Much More Than a Game
A League of Their Own, directed by Penny Marshall, was an immediate hit in American movie theaters. I remember going to see it with my parents and instantly falling in love with it. A lot of the time movies that center around one woman, or a team of women, finds those characters either wrestling with their identity (The Devil Wears Prada), trying to find romance (Never Been Kissed), fighting otherworldly beings (Ghostbusters, 2016 version), or partaking in some kind of scheme (Ocean’s 8), and that’s about it. The ratio of female to male sports movies is very limited. Taking a young girl to see a baseball movie about women, that shows them being empowered, as well as being respected and admired for being strong, determined, resilient, and displaying grit can be extremely impactful for that little girl, especially when we consider the lack of sports movies about women.
The movie centers around the real-life history of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) during World War II. The movie stars Geena Davis, as Dottie, and her little sister Kit, played by Lori Petty, as they embark on an adventure playing baseball around the country with an all-women’s baseball team named the Rockford Peaches. Tom Hanks is their gruff, alcoholic manager, Jimmy Dugan, who famously said, “There’s no crying in baseball!” Jimmy starts out like all of the rest of the country believing that women can’t play baseball, and are probably not very good athletes. Eventually, Jimmy, as well as the spectators, come to realize that these women’s teams are incredibly talented and should be just as respected as the men’s teams.
Marshall did an excellent job depicting the reality of this situation. The AAGPBL started because hundreds of Major League Baseball (MLB) players were enlisting in the armed forces to fight in the war. As a result, the men’s only league dwindled. At first, the popularity of the women’s league was slow-going, and Marshall made sure to highlight this problem. The players faced sexist heckling and disinterest, as well as a threat to call the whole thing off because of low ticket sales. There are scenes of the early games before the women get popular in which the tiny crowd is practically falling asleep in the stands. It isn’t until Dottie catches a foul ball while doing the splits that jumpstarts people’s interest and curiosity in these female players. From that point on, the crowds get much bigger and more enthusiastic, which is historically accurate, sans the splits. Montages of the women hitting baseballs, interacting with the fans, sliding into home and the resulting injuries, all while 40s style swing music plays in the background, brings zest to the movie, and points to just how tough these women had to be both physically and mentally.
But, not all of the athleticism comes in the form of playing baseball. When the entire cast was revealed, there was a big hubbub about Madonna playing a small role. In fact, Debra Winger was supposed to play Dottie in the film, but when she heard that Madonna was cast, she dropped out of the project in protest. To put it lightly, Madonna is a mediocre actor, which is mostly why Winger said she was no longer interested in being in the film. But, Madonna was well-suited for the role of “All the Way” Mae because the character, before she joined the team, was a dancer, and I’m not talking about a ballet dancer. At this point in Madonna’s career, it was well known that she was an extremely talented dancer and performer. In the film, Madonna as Mae sneaks out to a juke joint with the team to have some drinks and to go cut a rug. Madonna’s prowess and stamina during this scene is jaw dropping. Watching her shake, jive, twirl, and get thrown around on the dance floor is another nod to the athleticism that these women needed to have. I dare any person who watches this film to try and keep up with her as she seamlessly, and almost effortlessly kicks up her bobby socks.
I want to take a step away from the baseball aspect of this film. In between all the fun scenes of the women playing baseball, sliding into home in their ridiculous uniforms, laughing, and having the time of their lives comes a very real moment. It’s easy to forget why these women were even playing baseball to begin with, and that’s because men of all ages were out of the country fighting in a war. Women’s baseball created a distraction from this fact for both the attendees and the players. It’s during a tense scene that a mail carrier shows up before a game to deliver the news that one woman’s husband has been killed on the battlefield while fighting overseas. The actresses’ faces perfectly express the fear and terror of the news they are about to receive, that one their husbands has been killed. I’m glad that Marshall included this scene in the final cut because it’s a solid reminder for the audience that this is, in fact, something that hundreds upon hundreds of families faced during that time. It’s easy to get caught up in the scenes of the games and the thrill of it all, but this moment brings a necessary kick to the stomach.
The movie is historically accurate and entertaining, but it’s much more than that. A League of Their Own is an homage to the real-life women that played baseball during this time. Women that left their homes, some leaving their children behind with their grandparents, to strike out on their own and do something that people believed women couldn’t do during that time. This is an important message to send to young girls, a message that says you can play sports, you can be tough, you can be vulnerable, and you can do something you never thought you’d be able to do. In fact, I believe that this is the takeaway I found all those years ago. Women have come a long way since the 40s in terms of visibility in sports. Even though women’s sports are not equal to men’s in our modern society, we’re on our way to it, and a lot of it is due to this time era and those women who just wanted to play ball.