In the spring of my first year on the faculty at Henderson State University, I went to an intramural softball game involving a couple of faculty teams. One of the teams was the one from “down the hill,” the Health, Physical Education and Recreation faculty. Not surprisingly, they had a pretty good team. But the thing I remember most was not the players, or even the game. One of the fans sticks out in my memory. As is common, there was one particularly vocal fan. What was not common, though, was the type of things said by this fan. Usually such vocal fans are using volume to hide the fact that they have no idea what they are talking about. This fan, a woman, was vocal but also knew exactly what she was talking about. This was my introduction to Dr. Delores Brumfield White, better known as “Dee” or “Dolly.”
Dee White was born as Delores Brumfield on May 26, 1932, in Prichard, Alabama. She was the first child of Earl Henry Brumfield and his wife, Miriam McKay Turner Brumfield. She was followed by a brother and then a sister. Prichard is a suburb of Mobile, birthplace or home of many great baseball players including Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee and Satchel Paige. Mr. Brumfield was an auto mechanic. Mrs. Brumfield was a stay-at-home mom until World War II, when she started as an office worker, eventually progressing to being an office manager for an insurance firm.
Brumfield was an athletic girl. Mobile was home to large ship construction and the shipyard workers would often get together to play baseball. Dee would join them. She was eventually able to hold her own in these sandlot games and began a lifelong fascination with baseball.
As is the case with many youngsters, Dee began to dream of being a baseball player. Such a dream was surely unrealistic – but something happened in 1942 that made it less far-fetched. As World War II began to demand a greater commitment in manpower, many minor-league teams went out of business due to a lack of able-bodied players. To fill the void, Philip Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, decided to form the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). His theory was that there were sufficient quality female players to satisfy the public’s desire to watch baseball. The league began play in 1943.
In 1946, the shipyard workers heard about tryouts for the AAGPBL and encouraged Dee to try out. They even volunteered to drive her to Pascagoula, Mississippi for the tryouts. Mrs. Brumfield was open to the idea of tryouts but was not open to the idea of the workers taking Dee. She said that if anyone was going to take Dee to Pascagoula, she would.
Dee impressed league officials at the tryouts. Afterwards she spoke to Max Carey, the league president and a future member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. When Carey found out Dee was “almost 14” he told her she was too young. But he also encouraged her to continue working on her skills, encouraging her to join a local team. Returning to the Mobile area, Dee joined a softball team made up of women from the area military base.
Not long after the end of the 1946 season, Carey contacted Dee, inviting her to join the AAGPBL. A few weeks later, a letter from Carey arrived, asking Dee to report to Havana, Cuba for spring training in 1947.
Mrs. Brumfield was not happy about the plan. One of the league’s players visited with the family. She assured them that the players were well taken care of and explained the role of the chaperones that traveled with each team. This conversation allayed Mrs. Brumfield's fears and Dee was permitted to go.
Dee left but, as she got on a train for Miami, homesickness hit very strongly. However, once she arrived in Havana, the focus on baseball made everything easier for her. The players were always under the watchful eye of their chaperones, as well as armed military officials in Cuba. [White said that “A League of their Own,” the Penny Marshall movie purporting to chronicle life in the AAGPBL, accurately portrayed the scenes of spring training. She also said that not much else in the movie actually fit life in the league.]
For the 1947 season, Dee Brumfield played for the South Bend Blue Sox, managed by Chet Grant, former Notre Dame assistant football coach. She speaks very highly of Grant, saying that he took tremendous amounts of time teaching and encouraging her. While South Bend finished fourth out of eight teams with a 57-54 record, Brumfield found the level of play a challenge as a rookie. Playing in 39 games, Brumfield had a .117 batting average. In spite of that, she began to show a very good eye at the plate, drawing 15 walks while having only 103 at-bats. She also showed some speed, stealing 6 bases in her limited opportunities. It was around this time that teammate Daisy Junor gave her the nickname “Dolly.” The Blue Sox chaperone had paired Dolly with Daisy, who was older and married, as a mentor. Dolly’s age inspired Daisy to give her the nickname.
In 1948, as the league expanded to 10 teams and split into two divisions, Brumfield went to spring training with South Bend and its new manager, former big leaguer Marty McManus. Brumfield returned to Alabama for school for a little while before the start of the season. By the time she was ready to go back, she was involved in a trade that reunited her with manager Grant and teammate Ruby Stephens on the Kenosha Comets. Kenosha improved significantly under Grant's leadership, going from 43-69 in 1947 to 61-64 in 1948. Brumfield appeared in 86 games, improving her average to .142 and stealing 18 bases. Her biggest trouble offensively was striking out: 60 times in only 261 at-bats. However, considering that she was still only 16 years old and playing against some women who had been in the league for a number of years, there was hope for improvement.
