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Dale Gear – Baseball’s Best Kept Secret
If you’re a die-hard baseball fan, then you’ll want to keep reading. Baseball isn’t all about salaries, championships, endorsements and fan fare. It is also a sport that is deeply rooted in a significant part of world history. Yes, I said world history. Many historical events took place many decades ago in the game of baseball that helped shape the civil rights landscape of the United States.
In 1901, women in the United States were still on a long and difficult road to achieving their civil rights under the law. In 1903, the Women’s National League of Trade Unions was formed to defend women’s wages and working conditions. In the midst of all this struggle and progress, there was a secret story set in a baseball game that no one knew about, a secret that was kept so carefully that it actually lay dormant for 100 years, until a lady named Winifred Gerrard Swanson finally broke the silence. You may be wondering who Winifred Gear Swanson is, and that would be a good question. So here’s the good answer, she’s the granddaughter of 96-year-old Dale Gear; the only woman to ever play major league professional baseball! Your eyes are not deceiving you right now; I actually wrote that she was the first and only woman to ever play in major league baseball.
Dale Dudley Geer played for the Washington Senators in 1901 as an outfielder and pitcher in his first year in the American League, and it was also Dale Geer’s first and only season. The team manager at the time was Jimmy Manning; he had convinced Dale Gear to promise that she would not reveal her true identity to anyone, so it remained an open family secret in the Gear family for decades. Imagine the consequences of news that a woman was playing with the men of the time. As I mentioned before, women had just begun to achieve a very minimal level of equality in society, women playing any form of baseball would be completely unheard of, and as it is in today’s society, it still is.
The Baseball Encyclopedia actually lists Dale Gear as 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 Gear is mentioned in the encyclopedia, her gender is not mentioned, only a middle name indicating that she is male. Winifred Gear Swanson claims that it is true that Dudley was her middle name, but that it was a “family” name, so it was not unusual for women in their family to carry it.
Ms. Swanson has plenty of evidence to support her claim that her Great Grandmother was indeed baseball player Dale Geer. She was able to produce a birth certificate that listed her name, and under the section labeled gender, it said girl. She also has some very important and valuable keepsakes. A team autographed photo of the Senators that reads, “Our Dale, the best girl ballplayer in the country,” and if that wasn’t enough, Ms. Swanson also made an autographed baseball with Dale Geer’s signature on it. That ball and other memorabilia were to be auctioned off to raise money to build the Women’s Baseball Museum in Lone Elm, the town where Dale lived, and we’re all guessing who will be the first inductee. Ms. Swanson felt it was time to share this tremendous story with the rest of the world, and I thank her for that. It is an important piece of history and inspiring. In today’s society, women can achieve so much, be it in sports or other endeavors, and we are lucky to have these precious stories and pieces of history to remind us that the impossible is more possible than we can imagine. with persistence and passion.
Barry Halper, a well-known collector of sports memorabilia, managed to get a used jersey from Dale Gear that had a huge W on the front and didn’t really have a number. When asked why he bought this one instead of the HOF uniforms he is known for collecting, his reason was simple, it belonged to a woman. How did he know that? He found a game-used bra inside the uniform, the only bra that has even been worn in a professional Major League game. That’s one bra I wouldn’t burn in the name of progress. Looking back at Dale Gear’s pictures, I have to honestly say she was the most beautiful pitcher/outfielder I’ve ever seen. As a women’s sports fan and collector of memorabilia and sports cards, I can appreciate this story on many levels. As a woman, this story has an even bigger picture, one that should inspire and motivate all women to set their goals, and no, there are no limits, anything can be achieved if you try, even if you’re just a girl.
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