Welcome to my series of reviews of baseball movies. Baseball is the sport that translates best to film – there’s ample pausing for dramatic effect, players are in distinct positions in the camera’s frame, and it has the grandest characters. It clearly has the best movies of any sport and that’s what we’re gonna break down here. I’ll try my best to avoid cheesy puns like “Bull Durham hits it out of the park!” or “42 swings and misses!” – but no promises.
When the Second World War started, Americans were regulated to ration necessities like gasoline, tires, butter, elastic, and just about anything you can think of – all in the name of patriotism.
They also lost the men. Young, strong men.
The kind of men who played professional baseball.
Which also meant that they lost baseball.
That was, of course, until the formation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or AAGPBL – the league fictionally depicted in the 1992 film, A League of Their Own.
A few months ago, I wrote a piece on one of the few movies depicting the Negro Leagues, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. In that piece, I wrote:
The Negro Leagues have been largely forgotten. Records are spotty at best, information is incomplete, and the recognition these players deserve is still not reflected in places like the Hall of Fame.
That’s not entirely fair. There have been many efforts to preserve the history of colored baseball. Some of those guys (not enough) have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Historians have attempted, as difficult as it may be, to give us a complete picture of what playing in or attending those games was like. And, as I mentioned in that piece, Baseball Reference has integrated those stats into their database just like any other league. I’m even going to a Negro Leagues Night at a local AA team this weekend.
But what about women’s baseball?
Is it because we feel like women’s statistics aren’t comparable? If A League of Their Own has anything to say about it, Geena Davis’ Dottie Hinson could throw, field, or call a pitch with the best of them.
Is it because there’s no connection to Major League Baseball? Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley hosted tryouts at Wrigley Field. Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, who would be instrumental in bringing Jackie Robinson to the majors a few years after the AAGPBL was founded, helped create the league along with Wrigley. The teams were also managed by former ballplayers like Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan (modeled after Jimmie Foxx) – a drunkard whose lack of knee cartilage held him back from the war abroad.
Is it because nobody cared about the league, even while it was happening? Well, other than the fact that it ran for 12 seasons – long past the war – and could attract almost a million fans a season?
Why is it that we’ve largely ignored this part of baseball history?
Unless I’ve missed something, there’s been little renewed interest in the AAGPBL following the new television adaptation of A League of Their Own, a show I’ve yet to see (how is it?), but plan on checking out soon. It supposedly corrects the glossed-over issues of race and queerness from the film, but it still doesn’t seem like it’s done much to inspire folks to explore the league further. Revisionist history often does that (there were no black players in the AAGPBL) – it asks people to find the truth behind the entertainment. But that hasn’t happened…yet.
Until then, many would consider the largely fictionalized film to be their primary source of information.
That would be a shame if it wasn’t for the fact that the film is excellent.
There’s so much to love. They get the baseball right. They balance the drama and comedy like a great lefty-righty-lefty-righty lineup. And, of course, there are the lines that have entered the baseball lexicon, with the most notable being the classic, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
But the real joy of the film is the cast. Tom Hanks is billed first (because of course he is), and he yells and screams and scratches his ass, but the ladies are the main attraction.
The luminous Geena Davis manages the group with strength and grit, never needing to fall back on the fact that she’s the most beautiful woman on the planet. Lori Petty plays the pitcher sister to Geena’s catcher, and the two form a battery that’s successful way beyond pitch sequences. Rosie O’Donnell, your third baseman, is at the peak of her comedic powers. And, if you can believe it, Madonna plays a pretty believable center field.
Next year will be the 80th anniversary of the AAGPBL, which most importantly means that most of these ballplayers are no longer with us. And if they are, they’re knocking on the door of a century of life. They won’t be with us for too much longer. So many of their stories and knowledge and history go with them. At least we have A League of Their Own – they can live on forever.