Holmen, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) –
Hear that call…
The time has come for one and all…
To play ball.
We’re the members of the All-American League. We come from cities near and far. We’ve got Canadians, Irish ones and Swedes. We’re one for all, we’re all for one, we’re All-American.
Each girl stands, her head so proudly high, her motto ‘Do or Die.” She’s not the one to need or use an alibi.
Our chaperones are not too soft, they’re not too tough. Our managers are on the ball. We’ve got a president who really knows his stuff.
We’re one for all, we’re all for one, we’re All-American.”
There is something special about baseball. I don’t know if it’s the slow and easy pace of the game or the accessibility or something else altogether; there is just something about baseball. I can talk baseball with just about anyone. It doesn’t matter who they root for if they never played the game on any level, or if they cover the game professionally, if they want to talk baseball, I’m their guy!
When I found out that the Holmen Public Library was going to host an All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player, you better believe I did everything I could to talk to her.
Dolly (Vanderlip) “Lippy” Ozburn was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1937. She signed her first professional contract to play ball for the Fort Wayne Daisies in 1952. She explains, “We would go to the Charlotte Hornets (minor league baseball team) games with the neighbors. One time I saw a sign that said, ‘Women’s Baseball’. I told Mom and Dad ‘I think I want to try out.’ So, I did but I was a little small and I was only 13 so they told me I was too young. Over the next year, I grew two and a half inches and I tried out again. Jimmie Foxx (Baseball Hall of Fame member) gave me a contract, that next year, when I was 14. Mom and Dad said I could play, but that I had to finish the school year first. School let out on my 15th birthday. So, I had a birthday party and the next day I was off to Fort Wayne to play baseball.”
Ozburn explains that playing baseball, as opposed to softball, was natural to her. In fact, she was already playing with the boy’s team back home in Mecklenburg County and “overhand, hardball” was all she ever played. In fact, playing sports with the boys was all she ever did as a child. She explains, “I always like being with the boys because they did stuff. They were always running around and having fun. I wouldn’t do the stupid things. My dad taught me an important lesson that if it looks stupid, it probably is. But the boys played sports and ran around. That was what I wanted to do, so I did.”
That spirit to run and play led Ozburn to her professional baseball career. It also found her organizing teams when she wasn’t allowed to play. Being from North Carolina, basketball was as important to her as anything else. She played in junior high but, being that she was a professional athlete by high school, she wasn’t allowed to play for her alma mater. However, her inability to sit still made her form her own team. Ozburn explains, “The City League was full of teams of older women. Folks that were working already and then their place of work would sponsor a team and they would play for that team. Well, I took the girls that cut from our high school team, and some other girls that I knew from around town; I got a sporting goods store to sponsor us and we played in the City League. They didn’t want to let us in at first because we were high school kids. We talked them into letting us play and,” as a wry smile washes across her face, “we took the championship three years in a row. Tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade!”
It’s in those moments that the competitive spirit that drove this unassuming 87-year-old, grandmother is most recognizable. For the baseball nerds out there, Dolly pitched in the AAGPBL for the last three years of its existence, 1952-1954. Mostly known for her pitching, she holds a career 2.80 ERA, 64 K’s and a .520 (13-12) winning percentage. (For the record, the 2023 MLB average ERA was 4.33. Dolly could pitch.)
After the league folded, Dolly played for the All-Americans All-Stars. A team, formed by her former manager and, in her words, “the smartest baseball mind I ever met,” Bill Allington. That team would travel the country and book games against men’s teams. It was during an All-Americans game in Iowa that she met her future husband, Clement Ozburn.
I haven’t scratched the surface of this amazing woman. A professional baseball career that lasted well after the AAGPBL folded, two children, a successful marriage, three college degrees (including one from UW-La Crosse), lifelong friendships with women just as impressive and capable as she is, a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and an undying spirit.
However, you can get every last detail of Dolly’s amazing journey this Saturday, October 7th, at the Holmen Public Library. The library is hosting a “Women in Baseball Festival”. At 9 a.m. they are going to screen the movie A League of Their Own, at 11:15 they will be offering a free hot dog lunch, then at 11:30 Dolly will be taking questions and talking about her experience with the AAGPBL and playing baseball. It is a free event, but registration is recommended. You can do so on the Adult Programming page of lacrossecountylibrary.org
In A League of Their Own, Gina Davis’s character, Dottie Hinson, is leaving the team. She tells her manager, Tom Hanks’ character Jimmie Dugan, that, “It got too hard.” Dugan responds, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.” It is safe to say that Dolly “Lippy” (Vanderlip) Ozburn is one of the greats.
There is another quote from that movie That sums up my experience with Dolly that afternoon as well… “I have seen enough to know that I have seen too much.”