A League of Their Own

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Resilience                    Choice                         Friendship                   Strength

I watched this movie several times as a teenager & young adult and certainly enjoyed it for its entertainment value however I don’t think I fully understood the significance of this movie or the story. I’ve spent the last decade learning about the women who paved the way for the freedom and choice I am afforded, and as a result, it’s a different experience watching this film now.

A League of their Own is set during World War II and centres on a group of women who play in the first women’s baseball league in the United States, while their men (and most male baseball players) are away fighting. Although the characters are fictional, the League and the women’s experiences are based on reality.

We wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to watch this remarkable story if it wasn’t for the documentary of the same name made in 1987 by Kelly Candaele and Kim Wilson.

The late Penny Marshall stumbled across the documentary and saw the need for these women’s’ stories to be put on the silver screen.

Photo credit: Entertainment Weekly

What was the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League?

The league was set-up to keep Baseball team owners in the money whilst the war was on amidst fears that baseball as a sport would become extinct while the men were away. As a result, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League or AAGPBL for short was born.

The players were essentially a short-term sub for the male players with the expectation that when the war was over, professional men’s baseball would resume as if the AAGPBL never existed.

My first thought was for the women who had been given an opportunity beyond marriage & children – to have that ripped away would have been heart breaking. The film suggested there was an assumption amongst the leadership that these players would easily forget about playing and revel in a return to their normal life. Fortunately, in real life, the league continued on until 1954, well after the end of WW2.

A very different time.

The film offers us an insight into a different era, where women weren’t given the plethora of choices many of us have today. Where the assumption was that they were good for having children, tending to the home and were judged largely on their looks. This was seeded it into the dialogue throughout the film. It wasn’t overt, rather as if it was done to show us that it was simply part of the vernacular of the day.

For example, throughout the film the players are called “girls”, “honey”, “darling”, “gal” and the team names followed suit with the Belles, Chicks & Peaches – words we now consider derogatory & demeaning, but they were part of everyday language in the 40’s.

It showed me that although we have a long way to go, we have come so far. I personally don’t know how I would have handled it, being judged for my looks with the assumption I had nothing else to offer. I can assure you, my inability to sit quietly in the corner with my pretty smile would have been my undoing.

In keeping with the image of the time, all players were expected to attend etiquette lessons, fit the beauty ideal, not drink, smoke or cuss and were given dresses for uniforms. This was to appease the viewing public, who already had strong negative opinions about the league and its players. I have no doubt image and brand are still very important today in baseball, as with all sports, but I have to wonder what emphasis is placed on male players clothing, masculine behaviour and looks by the league, then and now.

Photo credit: The Film Experience

A strong cast playing diverse, dynamic characters was pivotal to the story resonating with the audience.

Every cast member contributed to the success of the film and provided weight to the story. Standouts for me are Tom Hanks as the washed-up disinterested manager, Lori Petty as the ‘other’ sister and Rosie O’Donnell & Madonna who had fantastic on-screen chemistry.

My favourite character in the film is Marla Hooch, played by Megan Cavanagh. Although she wasn’t a principle character in a movie littered with very strong performances, Marla’s story is the one that stayed with me. Her change from an unconfident & meek girl living in the shadow of her father and his dreams, into a woman making her own decisions is what signified to me why this league was so important for women’s development. She didn’t fit the mould of what the league was looking for, despite her obvious talent, but with a push by Dottie & Kit, she was given a chance. Throughout the first half of the film, many jokes were made at her expense, but in a world where looks is of primary importance and she was the ugly duckling, she was easy fodder. It was the second half where she started to blossom and make her own decisions.

With change comes fear & misinformation.

A League of their Own also showed fear mongering, such as older women announcing on the radio that women playing baseball would have a negative impact on children and the family. Many people struggle with change and this results in poor behaviour. Baseball in the 40’s was considered a ‘masculine’ sport, something women should not be associated with.

These feelings are also on display in the first few games the women play. The crowd of mostly men and older women laugh and call names to the girls. Instead of supporting them, they choose to ridicule them. As if these women playing baseball might turn the world on its head. It’s only when the players show their skills and start to display some of their femininity that they are taken seriously.

Unfortunately, even in 2020 there are instances when women are having to prove their abilities in traditionally male sports, with old attitudes still in place on what women can and cannot do. 

Recently, there have been some incredible examples of progression though. The Matildas, the Australian Women’s soccer team, have secured pay parity with the Australian Male team. When the US Women’s soccer team won the 2019 World Cup, it made international news and there were some key standouts such as Megan Rapinoe who stood up against the haters.

Also, the Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW), is now shown in prime time on TV and Women’s Cricket is getting a place on-screen as well. Challenging stereotypes & overcoming sexist vitriol is still the biggest hurdle, but one that will take time and support from the mainstream media & leadership in each field.

Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

The hard moments are what makes it worth it.

This film is packed full of great one-liners. However, one in particular piece of dialogue stands out for me. Towards the end of the film when Dottie Hanson has to make the difficult decision to choose between baseball and her husband, she tells Hank’s character Dugan that baseball is hard. His response is still relevant today, not just in baseball but for life’s difficult moments.

“It’s supposed to be hard,” he says. “If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
A League of Their Own can be purchased or rented on Google Play or Apple iTunes.

The key players
Directors – Penny Marshall
Main Cast – Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Hanks.
Producers – Elliott Abbott, Ronnie Clemmer, Robert Greenhunt, Joseph Hartwick, Amy Lemisch, Penny Marshall, Bill Pace
Writers – Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel
Full cast & crew

Further information
The story behind the story:
A League of their Own behind the scenes
Real Life players’ view on the film
Meet the real women who inspired the A League of Their Own
What Penny Marshall did for girls
Kelly Candaele on Penny Marshall

Published by Lana Blanchard

Food, movie and karaoke lover. Mother of two. Still looking for that so called 'balance'.

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