Grave Spotlight

In a way, cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their life any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.

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Faye Dancer

April 24, 1925 - May 22, 2002

Sept. 30, 2011 -- In early 1940s, with the United States involved in World War II, millions of men across the country enlisted or were drafted into military service. And that included the men who played professional baseball.

Nearly 500 major leaguers got the call to play on Uncle Sam's team at some point during the war and, with only 16 major league teams at the time, that works out to an average of nearly 30 players per team, including stars like Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Stan Musial and Hank Greenberg. More than 60 percent of the players who appeared in the opening day lineups in 1941 were called into military service during the next three years.

With so many of their regular players gone, owners fielded teams made up of players who were too young, too old or physically ineligible for military service. The St. Louis Browns had a one-armed outfielder, and the Washington Senators had a one-legged pitcher. And, since so many minor league players were brought up to the major leagues during this time, many minor league teams, which were located primarily in the Midwest, didn't have enough players to field a team at all.

With the loss of so many star players, attendance and interest in professional baseball started to decline, and there were rumors that professional baseball could be put on hold for the duration of the war. In an effort to keep the nation's interest in its national pastime, P.K. Wrigley, chewing gum executive and owner of the Chicago Cubs, came up with the idea of a women's professional baseball league.

The league was designed to serve several purposes -- keep the country interested in baseball until the major league teams were back at full strength; provide an inexpensive and convenient diversion and entertainment to a war-weary population (particularly in smaller towns in the Midwest, where wartime rationing and restrictions put limits on travel and entertainment options); and support the war effort with promotions and special events, and make going to a ballgame seem like the patriotic thing to do.

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) started in 1943 with four teams -- the Kenosha (Wis.) Comets, the Racine (Wis.) Belles, the Rockford (Ill.) Peaches and the South Bend (Ind.) Blue Sox. The Milwaukee Chicks and the Minneapolis Millerettes were added in 1944, and other teams were added and subtracted from the league over the next 10 years, including the Muskegon (Mich.) Lassies, the Peoria (Ill.) Redwings, the Chicago Colleens, the Springfield (Ill.) Sallies, the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Lassies and the Battle Creek (Mich.) Belles. In 1945, the Milwaukee Chicks moved to Grand Rapids (Mich.), and the Minneapolis Millerettes moved to Fort Wayne (Ind.), and became the Daisies. In fact, rarely did the league have the same teams for two consecutive years. (The league officially disbanded after the 1954 season.)

The next step was to find players for the new league. In addition to their skills on the field, the league owners required the players to adhere to a strict code of moral standards, conduct and appearance -- no short hair, no smoking or drinking in public, no swearing, all social engagements must be approved by the team chaperone, "baseball uniform skirts shall not be shorter than six inches above the knee-cap" and "always appear in feminine attire when not actively engaged in practice or playing ball. ... At no time may a player appear in the stands in her uniform, or wear slacks or shorts in public."

Players were also sent to charm school, and were given beauty and grooming requirements and suggestions, and etiquette training. The players, according to the league, were supposed to present the wholesome image of "the all-American girl next door" -- about 10 years before another Chicagoan, Hugh Hefner, came up with a similar marketing plan for his Playboy magazine.

(According to one story, when a batter was coming to the plate in a crucial moment in the late innings of an AAGPBL game, play was stopped when the team chaperone noticed that she wasn't wearing the mandatory lipstick.)

Scouts traveled through the U.S. and Canada, and invited 280 women to the final try-outs at Wrigley Field in Chicago in May 1943, where 60 players were chosen for the original four teams. The initial salaries for the players were $45 to $85 per week, plus $2.50 per day for meals. For many of the players, that was more money than their parents were making.

For most of the 12 years of the AAGPBL, one of its most popular and colorful players was Faye Dancer, who played centerfield, first base and occasionally pitched for three different teams. The character of Mae Mordabito, played by Madonna in the 1992 film, "A League of Their Own," is based on Dancer.

(The film is a fictionalized, but basically accurate, version of the AAGPBL, with Gary Marshall playing the P.K. Wrigley role and Tom Hanks as the former major leaguer who manages the team. The film also starred Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O'Donnell and Jon Lovitz.)

Faye Katherine Dancer was born April 24, 1925, in Santa Monica, Calif., the second child of Lloyd and Olive Dancer, both natives of Michigan. Her father worked as an inspector for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and later owned an appliance store and sponsored a men's softball team.

