Hard Hitting Women: A League of Their Own

By Jennifer Brancato

            Baseball plays an important role in American identity; however, for many decades this identity did not include women. Even though women played softball on many teams throughout the country, they were not allowed to play professionally. That changed during World War II. Women still had to take care of the household but their government and society also needed them to replace the men that were overseas.   With the men away, the women had to step up to the plate - literally. The 1992 Golden Globe nominated movie A League of Their Own is a fictional portrayal of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) that came into existence in 1943. The movie is not only entertaining but also does a good job portraying the tone and ambience of the era and the league.

Penny Marshall, of television's "Laverne and Shirley" fame, directed the movie with great style and humor, which keeps the audience entertained and intrigued. The ensemble cast includes Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Lori Petty and Rosie O'Donnell (in one of her first motion picture roles). Bill Pullman makes an appearance as player Dottie Hinson's husband and Jon Lovitz gives a hilarious performance as Ernie Capadino, the recruiter.

              The movie begins with an older woman walking onto a baseball field where some other elderly women are playing baseball. The movie then cuts to a flashback in which the recruiter, Ernie Capadino is watching two sisters playing in a local community softball game and gets them to try out for a new women's professional league. The film goes on to follow the sisters and their fellow teammates during the difficult inaugural season. The girls face many hardships: being away from their husbands and families while on the road, learning to attract fans with the right publicity so that the league does not fail and, above all, generating the pure intensity of energy needed to play the game. In an emotional scene, the film even shows how a player reacts to the death of her husband who is away at war. The movie invites the audience into a world full of sorrow, pride and humor while the performances of the cast allow the audience to feel as if these women are personal friends.

record. For instance, no real names are used in the film but the filmmakers were able to capture the character of the women who joined the league and played professional baseball. There were many women, some married, some single and even some mothers, who played in the AAGPBL.A League of Their Own skillfully represents all of those women. Two sisters represent opposite ends of the spectrum. Dottie Hinson, played by Genna Davis, is the happy satisfied, housewife whose husband is away at war. Her sister Kit Keller, played by Lori Petty, represents the single woman who feels that she needs something more out of life.   Moreover, the movie captures the spirit of all the women in between. Madonna brilliantly plays Mae Mordabito, the bad girl who always breaks the rules, and even the shy but spirited girl is represented in the character Marla Hooch. Even though these characters sound like stereotypes, they are convincingly representative of the women who joined the league.  

One area where the film departs from accuracy deals with the origins of the league when the candy giant, Walter Harvey, played by Garry Marshall, creates the AAGPBL. However, the real league began as a softball league and changed its name and rules many times during the duration of the league.   The gum manufacturer and Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley actually started the All American Girls' Softball League in 1943. Other than that issue, the formation of the league is accurately portrayed in the movie. Both the fictional league of the movie and the real league began because the professional male teams lost many of their players to the armed services after 1941. In fact, the movie uses newsreel of the pro ballplayers who signed up for the service. Many of the girls who filled those empty bases arrived in Chicago in 1943 to try out for the league and the first season opened with four teams: the Racine Belles, the Rockford Peaches, the South Bend Blue Socks and the Kenosha Comets.

Conditions on joining the league are also accurately presented. The players attended charm school and followed strict rules of conduct. The league required all players to appear feminine at all times. The women could not be seen in public in slacks or shorts, they could not drink, smoke, and men were only allowed if given permission by the team chaperone. Part of appearing ladylike was the uniform style. The film correctly shows the uniforms as one-piece dresses and like the film, many of the players had concerns about wearing such uniforms. One scene in the movie shows a player who, while sliding into base, is seriously injured because of the inadequate protection for her legs. This type of injury was common throughout the league, yet the girls continued to play through the pain.      

During one montage, the film shows the players trying to promote the league any way they can. For example, Davis' character does the splits while catching a foul ball, they hold a contest call "Catch a Foul, Get a Kiss" and they play a night game. While the real AAGPBL players did not pull extreme stunts, they did play night games. In fact, the first night game ever played in Wrigley Field was during the opening season of the girls' league. This night game was one way in which the real teams encouraged their fans to help the war effort. The first night game benefited the Women's Army Corp and the second benefited the Red Cross. Many people falsely believe that the first night game at Wrigley Field occurred in 1988; however, AAGPBL actually holds that record.

Toward the end of the film, Kit is transferred to the Racine Belles because of a fight that she had with her sister. The two meet at the playoffs and the Belles win. Although the Belles did win the championship in 1943, the filmmakers added the tension between the sisters for drama. There were a few sets of sisters in the league and there was probably some tension between them but this fictionalized storyline plays well with the audience and a happy ending between the two leaves the audience smiling.  

The film ends in the present with a league reunion at Cooperstown, NY and where the women are being inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, that never happened. It is true that the Hall of Fame has a permanent exhibit dedicated to the All American Girls' Professional Baseball League, yet none of the women has ever been inducted. The girls of the AAGBPL continued playing baseball until 1954. The league had name changes, ownership changes, different ball sizes and pitching styles but the girls played their best despite the changes and hardships and in the eyes of their fans, these girls played just as hard and professionally as the men. Even with the fictional characters, A League of Their Own, with its outstanding cast and director, opened the minds and hearts of many people who never realized that women did and can play hardball.

For many decades, women were a forgotten part of professional baseball; however, with the movie A League of Their Own , the AAGPBL once again were brought into the light of history. Many books have since been written: Women in Baseball: The Forgotten History by Gai Ingham Berlage, Women at Play: The Story of Women's Baseball by Barbara Gregorich and When Women Played Hardball by Susan E. Johnson. There are also some good documentaries that contain oral histories of some of the professional women players: An Oral History of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League and The Girls of Summer: The Grand Rapids Chicks of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.