The Obit For Betty Trezza

Betty Trezza, 81, Pioneer of Women’s Baseball, Is Dead

The New York Times
January 18, 2007

Betty Trezza, who at 17 escaped her job as a Garment District embroiderer to play women’s professional baseball and went on to smack a memorable championship-winning hit, died Tuesday in the Brooklyn house where she was born. She was 81.

The cause was a heart attack, her nephew Jan Perrone said.

Madonna did not play a character based on the youthful Ms. Trezza in “A League of Their Own,” although some have mistakenly suggested she did. But Ms. Trezza certainly stood out in her time. She brought to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, created in the 1940s to keep baseball alive during World War II, memorable base-running speed and a rifle arm. She also had a popular, peppy personality honed in stickball games on the streets of Brooklyn.

Her lifetime batting average was only .173, but it was her bat that produced her most illustrious moment. It happened in 1946 in Racine, Wis., in the sixth game of the championship series between the Racine Belles and the Peaches of Rockford, Ill.

In the 16th inning, the game was scoreless when Sophie Kurys, one of the league’s best players, got a base hit and immediately stole second base. There were no outs when Ms. Trezza came to the plate.

“We’re up three games to two in the series,” Ms. Trezza said in an interview with Newsday in 1992. “I’ve got two strikes on me when I see Sophie starting for third. So the next pitch I swing.”

Her weak hit was a single, and Ms. Kurys scored.

Max Carey, a Hall of Fame center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates who for six years was president of the women’s league, called the game the greatest he ever saw, played by men or women.

The women’s league was started in 1943 by Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum magnate and owner of the Chicago Cubs. It survived the return of male players for a few years before folding in 1954. The 1992 movie brought it back to public consciousness.

Elizabeth Trezza was born on Aug. 4, 1925, in the tidy house in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn where she died. Her father had died two months before she was born.

One of 12 children, she was the block’s tomboy, preferring punchball, stickball and softball to what were then regarded as more feminine pursuits. She was asked to join a girls’ softball team when she was 13. Four years later, a scout from the women’s league approached her during a game in Central Park and asked her to try out.

Her brothers were away at war and her mother was at first loath to let her leave home. But Ms. Trezza convinced her the players were properly chaperoned, and the pay of $55 a week sounded good. She had been making $37.50 a week in the Garment District in Manhattan.

She joined the league two weeks into 1944, its second season. She thus avoided the charm school Mr. Wrigley had at first required that players attend, to learn about makeup, proper manners and such. All players wore short skirts.

The league assigned her to Minneapolis, one of the new teams that year. The next year the Minneapolis Millerettes became the Fort Wayne Daisies. The last month of the season, Ms. Trezza was traded to the South Bend Blue Sox. In 1946, she was picked up by Racine, where she played for five years.

Lavonne Davis, a player known as Pepper Paire, was traded to Racine at the same time as Ms. Trezza. An injury to the catcher moved Ms. Davis from shortstop to that position. Ms. Trezza, previously a substitute, took over at shortstop.

In an interview yesterday, Ms. Davis called Ms. Trezza “a credible ballplayer,” complimenting her bunting. She said the actual model for the Madonna character in the movie was Faye Dancer, who died in 2002, but she suggested that Ms. Trezza may have been part of the inspiration for the Betty Spaghetti character, who was played by Tracy Reiner.

After her baseball career, Ms. Trezza worked as a supervisor for data entry at Pfizer Inc. and lived with two of her sisters in the family home.

She is survived by her sisters Lucy Trezza of Brooklyn, Rose Perrone of Brooklyn, Theresa Terzini of the Miami area, and Frances Capitelli of Queens; and her brother, Daniel, of Brooklyn.

Ms. Davis recalled how much the other women on the team liked Ms. Trezza’s Brooklyn accent, especially when she belted out songs about the borough. She was also undeniably athletic.

Ms. Davis recalled a prank she and others played on Ms. Trezza, who was very small and very innocent: they took her to a spooky graveyard and left her. Soon, they realized Ms. Trezza was chasing their car on foot.

“She just steamed right past us,” Ms. Davis said.