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Roth honored as pioneer in women’s sports
OLYMPIA — For decades, Marysville’s Dorothy Roth didn’t consider it significant that she’d played a single season of professional baseball with the National Girls Baseball League in 1945. Indeed, in spite of helping to make history and earning money for college, she actually felt ashamed of her achievement for years, and it’s only been relatively recently that she’s begun to take pride in it.
The recent accolades that the 86-year-old Roth has received from Washington state elected officials have helped to sway her opinion, from Gov. Jay Inslee inviting her to an autograph session and a brief round of catch in Olympia on Jan. 7, to state Sen. John McCoy paying her a visit at her home in Grandview Village on Jan. 8. McCoy is a longtime fan of the movie “A League of Their Own,” based on Roth’s competitors in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, and became aware of her after she met with Inslee, who proclaimed Jan. 7 “Dorothy Roth Day” for the state, due in part to her receiving the first of the Washington Health Care Association’s “Silver Spotlight” awards.
“The Washington Health Care Association heard about Dorothy through a piece that had run on her in Evening Magazine, and they decided that the achievements of members of the ‘Greatest Generation’ should be honored every month, starting with her,” said Tracy Willis, director of corporate development for Village Concepts.
For his part, Inslee credited women baseball players such as Roth with providing “a level of entertainment and normalcy for residents in the United States during, and after, World War II,” during which she also worked as a real-life Rosie the Riveter, by building airplane parts for Douglass.
“This was a watershed moment in sports, but as Dorothy admits, at the time, she was ashamed to play baseball, as it was deemed ‘unladylike’ by many observers,” Inslee said, while issuing his proclamation. “Later, society recognized Dorothy and these other women for their great contributions to the game of baseball, and to society as a whole.”
“She blazed a trail for women athletes,” McCoy agreed. “Unfortunately, they weren’t ready for that in the 1940s, but she did a great service for her country.”
“Girls weren’t supposed to do things like that back then,” said Roth, who enjoyed traveling across the country and meeting new people in the course of playing baseball games, but also recalled times when beer bottles were thrown at her and her fellow women baseball players.
Roth was effusive about her meetings with McCoy and Inslee, and still couldn’t believe that so many people were so impressed with her brief stint in the women’s leagues.
“It’s overwhelming,” Roth said. “I’ve gone to the governor’s office now. Everyone has been so wonderful and courteous. The governor himself was very cordial. I signed his baseball bat, and he signed my baseball. It was just a fun day.”
Inslee jokingly quoted Tom Hanks’ character in “A League of Their Own” by asking Roth, “So, is it true that there’s no crying in baseball?”
Both Roth and her daughter, Holly Leach, consider Roth’s 30-year career in education to be at least as important as the year she spent playing baseball, since Roth managed to overcome her own difficulties with literacy to become a teacher specializing in reading.
“The Lord took a weakness and made it a strength,” said Roth, who had previously obtained aviator training and graduated from the Aeronautical University of Chicago. “If you walk through an open door with the Lord, you’ll come out the other side.”
Dorothy and her husband Al, who were married on a CBS TV show called “Bride and Groom” on Sept. 1, 1952, were both active in community service, especially after retirement, from volunteering with the Kiwanis and Lions to service in hospice and, “adopting” immigrant families whom they tutored in English, but Dorothy looks back most fondly on how many young people she was able to mentor.
“I dealt with high school boys who would come in wearing baseball caps and hooded sweatshirts pulled over their heads, and I never asked them to remove them,” Roth said. “After a while, they’d take those things off themselves, because they’d built up their self-esteem. They needed to learn that they weren’t dumb, but that they just learned in different ways from other students.”