A Case of Their Own

Well, we made it through the long cold winter and Spring is only days away. So to honor the coming season AND women’s month, we’re covering one of (if not the) greatest baseball movies ever made. Don’t get upset if you disagree, there’s no crying in podcasting. 

In July of 1992 (the month Robin and Marci were both born), A League of Their Own premiered. It was a fun, and somewhat historical film based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (or the AAGPBL if you like inefficient acronyms). It was a highly quotable, heart-warming gem, with an all-star cast giving memorable performances. A League of Their Own didn’t just celebrate baseball, it highlighted an inspiring moment in women’s history, showing little ladies everywhere that there’s nothing wrong with throwing like a girl. 

A LITTLE HISTORY

  • In 1942, healthy men 18 and older were being drafted from all over the country to fight in WWII. This put the future of Major League Baseball into question, and owners were worried that there wouldn’t be a season. Phillip Wrigley, then owner of the Chicago Cubs, decided to create a committee to come up with ideas to keep ballparks open. The best idea seemed to be a women’s softball league. 
  • When the league started playing for crowds in the spring of 1943, it was known as the All-American Girls Softball League. The name was confusing, because there were already professional softball teams and also because they mostly played by MLB rules. So, the name changed several times throughout the years, but is known as the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. 
  • The game was a combination of softball and baseball. This meant that the ball would be larger than a standard baseball, and pitching would be under-hand. However, running rules from baseball were applied, along with longer distances between plates to make the game more exciting. 
  • Next, scouts were sent to find female players from all over the country and Canada. One of them was a scout for the Chicago Cubs, while another was actually a hockey team manager named Johnny Gottselig, who became the manager of the Racine Belles (which we see in the movie). 

A League of Their Own changed a lot of the history, but the core story is there. The film crams events that took place over the course of 12 seasons into one season of play. 

  • In the film, the women are playing with baseballs and pitching overhand.
    • In the later years of the league, this is how the game was played, although it was not this way in the first season.
  • The film depicts an uphill struggle for the girls, as they aren’t filling seats and have to start using gimmicks to get crowds.
    • This actually isn’t true, because the women’s baseball league was popular from the get-go. Even though this particular struggle didn’t happen, the conflict in the movie represents a very real struggle that women still face when it comes to being taken seriously as athletes. 
  • The movie’s main character, Dottie, was based on a real player for the Rockford Peaches named Dorothy Kamenshek. 
    • Dorothy was an all-star player for the Rockford Peaches, but she played first base, and was not a catcher. She also played ball for several seasons, while her film counterpart quit after the first season. 
    • According to one of the former players, Helen “Gig” Smith, the two sisters Dottie and Kit were based on Marge and Helen Callaghan from Canada. 
  • The girls are treated like models, and are forced to attend finishing school.
    • This is actually true. They were sent to the Helena Rubinstein Beauty Salon for make-overs and were taught proper etiquette. 
      • Apparently, the reputation for female softball players wasn’t great in 1942, and so Philip Wrigley implemented strict rules to clean up the image of his players. Women could be fined for having hair too long, or being seen in public wearing slacks or shorts.They also couldn’t smoke or drink. 
  • In the movie, the Racine Belles face the Rockford Peaches in the final series. 
    • At the end of the first season of the AAGPBL, The Rockford Peaches finished last. However, they did win championships four times over the 12 years that the league existed! 
    • In the 1943 season, The Racine Belles did in fact win the title. 
  • At the end of the film, we see the women of the AAGPBL get honored at Cooperstown, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. 
    • It’s true, the women are honored in a permanent exhibit at Cooperstown in 1988, but they have not been officially inducted into the actual Hall of Fame. 

In case you haven’t seen this film, or if it’s been a while, here is a quick synopsis. 

