Obituary: Jean Faut (1925-2023)

RIP to Jean Faut, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and the only professional pitcher to throw two perfect games. Faut, 98, died on February 28 in the Wayne T. Patrick Hospice House in Rock Hill, S.C. Faut played for the South Bend Blue Sox from 1946 until 1953.

Jean Anna Faut was born in Red Hill, Pa., on February 17, 1925. She was one of six children growing up first through the Depression and then World War II. She graduated from East Greenville High School in 1942, where she was active in all types of athletics, from track to field hockey. In an interview with the Grand Valley State Oral History Project, Faut described her start into baseball with a local team called the East Greenville Cubs: “We had a men’s semi-pro baseball team in our town and they practiced two blocks from my house. Of course, these are men that had a job in the daytime and they practiced in the evening, so I would go down there and practice with them. I started out shagging flies for batting practice and they realized I had a pretty good arm, so they started letting me throw batting practice and then the second baseman taught me all the pitches. Throwing overhand and the curves and the drops and the screwballs and change of pace, and I went on a couple of exhibitions with their team.”

Source: The Charlotte Observer, January 19, 2012.

Her skill at baseball attracted the attention of AAGPBL scouts, and Faut was signed to the League in 1946. Assigned to the South Bend Blue Sox in 1946, Faut started off as a third baseman. While she developed into a very capable batter in later years, she hit a mere .177 in 1946, with 2 home runs and 40 stolen bases. Manager Chet Grant was able to move Faut to the pitching mound when Pauline Pirok joined the team to take over third base. Once Faut became a pitcher, the Blue Sox began winning regularly. In just her third start, she threw a 3-hit shutout against Racine. In 12 starts, she won 8 games and posted a 1.33 ERA. That would be one of the higher ERAs she would register in the AAGPBL. Many of the pitchers in the league threw with an underhand or sidearm motion — a characteristic from the league’s early days as a fast-pitch softball league. Faut, however, was an overhand pitcher, with good speed and great control. Her training with the amateur ballclub in Pennsylvania gave her advantages that she used to become one of the most feared pitchers in the league.

South Bend fans quickly took to their star pitcher. On August 5, 1947, she was honored with a “Jean Faut Night” at South Bend’s Playland Park. The event was sponsored by the Ball-Band rubber factory in Mishawaka, Ind., where Faut worked in the offseason in the Koylon foam division. More than 500 Ball-Band employees showed up to support her, and Faut was presented with a cedar chest, pillow slips, blankets, towels and a cordless iron, among other gifts. Faut returned the favor by throwing a 2-hit shutout against Kenosha — one of 19 wins she earned during the season.

Faut and her baby, Larry. Source: The Charlotte Observer, July 4, 1992.

Faut was one of the married ballplayers of the AAGPBL — her husband, Karl Winsch, pitched in the Philadelphia Phillies organization from 1942 to 1944. She had her first son, Larry, in the spring of 1948. “I had a woman take care of him when we went on the road and then she took care of him during home games, so it probably wasn’t fair to my son, but [else] how do you do that?” she said. Eventually, Larry went out on the road with the Blue Sox and stayed in the dugout — much like the child in the movie “A League of Their Own,” though Faut was quick to point out that her son was not a brat. She was able to recover from giving birth to join South Bend for most of the season, winning 16 games with a 1.44 ERA. She also threw a no-hitter against the Racine Belles on September 4, allowing just four balls out of the infield in a 7-0 win.

Faut had one of her best all-around seasons in 1949. Not only did she top the 20-win mark for the first time with a 24-8 record and a 1.10 ERA in 34 games, but she also batted .291. Her 24th win was a no-hitter against the Fort Worth Daisies — she missed a perfect game by walking Dottie Schroeder in the eighth inning. Faut was named to the AAGPBL All-Star Team as a pitcher, finishing second among all pitchers, 3 votes behind Rockford’s Lois Florreich. She repeated as an All-Star in 1950, winning 21 games. Due to injuries, Blue Sox manager Dave Bancroft had to play her all over the infield and outfield whenever she wasn’t pitching — and she pitched a lot. On August 20 she pitched 15 innings in a heart-breaking loss to Racine. Two nights later, she pitched 17 innings in an extra-inning win over Kenosha. Two days after that, she beat Racine, this time getting it done in the usual 9 innings. That amounts to 41 innings in a week’s time.

Jean Faut and Karl Winsch. Source: South Bend Tribune, August 13, 1952.

The Blue Sox were given a new manager in 1951 — Karl Winsch, Faut’s husband. That arrangement eventually helped to drive the pitcher into retirement, but in the four years that he was the manager of South Bend, the team won two AAGPBL championships in 1951 and ’52. Faut won 15 games in 1951, and on July 21, 1951, she threw the first perfect game in AAGPBL history. It was a 2-0 win over the Rockford Peaches in South Bend, with 11 strikeouts. Prior to that point in the season, Faut had been pitching in tough luck, with 7 wins and 5 losses. “I guess Jean figured she had to pitch a no-hitter for us to win a game for her,” quipped outfielder Lib Mahon. Faut was a star of the postseason as well, winning two games against Fort Wayne to advance to the championship and two more against Rockford to win it. When Sox starter Lil Faralla began to tire in the final game, manager Winsch turned the ball over to his ace/wife to close out the game.

Faut and the Blue Sox had banner years in 1952. The team repeated as AAGPBL champs, and Faut finished with a 20-2 record and a 0.93 ERA in 23 games. She also won the championship game against Rockford, smacking a triple in the 6-3 win as well. The Sox reached the playoffs again in 1953, but Faut was quickly nearing the end of her career. Being married to the manager left her in a difficult space with her teammates, and as Winsch began to get more dictatorial with his managing, Faut was ostracized even further. She also had the dual role of team chaperone, so it was almost impossible for her to be just another player on the team.

“It was a very uncomfortable situation for me and I decided to retire from baseball to get away from it,” Faut said in a 2015 Sports Illustrated article reprinted on the AAPBL website. “It got to the point where it was affecting our teamwork and we didn’t have the team spirit we should have had. We could have done a whole lot more as a team that year if that situation hadn’t been there, but I was stuck in the middle, so I just bowed out.”

Source: The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.), April 11, 2000.

Before Faut finished her career, she threw a second perfect game on September 3, 1953, against Kalamazoo. She won 17 games that season and batted .275 with 4 home runs. She finished her 8-year career with a 140-64 record and a 1.23 ERA. She struck out approximately 913 batters. Faut also hit .243, and her 391 career hits included 50 doubles, 8 triples and 8 home runs. She stole 112 bases and scored 180 runs. Faut was named the AAGPBL Player of the Year in 1951 and 1953, and only she and Doris Sams won the award twice.

After her retirement, Faut tried to attend ballgames as a fan. “I couldn’t take it,” she said in a 2000 interview. “I cried in the stands, so I stopped going.” Faut and Winsch had another son, Kevin, in 1957 before the two divorced in 1968. She later married the late Charles Eastman. After her playing career ended, Faut remained in South Bend and became the administrative secretary of mosquito biology training program at Notre Dame. “Notre Dame is the mosquito center of the world and they maintain all species from all over the world, so most of the students that entered the program were graduates from foreign countries,” Faut said. “My main job was to computerize all the research that had been done on mosquitoes up to date. If somebody wanted to study a certain species that carried a certain disease, they would write to me and I would print up everything that had ever been done on that disease or that mosquito species.” She later worked for Miles Laboratories and moved to Rock Hill in 1979 when she remarried. Faut also competed in the Professional Women’s Bowling Association and golfed into her 70s.

Faut is survived by her two sons.

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