While attending Santa Monica High School, Dancer played softball on a girls' team called the Dr. Peppers, sponsored by the soft drink manufacturer, which played its games at Fiedler Field at Fairfax Avenue and 3rd Street in Los Angeles. She later attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where she excelled in basketball and track.

After she graduated from high school in 1941, Dancer played professional softball in a regional women's league. In 1944, she attracted the attention of a scout for the AAGPBL, and was invited to the league try-outs in Chicago. A versatile player with power and speed, 19-year-old Dancer was signed for $75 per week, at the higher end of the pay scale, and assigned to the new Minneapolis Millerettes.

In her first year with the Millerettes, playing centerfield, Dancer hit .274, with two home runs, 48 runs batted in and 63 stolen bases. The Millerettes finished the season in last place with a disappointing record of 45-72, and the team was moved the following year to Fort Wayne, Ind., and became the Daisies. In her second season, Dancer's average dropped to .195, with 29 RBIs and 29 stolen bases, but she tied for the league lead with three home runs. In her third year in the league, Dancer hit .250 with one home run, 43 RBIs and 68 stolen bases. She also pitched in 21 games that season, winning 10 and losing nine.

With her naturally fun-loving and enthusiastic personality, Dancer realized that the audience wanted entertainment, not just a ball game, so she often did backflips, handstands and cartwheels on the way to the outfield, and talked and joked with the fans. "I always wanted to give the people their money's worth," she said.

Many of the players in the league either had or were given nicknames. In Dancer's first year on the Millerettes, she played alongside "Dimples," "Pepper," "Lefty," "Bird Dog," "Jeep," "Snooky," "Swish," "Pigtails," "Pee Wee," "Tex" and "Moe." Officially, Dancer's nickname was "Tiger," but she was known by her teammates as "All the Way Faye," because of her aggressive and energetic style of play -- another inspiration for the Madonna character in "A League of Their Own," who was known as "All the Way Mae," but for different reasons.

Dancer was also known for her behavior off the field. "I was the original clown of the league," she said. "Rules were always made to be broken, and I think I broke every rule in the book." Today, Dancer's rule-breaking would be considered more light-hearted fun and practical jokes than serious indiscretions.

"Every team had a chaperone, and I was the one who always initiated them," she recalled. "I put Limburger cheese on their light bulbs, toothpaste in their Oreo cookies, and peanut butter on their toilet seats. Some of them just couldn't take it." Dancer and some of her teammates were also known for sneaking out of their hotel after curfew, drinking beer in a nearby cemetery, and climbing up the fire escape to get back to their rooms.

After starting the 1947 season with the Daisies, Dancer was traded to the Peoria Redwings. During the 1948 season, Dancer hit .237 with six home runs, 34 RBIs, 109 hits and 102 stolen bases. She retired at the end of the season, but attempted a return with the Redwings in 1950. After playing in 49 games that year, she suffered a herniated disc and a chipped vertebra while sliding into a base, and she retired for good. At the time, Dancer was earning the league-maximum salary of $125 per week.

During her six seasons with the AAGPBL, Dancer played in 591 games with 2,072 at bats and 488 hits, for a career batting average of .236. She hit 16 home runs, with 193 RBIs and 352 stolen bases, including 102 in the 1948 season. She was the first player in the league to hit two home runs in a game, the first to hit two grand slams in a season, and averaged more than 70 stolen bases per season.

Dancer was engaged during her playing days, but her fiance was killed during the war and she never married.

Although the AAGPBL lasted for only 12 years, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., has a permanent exhibit to honor the league. Dancer and more than 75 other former AAGPBL players attended the 1988 opening of the exhibit, which features a collection of gloves, spikes and uniforms worn by the players, and a photo of Dancer sliding into third base to avoid a tag in 1948. Dancer's spikes and glove are also on display.

After her playing career, Dancer worked as an electronics technician for a power generator company in Santa Monica for 35 years. In 2000, shortly after she was laid off from her job, Dancer was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went to live with her brother, Richard, in Los Angeles.

Dancer died on May 22, 2002, a month after her 77th birthday, after complications following cancer surgery at the UCLA Medical Center. She is buried next to her brother at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, and near the grave of their parents, Lloyd and Olive. Her grave marker features the official logo of the AAGPBL.

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