07/02/2012 11:52 EDT | Updated 09/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Pro baseball pioneer Doris Sams, who helped inspire movie 'A League of Their Own', dead at 85

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Doris Sams, a pitcher and outfielder from Knoxville who helped inspire the movie "A League of Their Own," has died at age 85 after a battle with Alzheimer's.

The Stevens Mortuary Chapel in Knoxville said Sams died Thursday and her funeral service was Sunday. According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, she had been battling Alzheimer's for three years.

Sams, also called Sammye, was a leading player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. According to the league's website, she was a five-time all-star during her eight-year pro career. She played for the Muskegon Lassies, later the Kalamazoo Lassies.

She made the circuit's honour team in 1947 and from 1949 through 1952. She averaged more than .300 during each of her last four seasons.

One sportswriter called her "calm and cool at all times."

"Sammye is the tempering force of the team," Muskegon Chronicle sportswriter James F. Henderson wrote at the time. "Where another might become ruffled, she maintains a placid demeanour."

Sams was named the league's player of the year following the 1947 season, according to the website. A pitcher turned outfielder, she was named to the All-Star team at both positions. But her athleticism didn't stop there.

She pitched a perfect game for the Muskegon Lassies on August 18, 1947, defeating the Fort Wayne Daisies, 2-0. She batted .280, the third highest average among the league's regulars, and she contributed 41 RBIs.

Despite all her honours, Sams remained humble.

In a 1997 interview, she said her perfect game "wasn't so perfect."

"They hit me like a drum," she said. "But it was one of those days when everybody was on their toes. They were catching line drives. You know, the pitcher doesn't do it alone, let's face it. They caught line drives and everything else — just unreasonable catches that day."

Friends also recalled a somewhat shy Sams. Frances Rader, who had known Sams since childhood, told The Knoxville News Sentinel that when producers of the 1992 movie "A League of Their Own" wanted Sams to help promote it, she declined because she didn't want to be in the spotlight.

Sams' 88-year-old cousin says her legacy will continue to shine.

"She made women more a part of public sports," Gordon Sams told the newspaper. "She was an interesting lady and I hope she will never be forgotten."