When it comes to the unsung heroes of World War II, women fulfilled many jobs men left behind to go overseas to fight including on the baseball diamond.
A League of their Own turns 25 years old and belongs in the pantheon of baseball classic cinema. It follows the exploits of the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) and their journey from the start of the league to the championship game.
Directed by Penny Marshall, the film follows two sisters, Dorothy “Dottie” Hinson (Geena Davis) and the younger Kit Keller (Lori Petty), who developed a love for baseball on their farm in rural Oregon. Kit pitches while Dottie is her catcher.
When World War II threatens to shut down Major League Baseball in 1943, candy conglomerate and Chicago Cubs owner Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) convinces his fellow owners to bankroll a women’s league. Harvey is the fictional version of Philip K. Wrigley.
Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz) is sent to recruit players and sees the two sisters play in a game. While Ernie is only interested in Dottie, she initially refuses the offer. Ernie agrees to recruit Kit if she can change Dottie’s mind. Dottie reluctantly agrees for Kit’s sake.
Ernie ends up recruiting others along the way with Dottie and Kit in tow and those featured end up playing for the Peaches. Their manager is Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), who is a former Cubs slugger and not exactly too keen on the idea of a female league. His complacency, contempt and alcoholism were on full display early in the season. Jimmy finally started taking interest when Dottie assumed more of a leadership position on the team and often ending up butting heads in the process.
The film has all the essential parts to make a baseball movie work: wide range of character types, the realistic struggles to be accepted, and chemistry built organically throughout.
Among the Peaches, you have New Yorkers taxi driver Mae Mordabito (Madonna) and her best friend Doris Murphy (Rosie O’Donnell), who was a bouncer. You had soft-spoken right fielder Evelyn Gardner (Bitty Schram), who had one of the most memorable moments with Jimmy about crying in baseball. You also had slugger and second baseman Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh), who wasn’t aesthetically-pleasing to Ernie was seeking, but was recruited after Dottie and Kit protested.
The players dealt with what was expected to keep up their “femininity” just as much as they would their playing abilities. They also struggled to be taken seriously initially, but as the season wore on, more fans lined up to more filled capacity.
The film also dealt the tensions of a locker room, particularly among the sisters, which will factor well into the conclusion of the film.
The film was a renowned success in the box office making back more than 3 times its budget. The perplexing question is why hasn’t MLB attempted to capitalize on this?
The league, which the story was originally based on, lasted until 1954 with the Peaches winning the most titles in its history. The league was also formally recognized at in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Softball remains popular with women and as a co-ed staple in amateur leagues.
Women don’t have any less interest watching baseball or sports in general than men. Girls play in Little League with boys, but there doesn’t seem to be anything as far as mainstream baseball available for women. Softball is available at all levels, but it’s still a different rule set than baseball.
The NBA hasn’t gone bankrupt for funding the WNBA. Women have played with men in pee-wee up to collegiate football. I’m sure women would like to do more in football than just be a placekicker at the NCAA level, because there is no women’s football at that level.
The fact there was interest in women participating in baseball was noted in the FOX TV series Pitch, which centered on the “first” woman to play in MLB, which was unfortunately recently cancelled.
Fact is, a film like A League of the Their Own shouldn’t been a film that fans of the game remembered as “Isn’t it nice that they had this?” For a little girl who watched the film, it was an inspiration until she finds out, there are no regular outlets for her to play baseball when she grows up. It was impressionable for all fans of the game not only because it told a great baseball tale, but it shows we can persevere beyond labels. The film showed we can do anything we really want to do and that should resonate universally.
If the mere existence of a league can erode just a little more bigotry away in this world, then why not? Because in 2017, we still have retired professional athletes like John McEnroe, who brazenly disrespects Serena Williams in tennis, a sport where women tend to be more highly regarded than others.