A League of Their Own (1992)

Director: Penny Marshall

Starring: Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, Jon Lovitz, David Strathairn, Garry Marshall, Bill Pullman

As a sports fan, my first love will always be football. When it comes to baseball, I’ll keep tabs on what’s going on during the season, but I’ll usually only watch when it’s time for the playoffs and (especially) the World Series, and even then only if teams I like are involved. But even with a passing interest in a game that moves at a slower pace than I would prefer, I still have an appreciation for the history of the game of baseball. There is one part of that history I had no knowledge of until after the first time I had seen “A League of Their Own.” In the 1940’s, at the height of World War II, Major League Baseball faced a dilemma. The men were being called into service, leaving the teams without their players that drew in the crowds to see the games. The solution was to create the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or AAGPBL for short. In its first tumultuous season in 1943, the league consisted of just four teams, which carries the impression that winning a World Series was somewhat less of an accomplishment than in Major League Baseball. Just don’t tell that to the women who showed they could play just as well as the men could.

“A League of Their Own” follows the story of that first season in 1943, albeit with some changes here and there.  The main storyline runs through sisters Dottie and Kit Hinson (Geena Davis and Lori Petty). Dottie is a natural baseball talent, but she seems almost oblivious to this fact. She’s more interested in seeing the return of her husband, Bob (Bill Pullman) from the War. Kit is the one who would love nothing more than to be a professional pitcher. At a softball game which the two are competing in, Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz) sits in attendance, scouting players for the AAGPBL. He likes what he sees from Dottie, but Kit manages to lose the game because she stubbornly swings at the high pitches, striking out. Ernie goes to the farm where the sisters live and work to recruit Dottie, but she’s not interested. But Dottie sees how much her sister wants to play, and agrees only on the condition that Kit be allowed in, too.

Eventually, the two find themselves members of the Rockford Peaches, managed by legendary MLB player Jimmy Duggan (Tom Hanks). From the moment Jimmy is introduced, business picks up. Hanks makes a great entrance into this picture, as Jimmy drunkenly enters the girls’ locker room and urinates in the stall. Jimmy is a sad character at first. His playing career having ended prematurely due to his alcoholism, Jimmy takes the assignment of managing a girl’s baseball team as an insult. To show how he feels, he behaves accordingly: sleeping during the games, hurling insults, and arguing with his superiors. Then he sees what Dottie can do, and we see a change in Jimmy’s demeanor. Suddenly, he’s taking an interest in this team he has underestimated because of their gender.

Actor Tom Hanks and director Penny Marshall team up again four years after their previous collaborative effort, “Big.” Both that film and this one are about people who are struggling to find their place in an uncaring world, although in remarkably different ways. This time, rather than a kid trapped in a man’s body, it’s a group of women trapped by rules dictated by a male-dominated society. At every turn, they are threatened with being shut down simply because the men will soon be coming home. Jimmy’s own journey is one of redemption. Through his role as manager, Jimmy can restore order to the chaos his alcoholism has created in his life. Among Hanks’ roles from before he became an Oscar winner, this one may be his best. It’s certainly gifted him with one of the most iconic lines of his career, coming as Jimmy takes it upon himself to explain to one of his players why weeping is not allowed.

The movie is only superficially faithful to history. All of the characters in the film are fictional, including changing the owner of the league from a chewing gum mogul (Philip K. Wrigley) to a candy bar manufacturer (Walter Harvey). Also, the Rockford Peaches did not actually play in the first AAGPBL World Series… although the team did wind up with the most championships by the time the league closed in 1954. Pretty much the only things that remain consistent with the facts are the teams’ names and uniforms, the league’s name and logo, the league’s official song, and the lasting impact that it has had on the sport. But let’s not get bogged down in fact vs. fiction. You want a 100% truthful account of the AAGPBL? Go find a documentary on the subject. Informative though it may be, I guarantee it won’t be half as entertaining.


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