Thousands came to watch Dorothy “Dot” Wilkinson throw her opponents out at second base without even standing from her catcher’s position. She was one of the fiercest and most popular players during the biggest boom period in women’s softball, and her achievements on the field were extraordinary. But away from teh game, she lived a hugely important part of her life behind a veil of secrecy, just like many of her fellow players at the time. It wouldn’t be until more than half a century later that Wilkinson, “the greatest catcher in women’s softball,” finally embraced her true self in public.
The heyday of women’s softball
As the Great Depression gripped America, cheap avenues for entertainment became hard to come by. Then, when World War II broke out, many pro sportsmen — including a huge chunk of baseball players — answered the call of duty.
Perhaps this is why women’s softball, with its low admission prices and promise of a fun escape for a couple of hours, flourished so much in the ’40s and ’50s. But while people might have begun watching out of necessity, the quality of the competition quickly convinced them these players were the real deal.
A potent mix of glamor and grit
A 1949 Arizona Highways article claimed, “Girls brought to softball something the men never could have supplied — glamor.” But the games were far from an excuse to supply eye candy to the men in the crowd.
Arizona Highways stated that the contests weren’t “just a display of pretty legs and trim figures.” Instead, the fans who poured through the gates “found the teams battling one another for unmistakable fierceness.”
“Dot” Wilkinson became an icon
Wilkinson was one of the leading lights of this period, and to say she was a tough cookie would be a huge understatement. Women’s softball was ultra-competitive and had fewer rules than today. This made for extremely combustible games.
Catchers such as Wilkinson had no chest plates or masks, and there would often be knock-down drag-out fights between players. As Carol Spanks, a rival player from that era, put it, “She was just a very hard-nosed catcher. She argued lots with umpires. She got thrown out of a lot of games.”
Dot wouldn’t take guff from anybody
Wilkinson didn’t just get into skirmishes with opponents and umpires, though: she also refused to take any guff from fans! Biographer Lynn Ames told Cronkite News about one particular incident in which she’d had all she could stand and decided to do something about it.
She revealed, “There was a guy who was sitting behind home plate, and he kept heckling her. She finally turned around and said, ‘If you bother me one more time, I swear to God, you better hurry up when the game’s over.’”