Jean Faut, Star Pitcher in Women’s Baseball League, Dies at 98

Jean Faut, who pitched two perfect games in a remarkable career with the South Bend (Ind.) Blue Sox of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, died on Feb. 28 in Rock Hill, S.C. She was 98.

Her death, in a hospice, was confirmed by her son Kevin Winsch.

Faut (pronounced “fawt”) joined the league three years after it was introduced as a way to maintain public interest in baseball when many major league players had gone off to fight in World War II. The league was the subject of Penny Marshall’s acclaimed 1992 film, “A League of Their Own.”

Over eight seasons, the right-handed Faut won 140 games, second to Helen Nicol Fox’s 163 for the most in the league’s history, and posted a minuscule 1.23 earned run average, a league record.

She was named the league’s player of the year in 1951, when the Blue Sox were playoff champions, and in 1953, her final season. She won at least 20 games three times.

“There’s no question that she was the G.O.A.T. of the pitchers in the league,” Lois Youngen, a Blue Sox catcher, said in a phone interview. “All Jean had to do was throw her glove on the field — she could play anywhere.”

On July 21, 1951, Faut, who had already thrown two no-hitters, pitched her first perfect game — and the first in league history — against the Rockford (Ill.) Peaches. She struck out 11 and let only two balls reach the outfield.

“Jean Faut, a sturdy gal with a fastball that hops and a curve that breaks off like a country road,” The South Bend Tribune wrote, “pitched a perfect, no-hit, no-run game to subdue the Rockford Peaches, 2-0, at Playland Park Saturday night.”

Faut pitched her second perfect game two years later in Kalamazoo, Mich, against the Lassies. This time, she struck out eight batters in a game the Blue Sox won, 4-0.

“She put her fastball anywhere she wanted that day and her curve was working very well,” recalled Youngen, who was her catcher that night. “And the next question you may ask is, how many times did she shake me off? I’m not sure she ever did.”

No one in Major League Baseball has thrown more than one perfect game.

Faut in an undated photo. On July 21, 1951, she pitched the first of two perfects game, the first in league history. She struck out 11 and let only two balls reach the outfield.Credit…Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections at Winthrop University

Jean Anna Faut was born on Jan. 17, 1925, in Red Hill, Pa., and grew up in nearby East Greenville. Her mother, Eva (Gebert) Faut, was a seamstress; her father, Robert, owned a bicycle repair shop.

A natural athlete, Jean played field hockey and basketball and ran track in high school. After graduating in 1942, she worked in a clothing factory, earning about $25 a week.

But she was playing baseball as well. As a teenager, she began shagging flies for the East Greenville Cubs, a semipro team that practiced on a field near her house. Players noticed that she had a strong arm and “had me throw batting practice sometimes,” she told Sports Illustrated in 2015. “Some of the players taught me the pitches I used in the league.”

A few years later, in 1946, a scout called her, asking if she would be interested in playing professionally. She hadn’t heard of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, but she quickly agreed to the offer and took a train to Pascagoula, Miss., for a two-week tryout.

“We took over the barracks of a naval base and we played every day,” she said in an oral history interview for Grand Valley State University in 2010. “We had a number on our back, and it was fun. … I was chosen by South Bend, and that’s the way I got into the league.”

She was signed by the Blue Sox as a third baseman but quickly emerged as a pitcher; in 12 games in 1946, she had a record of 8-3 and a 1.33 E.R.A., which she followed in 1947 with a 19-13 record and a 1.15 E.R.A. She continued to play third base, as well as the outfield, when she wasn’t pitching, and she was a good hitter..

“I was a mathematical whiz in school, and I got to where I could remember the rotation that I pitched to the best hitters,” Faut said in the oral history interview, “and then I always changed it the next time they came up to bat, so there were little crazy things like that I used to do that gave me a little edge.”

She married Karl Winsch, a former minor league pitcher, in 1947, and had her first child, Larry, the next year, which caused her to miss part of that season. In 1951 — to her surprise, she said — her husband showed up at spring training as the new manager of the Blue Sox.

His presence was not agreeable to all. He was a disciplinarian, and he sparked lingering dissension when his suspension of one player late in the 1952 season for taking off her spikes during a game led several players to walk out, leaving the Blue Sox with only 12 for the rest of the season.

In a phone interview, Kevin Winsch said, “He created a problem because the team thought it was her and him against them.” Jim Sargent, the author of “We Were the All-American Girls: Interviews With Players of the AAGPBL, 1943-1954” (2013), said, also by phone: “I don’t think they resented her in particular, but she wasn’t one of them because if she sided with them, it would have made it worse. She was in between.”

Despite the problems, Faut’s performance was undiminished. She had her best season in 1952, when her record was 20-2, her E.R.A. was a meager 0.93 and she won the decisive Game 5 in the season’s playoffs, while also hitting two triples. But she retired after the next season, feeling that the tensions created by her husband, and their effect on her and the team, were too much to deal with.

She tried watching some home games in 1954, the league’s final year, “but I would cry in the stands because I wasn’t on the field,” she was quoted as saying in “We Were the All-American Girls.”

Faut in 2010. After her baseball career, she joined the Women’s Professional Bowling Association and competed on its tour for many years. Credit…Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos, via Getty Images

In addition to her sons, Kevin and Larry, Faut is survived by four grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and a sister, Mary Lou Wentling. She divorced Karl Winsch and later married Charles Eastman, who died in 1993.

After her baseball career, Faut was the administrative secretary of a mosquito biology training program at the University of Notre Dame and then worked in research for Miles Laboratories.

She also found a new outlet for her competitiveness: She joined the Women’s Professional Bowling Association in 1962 and competed on its tour for many years. She also became the only woman in a men’s league in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’ll say this, though,” she told The Charlotte News in 1979. “None of the men wanted to bowl me the first week. They drew names.”