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Massar hatched a gender-bending plan: She would try out as a boy. She asked Rose to cut off her waist-length braids, which were decorated with ribbons. "Mother knew better than to say no to Kay," says Burr. With a couple of scissor chops, two braids of thick brown hair landed on the linoleum floor. Kay raced into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Not bad, not bad at all. Now she needed a boy's name. The twins spent summer days sitting on the cool tile floor of a local sweet shop, reading comic books, laughing out loud at the high jinks of Little Lulu and her pal Tubby. Rose said, Why not name yourself Tubby? It was settled.
A day later Kay showed up at tryouts wearing Tom's clothes and a pair of Keds, having tucked what remained of her hair under her cap. She signed in as Tubby Johnston. She made the team as a lefthanded-throwing, righthanded-hitting first baseman. Her parents were on a tight budget, but her father bought her a first baseman's glove. She put the mitt on her pillow at night, falling asleep to the smell of the leather. "I was so happy," says Massar. "I wasn't thinking, I'm breaking a barrier; I was just playing the sport I loved." Tom Johnston, now a retired Navy captain, declined to offer insight into his sister's baseball ambitions for SI. "He thinks it's my story," explains Massar, "but he probably didn't like the way I played."
Her style was a mix of gamesmanship and aggression. She would occasionally trip players as they rounded first; if sliding into home, she came in feet high. The Kings Dairy coach appreciated Tubby's hard-nosed style. About two weeks into the season Kay felt comfortable enough to pull him aside in the dugout and spill her secret: Coach, I'm a girl. "He didn't care, because I was good," says Massar. She says she also told him she had just turned 14. According to Massar, his response was, "There are no rules for girls." When The Corning Leader caught wind of the girl on first, the paper published a story that awoke both sides of the conservative town, which was sliced in half by the Chemung River. Tubby became not only a drawing card—attendance climbed for the novelty act—but also a target of ridicule. As Massar recalls, "I was called It and Freak, but I didn't care. I was playing baseball."
The season ended, and in 1951 Little League instituted a rule it had never had to ponder before: no girls allowed.
A mockup of a poster for the unmade movie Who's on First sits on Massar's kitchen counter. The backdrop is a quaint baseball stadium—a mini-Fenway—with a little girl in a baseball cap in the center of the poster, while in the foreground a man in suspenders and a fedora, with a microphone in his hand, stands and cheers. "That's Dad," Massar says. The poster is a relic from a six-year odyssey with Disney that ended two years ago when the film was shelved and her option was not renewed. "The studio passed on it when the management changed," says Dexter Fedor, an executive at Nike's Hurley brand of sports apparel who was the producer of the Tubby Johnston film project at Disney. The decision crushed Massar.
But there is reel life and real life. At Disney, Massar was sucked into the blurring of those worlds, with facts omitted and details altered, leaving one to wonder just who owned her truth. In the screenplay, the Johnstons of Corning are portrayed as a family living on the poor side of the river, the mother longing for affluence and the father craving the big time and getting a once-in-a-lifetime audition to be an announcer for the Yankees. Little Kay, disguised as a boy, becomes a star, and the small town wraps its arms around the girl in the cap. "Well, it gets to the end with Dad flubbing his audition with the Yankees," says Massar. A rift develops between the father who fails and the daughter who succeeds. The movie ends with Massar at bat, two outs in the last inning, her team down by one run. Her despondent father is nowhere to be found. But then she hears him. His voice. He has parted the crowd and taken the microphone in the press box. He announces her name. He's back in her life. "It ends when I swing and drive a long fly to centerfield ... and it's caught," says Massar. "I told Disney, 'No, I want it to be a home run to win the game,' and they said, 'Yeah, but Kay, the point is you brought your family back together.' 'I know, but I want it to be a home run.'"
The story line of Who's on First was ginned up—her father never tried out for Mel Allen's job—but the essentials were true to life. "Kay had other offers to bring her life story to the screen," says Fedor. "I pledged to her that if we are lucky enough to get it made, when she goes into the theater to see the movie she'll recognize the town and events and herself. Yes, there will be composite characters, but the spine of the story will represent her life at the time."
It's a family film, after all, designed for uplift. There's no mention of Rose's starving herself during her pregnancy with the twins in order not to show her baby bump. "She wasn't married to Dad yet," says Massar. And there's no mention of her father's drinking habits. "He could be harsh," says Burr.
Authenticity is a mere suggestion in Hollywood. In book publishing it's a necessity. "Maybe at first Kay wasn't recognizing the difference," says Mason, her literary agent. Although Massar says Disney knew her true age, she is depicted as a 12-year-old girl in the movie. In fact, Massar says Fedor advised her against correcting the public record. "I didn't think her age was relevant," he says. "She didn't do anything malicious."
What's Massar's motive in coming clean now? She wants a book deal and realizes it has to begin and end with the truth. "History demands it," she says. "My fear in hiding it was that I would be taken out of the Hall of Fame, like I never existed."