are just a girl.
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