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Both Cowser and Lang fine-tuned their respective book proposals with phone calls and e-mails to Massar. The proposals were in the mail to publishers by this March. On April 15, in a conference call among Lang, Mason and Massar, minor discrepancies between the adult and children's versions were discussed. "I started telling Kay how important it was to have accuracy in the book," recalls Lang. "Kay then mentioned she was concerned about her age." Massar didn't explain herself, and the conversation moved on, but Lang had noticed an awkward pause in Massar's voice. A thought popped into Lang's head: Just how old had Kay been in Little League? So Lang asked her. Massar answered: 14. "I was speechless," Lang says.
Mason too was stunned. "I was concerned editors would feel we were trying to pull a fast one if Kay had knowingly left out some important information," he says. "I was not interested in misleading anyone."
Cowser walked away from the project. It would have been too time-consuming to re-report the book with the issue of age as an important element in the narrative, and Cowser says, "I was a little gun-shy. I'm very sensitive to the fake memoir issue. I don't think it's insignificant that she was 14." At that age Massar had an edge in maturity—including decision making and baseball intellect—over other Little Leaguers. She was diminutive, though, which raises another question: Would she have made the team at age 12, when she was even smaller?
"I had discussions with Kay about her life, and she wasn't into the minutiae," says Cowser. "In hindsight, maybe there was a reason. She would be less responsible for misrepresentations if she didn't say anything. I think Kay just wanted her story to be told and was probably afraid of the consequences of the truth."
What happens next depends on how Massar's deception is interpreted. Was it a harmless white lie or a calculated reach for attention? Does the answer change anything if the essence of her story is still true? Lang says, "I've asked myself, Would I still have wanted to tell her story even if I'd known she was 14? And the answer is yes because, no matter what her age, she showed great courage in what she did."
In 1950, when anti-Communist fervor was at its height and women were happy homemakers in every appliance ad, it was safest to color inside the lines. "That wasn't Kay," says her fraternal twin, Mary Johnston Burr. "She was always getting spanked by the nuns." As a child of devout Catholics growing up in Corning, where the whistle at the Corning Glass Works blew twice a day, Kay lived in her family's small duplex, with an icebox that sat on the porch until they could afford a refrigerator. The twins slept on a pullout couch in the living room, an uncle occupied one bedroom and Kay's father, mother and little brother slept in the other bedroom. During the summer the sound of Mel Allen's voice crackled through the radio while Kay's father sat in his favorite chair listening to Yankees games. Kay would pull up a chair from the kitchen table and sit close to him. "When I was younger, around five or six, I'd jump in Dad's lap so that my brother, Tom, wouldn't be able to do so," says Massar. "Tom was his favorite—the only boy. I had such an interest in baseball because I wanted my dad to love me as much as he loved Tom."
Malcolm Johnston was a handsome man who took on many careers—he tried acting, served in World War II, opened a photography studio and worked at the glass works. "Dad was charming," says Massar. "He could talk to anyone about anything." In the late 1940s he landed a job at a funeral home, which also owned a radio station. He began announcing local games from press boxes. "Many times I was in the press box with him," says Massar. "I wanted to be wherever he was." She developed a passion for baseball, playing catch with Malcolm and Tom, and evolved into a headstrong girl.
"She got away with murder," says Burr, who lives in St. Louis. "She was a wonderful sister, but I could never get away with what she did." Burr recalls Kay as willful—for better and worse. If she heard children making fun of their neighborhood pal, Maureen, she would be furious. "Kay would swing at them," says Burr. "Once she bit a boy to the bone to let him know it wasn't nice to make fun of Maureen." Kay relished her role as protector. She carried Tom home when he was cold, and she pulled a floundering Mary from a pool. "I was bobbing up and down," says Burr, laughing. "From then on, Kay would say to me, 'I saved your life.'"
Kay's hero instincts were belied by a bad temper. When the twins were washing dishes one evening they disagreed over their respective workloads. Who got the last plate? Kay whirled around and pushed Mary through a closed window. "She fell through the window and onto the porch," says Massar. "What can I say except that at least the glass was very thin and she was not injured." Kay was the dominant twin, to say the least. "She had no fear," says Burr. "She loved our father and wanted his respect. There's nothing she wouldn't do for that."
If she could just be a ballplayer... . In early June 1950, 12-year-old Tom was trying out for Little League, which was limited to boys aged nine to 12. "I thought, I'm a better player than Tom is," says Massar. In the classifieds Rose found an ad for Little League tryouts on the other side of town for a team named Kings Dairy. "No one knew me over there," says Massar, "but Tom told me, 'You're a girl; you can't try out.'"