In 1949, Brumfield saw considerable improvement. Playing for a new manager, Johnnie Gottselig, she dropped her strikeouts to only 26 in 274 at bats, a very respectable total. (Though in his fourth year managing in the AAGPBL, Gottselig’s main sports renown was in hockey.) Not surprisingly, the huge drop in strikeouts was accompanied by significant improvement in other areas. Brumfield's batting average rose to .212, her slugging percentage went from .153 to .248, and her on-base percentage climbed from .225 to .289. Brumfield’s improvement was surely reflected in the Comets’ improvement – they topped .500, finishing 56-55, good for fourth place in the eight-team league.
Kenosha’s team progress continued in 1950 as did Brumfield’s. Dolly had one of her best all-around seasons for the Comets, playing in 108 games, also marking career highs in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, runs batted in, total bases and stolen bases. This season also saw her first career home run. Plus, for the second consecutive year, she improved her batting average more than 50 points, hitting .264. Another continued improvement was her ability to put the bat on the ball. After having struck out once every 4.35 at bats in 1948, and improving to once every 10.54 at bats in 1949, Brumfield struck out only once every 17.78 at bats in 1950, another career best. Kenosha, still under Gottselig’s tutelage, recorded a fine 64-46 record, finishing third, a mere 2.5 games behind the league champion Rockford Peaches.
Brumfield’s fifth season, 1951, again saw her batting average go up. Playing in 66 games, Dolly hit a team high .273. In fact, her slugging percentage had also gone up every season she had played: this season it was .364 and she also had a career best 1 RBI per 8 at bats. The Alabaman, now 19, had become a solid offensive force. Unfortunately Brumfield’s success did not carry over to the team. The AAGPBL went to a split-season format for the first time since 1944. Kenosha struggled to a 21-36 record, finishing sixth out of eight teams in the first half. The second half was worse, with the Comets finishing 15-35, a bare one game out of last place.
There was a change in scenery for Brumfield in 1952, as she joined the Fort Wayne Daisies after Kenosha folded. One high point of her time in Fort Wayne was the chance to play for Hall of Fame slugger Jimmie Foxx. She enjoyed Foxx – though she said he may have been too nice while managing the Daisies. Early in spring training, the skipper called Dolly to the dugout, saying “You’ll be second base.” Dolly’s shocked response was “I never played second base.” Foxx replied, “That’s OK.”
The Daisies won the league championship with a 67-42 record, beating the South Bend Blue Sox by three games. Unfortunately, though, the Blue Sox won the playoffs over Fort Wayne. This season also saw a change in fortune for Brumfield. Though playing in 88 games, the second-most of her career, Dolly’s offensive productivity fell off dramatically. Her batting average dropped to .218. She drew a lot of walks, so she still contributed to Fort Wayne's success, but she did not perform to the level she had previously established. Brumfield missed out on the playoffs after suffering a broken ankle, colliding with a catcher’s shin guard on a play at the plate.
Throughout much of her career, Brumfield had been a utility player, playing many games at almost all positions. The only positions she never played were catcher and pitcher, even though pitcher was the position for which she had tried out years earlier.
Brumfield’s last season in the AAGPBL was 1953, the next to last year of the league's existence. She went out with a bang. Fort Wayne again won the league championship under new manager Bill Allington (whom she describes as the smartest baseball man she ever played for), sporting a 66-39 record to finish 4.5 games ahead of the Grand Rapids Chicks. Unfortunately, the previous year’s playoff loss was repeated. Brumfield only played in 66 games, mostly at first base (this was one of the few years she had a fixed position). However, she regained her earlier form. She raised her batting average 114 points (to .332, second in the league), her slugging percentage jumped 170 points (to .450), her on-base percentage rose 134 points (to .462) and, therefore, her OPS soared 304 points (to .912). She hit two home runs to run her career total to four. This, her seventh year in the league, was the first in which she was legally considered an adult, turning 21 in May.
