A League Of Their Own: An Appreciation


“I cannot suffer any more than I have in the past month…I’m dirty all day, and I hardly ever wear make up,” Madonna wrote Steven Meisel while shooting A League Of Their Own. We’re all lucky she stuck it out.

Madonna also wrote that she missed New York, that “Geena Davis is a Barbie Doll, and when God decided where the beautiful men were going to live in the world, he did not choose Chicago.” All of it may have been true, but it was worth it for the glorious, schmaltzy, ladypower spectacle that was the eventual result — which showcased Madonna as a tough slut, her jovial buddy Rosie O’Donnell beside her, rocking a Staten Island accent.

The baseball coach the movie hired to teach Madonna and the crew how to play baseball told Sports Illustrated that Madonna had “great potential.” His role was “to make sure they don’t throw like girls. A lot of them do, you know.” He also tutored Joan Jett, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Brooke Shields and Uma Thurman for their tryouts, says ESPN. (How could Marshall have turned down Joan??)

“History is written by the victors,” Roger Ebert wrote in his review back in 1992, explaining why no one remembered the baseball version of Rosie the Riveter until Penny Marshall set it to Hans Zimmer-style heartswelling music.

But with the exception of scene-stealing Tom Hanks, this is a movie in which men are one-dimensional and fade into the background. This is a movie that passes the Bechdel test. Those of us who were little girls watching in a post-Title IX world were left to watch in awe and marvel at how ridiculously sexist their world was.

This is laid on rather thickly, which, if Hollywood chooses to be customarily unsubtle about something, it might as well be this. Here is the father of a player deemed not pretty enough, begging the recruiter (Jon Lovitz, overdoing the camp, or the ironic detachment) to ignore his not having raised her right. Our heroines, played by Davis and Lori Petty (as the ever-inadequate little sister) valiantly push back at him for judging a player not by her skill, but by her looks.

And here are the ladies objecting to their ridiculous uniforms, through which the real life women’s baseball league also had to suffer, bruised legs and all.

But the women prevailed. According to ESPN, “In June 1943, Time magazine estimated there were 40,000 women’s softball teams in the U.S., including popular touring clubs such as Barney Ross’ Adorables and Slapsie Maxie’s Curvaceous Cuties.” The Rockford Peaches have nothing on the Curvaceous Cuties. And though the fictional counterparts have groupies — Rosie O’Donnell has two of her own — the movie did not bother to give them their real-life awesome names: “Clubhouse Clydes” and “Locker Room Leonards,” per ESPN.

Also real: The terror that their athletic skills would ruin these women for their proper roles. The League had to insist that the women would still be able to bear children. And they got comportment lessons, though it’s not clear if the real life charm school teacher uttered the words, “Legs always together. A lady reveals nothing.”

The film does an excellent job of showing that each woman’s relationship to baseball was subtly different. This is partly accomplished during their social time, and also through montages where they get good, get famous, get dirty, get bruised up — not necessarily in that order. Here’s Rosie O’Donnell’s character Doris finding confidence in her own skill and strength. (And, if you wish, there’s some lesbian foreshadowing here, although at least one feminist critique points out that Marshall erased the lesbians of the real-life league, although it gives her kudos for a 5-second acknowledgment of the existence of black women with athletic talent.)

But Davis’s character Dottie, the closest thing to a protagonist in this ensemble and meant to be effortlessly excellent at everything, is more ambivalent. It’s hard to know if her willingness to abandon baseball is out of fear at the changing social roles, or because she really prefers to move back to Oregon and have 100 babies. In any case, the arc of Hanks’ character — from drunkenly pissing as a form of introduction to fighting for Dottie to stay and fulfill her potential as a player.

In any case, there was no reason to get anyone’s hopes up. As their chief promoter’s impassioned monologue spells out, these women’s days on the baseball diamond wouldn’t last. They did, however, last past World War II, until 1954.

Related: Reel Life: ‘A League of Their Own’ [ESPN]
A League Of Their Own Review [Roger Ebert/Chicago Sun-Times]
A League Of Their Own [The Women’s Show]

Previously In Girls On Film:
Just One Of The Guys: An 80s Stealth-Feminist Sex Comedy
Dirty Dancing Is The Greatest Movie Of All Time
Teen Witch: Feathered, Ruffled, Locker Room Dancing Splendor
Reality Bites: In Which The Girl Never Has To Play Dumb
Overboard: Stockholm Syndrome Sex And Class Comeuppance

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