  • Dottie and Kit are living on their family farm, when approached by a talent scout. He has seen them playing ball locally, and wants Dottie to try out for a new women’s league. At first, Dottie won’t go. But when Kit convinces the scout to take them both, they decide to head to Chicago for try-outs. 
  • The girls become members of the first AAGPBL, and are assigned to the Rockford Peaches. The film follows their first season, led by their coach, the washed up ballplayer Jimmy Dugan. As Dottie becomes more and more of a star, it creates a rift between her and her sister Kit. The movie also explores the dynamics of the other players, as they learn and grow as ballplayers. 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • In the 1980’s, Kelly Candaele, the son of an original AAGPBL player, decided to make a documentary about the league. When the documentary aired, director Penny Marshall happened to be watching. 
  • It took Kelly Candaele and Kim Wilson about five years from creating the documentary to writing the treatment and pitching the film to Fox. When the deal with Fox fell through, Penny Marshall asked producer Robert Greenhunt to make the film with her at Sony/Columbia since they agreed to pay for it.
    • Marshall Said in 2005, “I saw a documentary about this league, and I didn’t even know it existed. And if I [didn’t] know, that means other people didn’t know, and I was going to change that. And, yes, I had a deal with Fox at that time. But then I got signed to Sony from Fox, and they said, “We’ll even let you do that girls’ movie.”
    • In 1988, about 150 members of the AAGPBL gathered with their families at Cooperstown to witness the opening of a permanent exhibit to the women’s league. According to one of the players, Penny Marshall came and interviewed players to get ideas for the movie. 
      • One of these stories was about the son of one of the players, an annoying little boy that caused mayhem. 
  • The team hired Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz as the scriptwriters. They worked closely with the documentary filmmakers, and pulled the inspiration for their two main characters from Candaele’s mother and aunt, who played on the same team. 
    • To put it into perspective as to how little known this story was, one of the scriptwriters was a baseball fanatic and didn’t even know about the AAGPBL. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert admitted he also had not heard of this time in baseball. 
  • Casting the film was one of the biggest challenges.
    • We talked about this when we did our episode on The Natural last summer: it can be hard to act like you can play a sport if you can’t actually play a sport. So, filmmakers were adamant that they find women who could actually play baseball to be in the movie. 
    • Every actress went through try-outs as well as screen tests. About 2000 girls auditioned, but no one was cast in the film until they passed the baseball portion, except for Geena Davis. 
      • Originally, Debra Winger was tapped to play the lead in the film, but dropped out. According to Marshall in her book, Winger left because they cast Madonna in the film. She felt that her superstar status would shift the focus of the film on her.
    • The actresses attended training for eight hours a day, six days a week, for seven months to master baseball skills. Some of the scars and bruises shown in the movie were actually real, and three women reportedly sustained concussions while learning how to slide. 
  • Producers wanted a love story between Dottie (Geena Davis) and Jimmy (Tom Hanks), which Penny Marshall objected to. She felt that a romance would distract from the major story and message of the film, and she was right. The relationship between a male and female character that has nothing to do with romance or sex, subverts a film stereotype and further empowers the message of the movie.
    • There was an original scene where Dottie and Jimmy kiss late one night. At the end of the scene, she runs into the clubhouse and starts packing her things. In the final cut of the movie, this scene happens after she has a fight with her sister Kit, not after kissing Jimmy. 
      • The idea that a married woman would kiss another man reportedly upset the original AAGPBL players and it was (thankfully) cut from the movie. 
    • In a Sports Illustrated review, writer Steve Wulf mentioned this by saying, “And for one brief, sterling moment, in a scene between Hanks and Geena Davis on the bus, you have a movie rarity: a man and a woman connecting with no sex involved.”