Brumfield had been attending college during the offseason and graduated from Alabama College for Women (now the University of Montevallo) in 1954 with a degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation. She decided it was time to put her playing career behind her. She found a job as a physical education instructor in Shaw, Mississippi, teaching at both the junior high school and high school. To fill out her teaching schedule she also taught one year of penmanship and one year of junior high mathematics. One new program she introduced in the Shaw schools was dancing, with instruction in both square dancing and ballroom dancing. She also served as the parks and recreation director in town. She ran the swimming program and the playground programs.
Brumfield had one more chance at professional baseball. In 1955, she was offered the chance to play on a women’s team that would tour the nation barnstorming against men's teams. The team did exist for a couple of years but she turned down the offer, saying she wanted to move on with her teaching career.
After working in Shaw for two years, Brumfield spent seven years teaching at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi. She then attended the University of Southern Mississippi, receiving her master’s degree (1959) and doctorate (1969) in physical education.
After leaving Copiah-Lincoln, Brumfield took a position in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, starting there in 1963. Her duties were varied. She taught standard physical education and recreation classes. She coached swimming from 1963-1982, helping to develop what is now one of the premier swimming programs in the state. She taught classes in square dancing. In that regard she also contributed to the community, starting the Arkie Stars Square Dancing Club, which is still active today. She served as director of the Reddie Ripples synchronized swimming club, and coordinated the recreation degree program.
During her time at Henderson, Brumfield made another significant change in her life. In 1977, she married Joe White, from Gurdon, Arkansas, becoming known as Dr. Delores “Dee” White. Mr. White was one of the early participants in the Arkie Stars. His early life mirrored Dee’s in that both of them got started in professional life unusually early. He got someone to help him enlist in the Navy during World War II despite being only 15 years old. He saw action in the Pacific. Seasickness kept him from staying in the Navy, though he did make a career out of military service, serving in the army in the Korean War and seeing two tours of duty in Viet Nam.
In addition to her work at Henderson, White was (and remains) active in encouraging physical education for all children – though particularly for girls, since they had very limited opportunities for athletic activity in Arkadelphia in the 1960s.
White’s career at Henderson was long, distinguished, reaching the rank of professor. In 1994, she retired and was honored with the title professor emeritus.
Retirement did not end White’s affiliation and activity with Henderson. In the mid- to late 1990s, there was a decision to add a women’s softball team to the Reddie athletic program. White was a natural to participate in the groundwork for the fledgling program. She helped organize the “Diamond Reddies,” the softball team’s booster club, which helped raise funds for the new softball field that was used beginning in 1999.
Dr. White’s activities are not limited to Henderson State University. She has served the city of Arkadelphia as a consultant to its Parks and Recreation Department, helping to encourage the community to expand and improve its recreation facilities and programs. She also served as the president of the association of former AAGPBL players, in which she is still active. This role would find her traveling throughout the year, attending reunions of the players as well as handling the business aspect of the organization. She appeared, via videoconferencing equipment, to four school districts in New York as a featured speaker for Women's History Month, discussing her AAGPBL experiences.
White continues to work to encourage girls to be active in sports and has worked to see that there are opportunities for those girls who want to participate. In an interview with the Oracle, Henderson’s campus paper, she said, “I think that we as young women baseball players all those years ago sort of forged the way for girls today to be able to do the things they do. It makes me really proud to know that I had a part in making it easier for women to be involved in sports. I'm so proud.”
White’s work and legacy have been recognized by a number of people, groups and organizations. She was inducted into Henderson’s Reddie Hall of Honor in 1998. In 2003, she was invited to the White House by President George W. Bush to serve as a first base coach for one of the South Lawn tee ball games hosted by the president. In 2004, she was recognized by the University of Montevallo with one of its Distinguished Alumni Awards. Then, on October 13, 2007, White was honored by seeing the Henderson State University softball field renamed as the “Dr. Delores ‘Dolly’ Brumfield-White Softball Field,” in a dedication ceremony that can be viewed on youtube.com. White has been recognized by the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame for her participation in the AAGPBL and women's baseball history, and is the past president of the AAGPBL Players’ Association. She has even been honored with a painting of her adorning a traffic control box in North Little Rock, Arkansas, just a short distance from Dickey-Stephens Park, the home of the Texas League's Arkansas Travelers.
June 11, 2011
Video of the softball field dedication ceremony can be viewed (in three parts) at:
AAGPBL web site: www.aagpbl.org
University of Montevallo web site: www.montevallo.edu
Henderson State University web site: www.hsu.edu
The Oracle, the student newspaper of Henderson State University
Author’s interview with Dr. White (February 2010, follow-up January 2011)