When it comes to iconic female-led movies, A League of Their Own is literally in a league of its own. It’s the first movie that comes to mind when you think of female sports movies, it’s the movie you won’t turn off when it’s on TV, and it taught us the most valuable lesson in baseball: there’s no crying in it. So, on the 30th anniversary of A League of Their Own, I wanted to revisit this Penny Marshall classic and reminisce about all of the things I love about it.
Although the movie is about a real moment in history, the story and characters are fictional, or loosely based on real events. In the 1940s, when American men were serving in World War II, they weren’t around to play professional baseball. So, to keep the sport (and business) afloat, a professional female baseball league, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, was founded. What’s even more exciting is I’ve learned that the new Amazon series based on the movie (debuting later this month) will also explore new stories from this time period. It’d be hard to reboot these iconic characters with different actors, so I’m glad that creator-star Abbi Jacobson is bringing us a show in the same world but giving the Rockford Peaches a whole new set of characters for us to fall in love with.
I was extremely young in 1992 when this movie came out (thank you very much), but I remember seeing it and thinking how cool it was that women could play professional sports! I had only known female tennis players, so this was exciting. Obviously, there were females playing professional sports in the nineties, but I wasn’t very aware of them, and for that I blame my parents! It was enlightening to know that if I wanted to become a professional athlete, I could. (Of course, here I am writing, instead of sweating on the field!) But these women weren’t just athletes; they were a close-knit group, they went out dancing, they flirted with men, they had fans, they were living their best lives!
A League of Their Own felt like the first girl-power movie I had seen, though it was obvious the characters still had to work twice as hard as the men to be taken half as seriously. It was confusing watching these women get recruited for their skills and their looks, having to go to finishing school and learn how to “be a proper lady,” even though they’re sliding around in the dirt, and having to toughen up “like men” to play the sport. The men who ran this league wanted to have incredible athletes, but they also needed fans to be able to swoon over their players as sex symbols. I always felt like, let them be who they want to be! These women were badass! Why should they have to do their hair and makeup just to sweat through a baseball game? But without argument, they did it. They looked hot, they played brilliantly, and they made baseball more entertaining than … dare I say … men? (Sorry, I really only look forward to the food at a baseball game.) Isn’t it amazing that the highest-grossing baseball movie happens to be A League of Their Own? I didn’t even know this fact until recently, but it means so much more than just a statistic.
What I love most about A League of Their Own is the support, the love and the friendships that the women on the Rockford Peaches have for each other. Whether it’s the relationship between sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty), or Doris (Rosie O’Donnell) and Mae (Madonna), they’re loyal and honest. And they had to be because of the time they were living through. I can’t imagine having to play a professional sport and always waiting on that horrible telegram with news of losing a family member in the war. These women are going through emotional roller coasters, but they have each other! Even in the small parts, like when a teammate cannot read, rather than laugh behind her back, they offer to teach her, and it’s a beautiful moment. I feel like these onscreen connections were a product of having a female director. Penny Marshall obviously understood the bond women can share and it is evident by the direction of this movie. I can’t imagine that if a man directed this movie it would have the same heart.
Speaking of men, it’s pretty hilarious that the worst character in this movie is played by our beloved Tom Hanks. As coach Jimmy Dugan, he’s a misogynistic, drunk, mean man. He has glimmers of hope and comes to his senses toward the end, but he’s so gross when the movie starts out, and that’s what makes him such a good actor. And we’ll never forget his legendary line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” It’s probably the first thing people think of when they think of A League of Their Own. Even though it comes out mean, we now know he’s just projecting his own insecurities on the woman he screams this to. He didn’t become a loser out of the blue! Someone told him not to cry once too. Anyone would have cried if they were spoken to that way! It’s a standout performance from Tom Hanks, though. However small it is, the growth of this character from monster to coach is endearing.
Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell also give amazing performances in this movie. They’re totally transformed and have such fun chemistry together. Doris and Mae are the friends you want in your corner. They’re not tied down with families or husbands and they’re always looking for a fun time! I love that they had such successful careers aside from this movie, because this movie shows that they can really do anything and act in anything.
It’s pretty awesome that this movie still holds up after 30 years. It’s motivating, it’s funny, and it gives girls the hopes and dreams to do great things in predominantly male spaces — a theme we still unfortunately need to see more onscreen today. And after 30 years, it’s funny that we still debate whether Geena Davis’ character Dottie [Spoiler alert!] dropped the ball on purpose or not during the championship game at the end of the movie. (Geena Davis has mentioned that she knows the answer, but enjoys keeping it a secret!) A League of Their Own is a movie you don’t turn off when it airs on cable, and there are a billion more reasons why. I’m so excited about the new series coming out on Amazon, allowing the legacy of this movie to continue on in a new way. And while “there’s no crying in baseball,” there is crying in realizing that one of your favorite movies is 30 years old!