If you are a die hard fan of the game of baseball then you will want to keep reading. Baseball is not all about the salaries, the championships, the endorsements, and the fan fare. It is also a sport that is deeply rooted in a substantial amount of world history. Yes, I said world history. Many historical events transpired many decades ago within the game of baseball, which helped to shape the civil rights landscape of the United States of America.
In 1901 women in the United States were still on the long and hard road to achieving their civil rights under the law. In 1903 the Women’s National Trade Union League was created in order to advocate for better wages and working conditions for women. In the midst of all this struggle and progress there laid a secret story that was taking place in the game of baseball that no one was aware of, a secret so soundly kept that it actually lay dormant for 100 years until the silence was finally broken by a lady named Winifred Gear Swanson. You may be wondering who Winifred Gear Swanson is and that would be a good question to ask. So here is the good answer, she’s the 96 year old great grand-daughter of Dale Gear; the only woman to have ever played major league professional baseball! Your eyes are not deceiving you at this moment; I did write that she was the first and only female have ever play major league baseball.
Dale Dudley Gear played for the Washington Senators in 1901 as an outfielder and pitcher in their very first year of the American League and it was also the very first and only season for Dale Gear. The manager of the team at that time was Mr. Jimmy Manning; he had convinced Dale Gear to promise that she would not disclose her true identity to anyone, so this remained an open family secret in the Gear household for decades. Imagine the implications that could have arisen from the news that a woman was playing along side men of that day. As I had mentioned previously, women had just begun to achieve very minimal levels of equality within society, a women playing baseball of all things would have been completely unheard of, and as it stands in today’s society it still is.
The Baseball Encyclopaedia does in fact list 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 a 4.03 era as a pitcher. Although the Encyclopaedia lists Gear, there is no mention of her gender, only of a middle name which alludes to her being a man. 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 females in their family to carry it.
Mrs. Swanson has much proof to corroborate her claim that indeed her Great Grandmother was Dale Gear the baseball player. She was able to produce a birth certificate which states her name and under the section marked gender, girl is indicated. Also she possesses some very important and valuable memorabilia. A team signed photo of the Senators which bares the inscription “Our Dale, the finest girl ball player in the land,” And if that isn’t enough Mrs. Swanson also produced an autographed baseball with Dale Gear’s signature on it. This ball and other memorabilia was to be put up for auction in order to raise money to build a Women’s Baseball Museum in Lone Elm, the town in which Dale lived, and we all can guess who the first inductee will be. Mrs. Swanson felt it time to share this tremendous story with the rest of the world, and I thank her for it. It is an important piece of history, and an inspirational one to boot. There is so much that can be achieved by women in today’s society whether it be in sports, or any other endeavour, and we are lucky to have these treasured stories and pieces of history to remind us that the impossible is more possible then we can imagine with perseverance and passion.
Barry Halper a well known sports memorabilia collector managed to get a used uniform from Dale Gear, which had a giant W on the front of it and no number really. When he was asked why he purchased this one as opposed to the HOF uniforms he is known for collecting, his reason was simple, it belonged to a woman. How did he know? He found a game used bra inside the uniform, the only bra to have even been worn in a professional Major League game, that’s one bra I wouldn’t burn in the name of progress. In looking back at pictures of Dale Gear, I have to honestly say she was the prettiest Pitcher/outfielder I’ve even seen. As a female fan of sports and a collector of memorabilia and sports card myself, I can appreciate this story on many levels. As a woman this story has an even bigger picture, one that should stand to inspire and ignite all females to set their goals and no that there are no boundaries anything can be attainable if you try, even if you only just a girl.