Former Racine Belles second baseman Sophie Kurys, whose base-stealing prowess earned her the nickname the “Flint Flash,” has died.
Kurys, 87, died Sunday in Scottsdale, Ariz., where she had resided since her retirement in 1972.
A press release issued by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League said Kurys died from complications after surgery.
The Flint, Mich., native was a standout player in the AAGPBL, which was formed in the early 1940s, when so many Major League players were fighting in World War II.
Kurys began her professional baseball career at the age of 18 in 1943, the AAGPBL’s inaugural season. Known for her speed and aggressive style of play, Kurys made a name for herself as the Belles’ leadoff batter, setting numerous AAGPBL records and earning Player of the Year honors in 1946, the year the Belles won their second league championship. (The Belles also won the league title in 1943.)
Kurys led the AAGPBL, immortalized in the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own,” in stolen bases for seven straight seasons, 1944-50. She finished her career with 1,114 stolen bases and 688 runs scored.
In her award-winning 1946 season, Kurys set league single-season records for runs scored, stolen bases and walks. She also set the league record for runs scored in a single game and best fielding percentage at second base.
“Sophie displayed an uncanny talent for reading a pitcher’s delivery,” former AAGPBL player Helen “Gig” Smith said. “She focused on the pitcher’s feet and always managed to get a quick start.”
Upon her retirement from baseball, Kurys became vice president of Apex Machine Products, Inc., staying in Racine until her retirement in 1972.
In an April 2011 interview with Journal Times reporter Peter Jackel, Kurys said: “The people of Racine treated us royally and we were very happy in Racine. In the beginning, they came out because they were curious. And when they saw we could play a very good brand of baseball, they came out in droves.”
Kurys played in the AAGPBL from 1943-50 and returned for 17 games in the 1952 season.
In 1986, she was inducted into the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame.