Elm, KS – “My grandmother threw serious heat,” says
Winifred Gear Swanson, a
96-year-old grandmother herself, who claims her forebear, Dale Gear,
was the first – and remains the only – woman
to play Major League Baseball.
“It’s been an open family secret for over a hundred years,” explained
Mrs. Swanson, “and it’s high time the world learns the truth.
Dale Gear, my granny, was a pitcher and an outfielder for the Washington
Senators in the first year of their existence, 1901. And she was pretty
"I’ve always felt women can do anything,” added Swanson, “and
this proves it.”
The Baseball Encyclopedia does in fact list a Dale Gear, an outfielder
and pitcher for the American League’s Washington Senators in 1901,
who batted .232 as an outfielder and had a 4-11 record with a 4.03 era
as a pitcher. It does not indicate Gear’s gender, but does include
a middle name - Dudley.
“I know exactly what you’re thinking,” the feisty Swanson
said to a reporter in an interview at her farm outside Lone Elm. “’Dudley
is a man’s name and I’m full of beans.’ Well, you’d
be wrong. Dudley is a Gear family name, and if you care to check any
cemetery in Anderson County you’ll find a passel of Dudleys.
“Other than people not knowing that a woman played major league
baseball, you know what
goll-darn bugs the family the most? That Jimmy
Manning, didn’t pitch Dale more. Good lord,
her era was almost
under 4. If she were pitching today, she’d a made the all-star
A still skeptical
reporter was preparing to leave when Mrs. Swanson produced a signed Washington
Senators team photograph, inscribed to “Our
Dale, the finest girl ball player in the land.” Mrs. Swanson then
produced a birth certificate, dated February 2, 1872 for a “girl
child” named Dale Dudley Gear.
If the Dale Gear smiling widely in the Washington Senator’s 1901
team photograph is a man, it is certainly the prettiest man this reporter
has ever seen.
When reached for comment, baseball historian and New York Times bestselling
author Peter Golenbock was reluctant to comment until learning that Mrs.
Swanson was, at last, going public with the story of Dale Gear.
"When I visited famed memorabilia collector Barry Halper at his
home about ten years ago, he showed me a Dale Gear uniform. It had a
big "W" on the front, and no number, of course. I asked him
why he collected that uniform, considering that most of his uniforms
had been worn by Hall of Famers like Grover Cleveland Alexander and Walter
Johnson. Barry, who knew as much about the history of the game as anyone
I knew, whispered to me, "Dale Gear was a woman." I asked, "How
do you know that?" He reached inside the uniform, and he pulled
out the bra she wore during games. He said, "This is the only game-worn
bra in baseball history."
did the family choose to keep what may be one of sports most remarkable
stories secret for nearly 100 years? “Jimmy Manning wasn’t
only the manager, he was also the owner and he made Dale promise that
if he let her play, she’d keep her lip buttoned. Dale wanted to
play baseball more than anything else in the world. So she gave her word.
And Dale was a woman of her word.”
So why has Mrs. Swanson decided to break the family’s code of silence? “I’m
not getting any younger, obviously,” says Swanson. “I think
Dale would understand why we’ve made this decision. We’ve
kept the secret for over a 100 years. Enough’s enough. The world
is different, and it sure needs some good news as far as I can tell.
I think Dale’s story will be an inspiration to girls – and
boys – all over the world. And second, our town needs help real
In the last census, Lone Elm, Kansas had a population of just 27. “We’re
afraid there won’t be
a Lone Elm anymore unless we do something.”
Mrs. Swanson, with an impish grin, reached under her kitchen table to
produce wooden milk box containing a time-worn, yet well-preserved, baseball
wrapped in cheese cloth.
autograph on this ball,” said
Swanson proudly, and “it’s going up on eBay on Labor Day.
One of the eBay folks told me this ball is worth in excess of $1 million
dollars,” said Swanson proudly. “That money – the legacy
of Dale Gear - will save Lone Elm. You see we’re going to build
the first Women’s Baseball Hall of Fame here. And guess who’s
going to be the first inductee?”
It may be that Mrs. Swanson will want Mastro Auctions to be involved.
sports memorabilia house recently auctioned the holy grail of baseball
cards, the 1909 T206 Honus Wagner, for $1.62 million to Little Rock,
AK businessman John Rodgers.
It seems time – way past time actually – for Dale Gear, outfielder,
pitcher, woman – to assume her place in American history. We have
96-year old Winifred Gear Swanson to thank for this gift.
“When I think about it, what my grandmother did … what Dale
Gear did …
is almost unbelievable. That no one knows about it …
ever known about it --- may be more unbelievable.
“I just think Dale Gear deserves to be remembered. Don’t
- F. D. Coffey
the Dale Gear Documentary
David Purdham Reports
on the Dale Gear Story