STARRING

  • Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan
    • Tom Hanks had recently made “Big” with Penny Marshall a few years before, but he was worried he might not be old enough for the role of Jimmy Dugan in A League of Theri Own. Marshall reportedly told him that he didn’t need to be old to be washed up, and that since his character stopped playing ball because of alcohol, it made sense for him to be young. 
    • After Big, Tom Hanks hadn’t had a big success for a few years. This movie helped put him at the top of the A-list.
      • For this role, he had to gain 30 pounds.
    • Hanks’ character Jimmy Dugan was a composite of two real ballplayers, Jimmi Fox and Hack Wilson, that had short-lived careers due to alcoholism. Fox actually managed the Fort Wayne Daisies for a season. 
  • Geena Davis as C Dottie Hinson
    • Geena Davis has appeared in several films like Beetlejuice, Thelma and Louise, and Stuart Little. She also appeared in the Netflix show, GLOW.
    • After reading the script, Davis said the film was an absolute yes immediately. About the role she said, “I have always sought characters that got to do interesting things, from a selfish point of view as an actor. I didn’t want to just be the girlfriend of the person who is having all the interesting things happen. And this is the ultimate example of that. I bring it up when I give speeches because I say, “I would rather play the baseball player than the girlfriend of the baseball player.” And I’m lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to do that.”
    • Penny’s first choice for the role was Demi Moore but by the time the movie was going to be made Demi was pregnant.
  • Lori Petty as P Kit Keller
    • Lori has been in Point Break, Tank Girl, and Free Willy. She is still an active actress just being in Orange is the New Black and some horror movies. We’ll talk about this later but in a tweet she revealed she believes that Dottie did not drop the ball on purpose.
  • Madonna as C F Mae Mordabito
    • Madonna took the role because she wanted a diverse career. The role offered her less money than she was used to, but she was dedicated to doing a good job. Apparently, her character was originally at third base, but had to be moved to the outfield because Madonna couldn’t master fielding ground balls.
  • Rosie O’Donnell as 3B Doris Murphy
    • Rosie said, “I got League of Their Own [because] I was one of the few women who could throw, really throw from third to first. So I got that job and that just led to other jobs.”
    • Rosie has been in many things but a few to mention are Sleepless in Seattle, The Flintstones (1994), and she lent her voice to Terk in Tarzan.
    • Rosie would sometimes entertain the extras in the stands since there was a lot of downtime between scenes. She was also known to sing Madonna’s songs on the set, which would annoy the singer to great comedic effect. 
  • Megan Cavanaugh as 2B Marla Hooch
    • According to Mental Floss, Rosie O’Donnell was almost the part of Marla, but Megan Cavanaugh proved to be perfect for the role. Thankfully, Rosie got a role that fit her perfectly, as the hilarious Doris Murphy. 
  • Tracy Reiner as LF / P Betty Horn
    • Even though she is Penny Marshall’s daughter, Tracy didn’t want to audition for the movie. She only went because her cousin wanted to go. The coaches placed her in the top 20 girls from the 2000 that tried out, much to Marshall’s surprise. 
  • Bitty Schram as RF Evelyn Gardner
    • You may remember her as Adrianne Monk’s original assistant in the show Monk or because her character receives the iconic line, “There’s No Crying in Baseball” from Tom Hanks after she fails to hit her cut-off during a play from the outfield. 
  • Ann Cusack as LF Shirley Baker
    • Ann recently played Warden Porter in Castle Rock and Donna January in The Boys.
  • The rest of the Rockford Peaches were
    • Anne Ramsay as 1B Helen Haley
    • Freddie Simpson as SS/ P Ellen Sue Gotlander
    • Renée Coleman as LF/ C Alice Gaspers
    • Robin Knight as SS ‘Beans’ Babbitt
    • Patti Pelton as 2B Marbleann Wilkenson
    • Kelli Simpkins as OF Beverly Dixon
    • Neezer Tarleton as OF Neezer Dalton
    • Connie Pounds-Taylor as OF Connie Calhoun
    • Kathleen Marshall as OF ‘Mumbles’ Brockman
    • Sharon Szmidt as 2B Vivian Ernst
  • Pauline Brailsford as Miss Cuthbert
    • Pauline was also in American Playhouse, Big Shots and Murder, She Wrote.
  • David Strathairn as Ira Lowenstein
    • David has been in several things including Lincoln, Godzilla, and L.A. Confidential. 
  • Jon Lovitz as Ernie Capadino
    • Jon has been in several things, one was actually Big which of course Hanks was also in.
  • Bill Pullman as Bob Hinson
    • Bill Pullman who plays Dottie’s husband has been in While You Were Sleeping, Spaceballs, and Independence Day.
  • Garry Marshall as Walter Harvey
    • Garry is Penny Marshall’s brother and often worked with her. We see the pair as well playing the Devil and Medusa in the movie Hocus Pocus!

THE BALL DROP DEBATE

  • At the climax of the film, Kit (Lori Petty) comes to bat at the bottom of the 9th with two outs and a woman on base, in the final game of the championship. She’s batting against her former team, the Rockford Peaches, with her older sister playing catcher behind her. After two strikes, Kit hits an apparent triple, tying the game. But, as she touches third base, Kit ignores the stop signal from her coach and barrels through, attempting to turn her triple into an in-field home run. At the plate, stands Dottie, her perfect older sister and superior ballplayer, that Kit resents. She smashes into Dottie, who holds the ball and must tag Kit before she hits the plate. After the dust clears, the crowd can see that Dottie, the “Queen of Diamonds” has dropped the ball, meaning that Kit is safe at home, and the Racine Belles have won the first AAGPBL championship. 
  • If you’re familiar with the movie, you know that there is a bit of a debate as to whether Dottie dropped the ball on purpose to let Kit have this victory, as it was so much more important to her. Bitty Schram, who played Evelyn, said in an interview that she believed it was a subconscious decision for Dottie to drop the ball. But Geena Davis has given a different answer, saying, “I’ll say two things about that. No. 1: I know the answer. Because it was me, of course, I know the answer. And No. 2: No, I’m not going to answer that question. I never have, and I never will.”
  • You will find many arguments for both sides. One, that Dottie was just as competitive as Kit, so why would she decide to come back for one final game just to let her sister win? On the contrary, Dottie had made that play countless times before, one time is even shown in the movie, and yet she never had trouble holding the ball before. 
  • We have our own ideas, as we’re sure everyone listening does too. But for now, we’ll pull a Geena Davis and say it’s a question that will just go unanswered. 

RECEPTION AND LEGACY

  • The film was a commercial and critical success. With a budget of $40,000,000 its cumulative worldwide gross was $132,440,069. 
    • Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars, saying, “Marshall shows her women characters in a tug-of-war between new images and old values, and so her movie is about transition – about how it felt as a woman suddenly to have new roles and freedom. The movie has a real bittersweet charm. The baseball sequences we’ve seen before. What’s fresh are the personalities of the players, the gradual unfolding of their coach and the way this early chapter of women’s liberation fit into the hidebound traditions of professional baseball. By the end, when the women get together again for their reunion, it’s touching, the way they have to admit that, whaddaya know, they really were pioneers.”
  • This movie about ground-breaking women was directed by, you guessed it, another ground-breaking woman. Penny Marshall went from acting in the popular sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” to being one the most celebrated directors of her time. Many argue that “A League of Their Own” is her greatest film, and you can be sure she had a hand in its success.
    • This film was Marshall’s second movie to make more than 100 million dollars at the box office, and she was the first female director to have two films reach that mark. 
    • Although the film is noted for highlighting women’s issues, Marshall wanted audiences to know that these stories weren’t just for women. She told the New York Times, “I thought it was something I should do. But I wasn’t doing it just to do a women’s picture. The problems as they’re presented in the movie apply to both men and women. It’s about, ‘Don’t be ashamed of your talents.’ It’s a universal thing.” 
  • The film has an enduring legacy of its own, but it also highlighted the inspirational legacy of the women that played professional baseball. The film brought attention to these remarkable women, and helped give them recognition that was long overdue. For thirty years, the remaining players of the AAGPBL journey to New York and reunite at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. In 2019, they unveiled a statue honoring Penny. 
  • There’s one scene in the movie that highlights an even more forgotten group of baseball legends: black women. In the scene, a fly ball lands in the stands where African American fans have been forced to stand, due to segregation. Dottie holds out her glove and smiles, as a black woman picks up the ball. The woman throws the ball past Dottie, and directly into the glove of another player, who then pulls out her hand, indicating that the throw was so powerful that it stung through the glove. 
    • The scene came about because the screenwriters wanted to have a more diverse cast, but were unable to because of historical accuracy. The scene not only reminds the audience of the fact that even though these women playing were incredible, there were other women that might’ve been even better, but weren’t invited to play the game.
    • The actress in the scene is uncredited, but this moment stayed with audiences, and for many it’s their favorite moment in the film. In recent years, there have been calls for Hollywood to make a similar film to ALOTO, but about the black women that played professional baseball. Here’s hoping that happens! 
  • In 1993, the movie inspired a short-lived TV show of the same name. An Amazon Prime TV show is actually in the works. 
    • It’s intended to be a re-imagining of the story with a greater focus on sex and race and the issues of the 1940’s. It will be a comedy, starring Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and D’Arcy Carden from The Good Place. 

FUN FACTS: 

  • The movie was originally four hours long, and explained the lives of each girl more thoroughly. Every actress came up with their own backstory if it wasn’t written in the script, and Penny Marshall would often quiz the girls and ask them questions about who they were.
  • The original film didn’t have the heart-wrenching scene where Betty learns her husband has died overseas. Instead, there was a scene that showed Marla, back from her honeymoon and pregnant, playing for the Belles. Dottie slides into her while playing, and her teammates accuse Dottie of going too far to win after Marla gets removed by a stretcher. This is why Dottie is in tears when Bob arrives, not because Betty has lost her husband. 
  • In one scene, Rosie O’Donnell throws two balls to two catchers at once. She learned the impressive trick from one of the original AAGPBL players. 

A League of Their Own isn’t a “battle of the sexes” movie. It doesn’t waste time comparing women to men, it shows you the talents of women as they stand alone. So often, female sports are looked at as less exciting or legitimate than men’s sports. This movie seeks to show the audience that sports are always hard work, and that players are players, no matter their gender. 

But A League of Their Own is more than that. It’s a movie about sisterhood; the idea that women are stronger together. So often, films and other media perpetuate a message that women don’t like each other, and don’t want to see each other succeed. A League of Their Own smashes that stereotype with characters that are constantly lifting each other up, and helping each other out. Of course there are fights and disagreements, just like with any group of humans. Overall, the film depicts a positive culture among women that we find to not only be refreshing, but generally true. And with that message, there’s the realization that there is no right or wrong way to be a woman. There’s a scene where an older woman gives social commentary on the female baseball players, saying that they were chosen based on who was most masculine. When people say things like this, they’re only looking at women as they relate to men. Not a single woman in this movie is “trying” to be masculine. They are trying to play baseball, and are succeeding. 

A League of Their Own may not be the most historically accurate film, but it squashes gender stereotypes and captures the spirit of baseball. It holds truths that absolutely everyone needs to learn. If we were asked to compare this film with other baseball movies, we’d have to say that it’s in a league of its own. 

We’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, and our newest patron, JAMES! 


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