Rose Gacioch: Pitcher, a hit, immortalized on film
The Detroit Free Press
Most of Sterling Heights resident Rose M. Gacioch's 89 years were fairly ordinary. She enjoyed bowling and golf. She never went to high school. She worked for two decades as a press operator.
But for 10 years, she fascinated Americans -- and was immortalized on film by Rosie O'Donnell.
From 1945 to 1954, Ms. Gacioch was a pitcher for the Rockford, Ill., Peaches, part of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. She died Thursday of heart failure at the Clinton Aire Healthcare Center in Clinton Township.
As depicted in the star-studded movie "A League of Their Own," the league recruited young women to play ball to keep the spirit of America's pastime alive while the men fought overseas. In an instance of foreshadowing her celluloid permanence, Ms. Gacioch's nickname was Rosie.
A native of Wheeling, W. Va., Ms. Gacioch, who was orphaned at age 15, was hired in 1944 by the South Bend, Ind., Blue Sox, after a scout saw her play. The following year, the 5-foot-7, 173-pound baseball player moved to the Peaches and, though she was among the oldest players, racked up some impressive stats. She had a .304 batting average in her final year in 1954, won 94 of the 174 games she pitched and boasted 162 strikeouts as a pitcher and hit 18 homeruns. She set a record for outfield assists in the league, with 31, and her 352 RBIs was the league's eighth-best total. The right-hander, who also had played outfielder and utility infielder, was a member of all four Peaches championship teams and was voted All-Star pitcher in 1952 and 1954 and All-Star utility infielder in 1953.
In 1998, Ms. Gacioch took part in the Salute to Women in Baseball at Tiger Stadium and, along with the rest of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. No. 12 will be honored posthumously at the Wheeling, W. Va., Sports Hall of Fame in November.
"She just loved baseball," said her niece Kathy Rakowski. "She thought she could be as good as the guys."
After retiring as a factory worker from Amerock Corp. in Rockford in 1978, Ms. Gacioch moved to Sterling Heights to be closer to her relatives. Twenty-six years later, she moved to the Clinton Township nursing home. Ms. Gacioch was a Tigers fan who also enjoyed golf and was a championship bowler -- she was half of the 1954 Women's International Bowling Congress' classic division doubles champion team.
"I always looked forward to her coming to visit as a kid, because she was so different from us," Rakowski recalled. "She traveled. She taught me how to whistle, how to play ball, how to pitch."
In addition to Rakowski, Ms. Gacioch is survived by other three nieces, 14 great-nieces and -nephews and 28 great-great-nieces and -nephews.
The funeral mass is at 10 a.m. today at St. Lawrence Catholic Church, 44633 Utica, followed by interment at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Detroit.