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LESSING, RUTH ELIZABETH [TEX]

Manuel Grajales
Ruth Lessing (1925–2000).
San Antonio native Ruth Lessing was an All-Star catcher in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and played a key role in helping to secure a championship for the Grand Rapids Chicks in 1947. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

LESSING, RUTH ELIZABETH [TEX] (1925–2000). Ruth Elizabeth “Tex” Lessing, an All-Star catcher for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, was born in San Antonio, Texas, on August 15, 1925. She was the daughter of Joseph Robert Lessing, Sr., and Agnes Margaret (Vance) Lessing. Her brother, Joseph R. Lessing, Jr., served in the United States Navy during World War II.

Lessing attended Jefferson High School and excelled in sports. In 1943 she also worked in the engine repair section of the U. S. Army Air Forces Maintenance Division at Kelly Field. A scout for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League discovered Lessing while she played for the Alamo Jewelry Company baseball team. The AAGPBL looked for players that were good athletes with an “all-American or girl-next-door look.”  Lessing was a standout athlete at Jefferson High School and fit the look of the league’s criteria. After she graduated high school, eighteen-year-old Lessing joined the Minneapolis Millerettes of the AAGPBL in 1944 and left Texas for the first time in her life. Lessing was one of three Texas-born players recruited by the league, along with Alva Jo “Tex” Fischer, also of San Antonio, and Marie “Red” Mahoney of Houston.

Lessing became the starting catcher for the Fort Wayne Daisies in 1945 and established herself as one of the best defensive catchers in the league. She played in 110 games and set the league record for fielding percentage by a catcher (.982). She joined the Grand Rapids Chicks in 1946 and remained with them until 1949. She further cemented her reputation as an elite defensive catcher and set the record for assists in 1946 (141) and games played by a catcher in 1948 (125). In her role as catcher, Lessing played with the league’s top pitcher from 1946 to 1948. She was selected to the All-Star team three times (1946–48) and was an instrumental member of the 1947 Grand Rapids Chicks AAGPBL Championship team.

“Tex,” as Lessing was affectionately called by her teammates, was remembered for her friendly personality and her toughness as a player; she played in more than 100 games for four consecutive seasons. Her teammates viewed her as a dependable hitter when called upon, and she stole more than twenty bases three times in her career. In 1947 Lessing was involved in an altercation with umpire George Johnson. In a game against the Racine Belles, Lessing punched Johnson to the ground because of a disagreement with the umpire’s strike zone. The AAGPBL fined her $100. The Grand Rapids fans sent in donations to pay for her fine, with the team pleading for the donations to stop. Lessing paid the fine and asked that the money raised, roughly $2,000, be given to charity. She later wrote a letter of apology to Johnson, who accepted it, and afterward the two became friends.

Lessing’s career was cut short just forty-four games into the 1949 season when she suffered a severe shoulder injury to her throwing arm, which forced her to retire. She returned to San Antonio and went to work at Kelly Air Force Base. During the filming of A League of Their Own (1992), Lessing served as an advisor to the film with Lavonne “Pepper” Paire Davis, her friend and former teammate who was given a film credit as a technical advisor. The popularity of the movie led to renewed interest in the league in the 1990s. In 1998 the Texas Rangers baseball club honored her in the Girls of Summer exhibit at the Legends of the Game Museum in Arlington. Lessing attended an AAGPBL reunion in Milwaukee in 2000. She died of cancer on October 26, 2000, in San Antonio and was buried in San Fernando Cemetery No. 3 in that city. She was posthumously inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006 for her contributions to baseball and the state of Texas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Pepper Paire Davis, Dirt in the Skirt (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2009). Merrie A. Fidler, The Origins and History of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006). W. C. Madden, The Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League: A Biographical Dictionary (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997). Official Website of the AAGPBL: Ruth Lessing (http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/profiles/lessing-ruth/35), accessed May 15, 2018. San Antonio Express-News, October 29, 2000. 

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Manuel Grajales, "LESSING, RUTH ELIZABETH [TEX]," accessed November 16, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fless.

Uploaded on May 20, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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