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SHE HAD A SECRET
Selena Roberts
June 20, 2011
KATHRYN JOHNSTON MASSAR HAS LONG BEEN CELEBRATED AS THE FIRST GIRL TO PLAY LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL. BUT A CRUCIAL DETAIL IN HER STORY OF PLUCK AND COURAGE WAS KEPT HIDDEN
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June 20, 2011

She Had A Secret

KATHRYN JOHNSTON MASSAR HAS LONG BEEN CELEBRATED AS THE FIRST GIRL TO PLAY LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL. BUT A CRUCIAL DETAIL IN HER STORY OF PLUCK AND COURAGE WAS KEPT HIDDEN

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Massar had an important call to make on May 31. The last time she had seen Tom Shieber, the head curator of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, was at the opening of the Women in Baseball exhibit in 2006. Beneath her Kings Dairy photo are the words, IN 1950, 12-YEAR-OLD KATHRYN "TUBBY" JOHNSTON.... Massar asked, How would Shieber feel about a correction?

Baseball is a bit of a con game, if you consider some of the Hall's inductees and exhibits. There is the elm bark that pitcher Burleigh Grimes chewed on to increase his saliva output for spitballs from 1916 to '36. And you have to ask, Did Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry grease the skids for his induction by larding the ball with Vaseline? How many corked bats or stolen signs or performance-enhancing drugs aided certain inductees? Shieber is not unfamiliar with acts of deception. He put Massar at ease. He says, "I was surprised at what she had to say, but I told her she had joined a long list of other players with age issues—like Satchel Paige, who was oft-quoted saying, 'Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter.'"

Shieber had a solution to Massar's age conundrum. In the exhibit she is not mentioned as the first girl Little Leaguer, making the remedy simple. "We're going to change the label and take off the age," says Shieber. "We won't [substitute] 14, because it's too hard to explain in a small space."

Massar was relieved. In reparations mode, she also contacted Van Auken. "I was surprised," says Van Auken, "but Kay still did something remarkable. In 1950, a girl played Little League baseball."

Does that make Massar the First or the First*? That will be part of the discussion as she pushes onward, hoping to revive the movie and the book. "What's interesting is that the early feedback from publishers on the book proposal—and this was before the age issue—was that there's not enough complexity in the second half of Kay's life," says Cowser. "But, now, well, you have your second half."

In the Disney version of Massar's life, it's her father who is searching for fame. What would he think of his daughter's pursuit of it? "He died awhile back, before any of this," says Massar.

In Malcolm Johnston's obituary, he was reported to be 61. "His real age was 71," Massar says. She wasn't the only one with a secret.

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