"KEEP BUSTIN'."

A League of Their Own

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (which opened against BOOMERANG on July 1, 1992) is a very nice and pleasing mainstream period sports comedy-drama from director Penny Marshall (JUMPIN’ JACK FLASH). It’s a fictionalized version of one of those true life historical events you hear about and think “Yep, that’s a movie” because it reads so much like a high concept movie pitch: during WWII, when so many American men were sent to fight overseas, some enterprising baseball executives started the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League to keep the sport in the public eye. Though they endured all manner of sexist indignities (like being forced to wear skirts and pretend to fit various feminine stereotypes) they also were good at what they did and took their shot to show it off.

Geena Davis (FLETCH) and Lori Petty (CADILLAC MAN) star as Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller, small town Oregon sisters who run a dairy and play catcher and pitcher on a softball team. One day a scout named Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz*, THREE AMIGOS) attends a game and wants Dottie to try out for the A.A.G.P.B.L. She’s happy with her life and uninterested, but agrees to go if he’ll give Kit a shot too.

They end up assigned to the Rockford Peaches, with teammates including the great hitter Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh) and wiseass pals Doris (Rosie O’Donnell in her first movie) and Mae (Madonna, A CERTAIN SACRIFICE). They’re all very excited and then they meet their manager, the grunting, spitting, pissing alcoholic ex-MLB star Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks, VOLUNTEERS). He needs the job but has no respect for “girls” playing baseball, so he spends the first game passed out drunk on the bench. The commentators still give him credit for his brilliant strategy (actually Dottie’s).

The heart of the movie is really the friendship that develops between this grump and the team, especially Dottie. He’s disgusting and unfriendly, makes Evelyn (Bitty Schram, FATHERS & SONS) cry, and then famously harangues her for crying. But there are signs of caring on the bus when Dottie mentions not having heard from her husband Bob (Bill Pullman, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW), who’s off at war. Jimmy gives her reasons why he might not be able to send a letter and assures her he’s okay. And later there’s the big scene where a messenger shows up with a death notice for one of the players, but realizes he lost the name of who it’s for and needs to go back to the office. Jimmy takes the letter, pushes the guy out of the locker room, and opens it. Admittedly he then draws out the trauma a little more by walking slowly toward the intended recipient, causing Dottie to gasp, thinking it’s her. But seeing this abrasive grouch become protective of these women when it matters most is moving to me, even if it’s plucked right out of ‘Appendix I: Oldest Tricks’ in the back of the book.

It feels a little too safe that Bob miraculously returns home in the next scene. On the other hand it introduces a dramatic conflict that challenges me: the idea that Dottie immediately quits baseball to go back to being a wife. Of course she changes her mind and returns for the World Series (sorry, replacement catcher Alice [Renée Coleman, AFTER SCHOOL] – you got screwed), but it’s never addressed what Bob thinks about any of this. That he thinks nothing of her dropping something she’s great at contradicts his portrayal as Perfect Supportive Husband.

This is the central conundrum of the Dottie character – everyone agrees that she’s the best player, but she only tries out reluctantly, tries to quit two different times, then really does retire at the end of the season. In the wraparound scenes (where she’s dubbed by Davis but played by uncanny lookalike Lynn Cartwright, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE, THE WASP WOMAN, THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE) she’s also reluctant about attending a reunion at the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s nice that she has this cool thing she did once but enjoys her humble life, but in a movie about baseball you gotta suspect the main character has a passion for baseball, right? And when she starts the movie saying, “Look, I’m married, I’m happy, that’s what I want. Let’s not confuse things,” you assume she’s gonna evolve from that opinion, right? It’s sad if that’s true because she can’t seem to admit it to herself.

There’s a reunion game played by players from the actual teams, and you can tell just by looking at them that those are some tough ladies and that they got something from continuing to play over the years. I just hope Dottie doesn’t regret missing out on that to milk cows and make dinner for Bob.

But the movie obviously isn’t arguing that a women’s place is in the home and/or dairy, even if that’s what Dottie wants for herself. Attitudes like that are mocked early on with a newsreel where some prude lady complains that “careers and high education are leading to the masculinization of our women, with dangerous consequences to the home, the children and our country.” She describes the players as “young girls plucked from their families,” suffering from “sexual confusion.” Making fun of this asinine opinion seems like low hanging fruit until you remember that 30 years after this depiction of events 45 years before that there are new generations of dipshits saying the exact same preposterous things. They just move past women playing sports and find new targets. Years from now (if society survives) their terrible opinions will be laughed at in movies, but their spawn will have moved on to torment some other group of people with the exact same horse shit.

By the way, there’s one scene where race is addressed. A ball lands in the stands and a Black woman bystander throws it back to Dottie, seriously impressing her. They exchange a look but of course both understand that during segregation no one will give this woman the shot they gave Dottie. The bystander is played by DeLisa Chinn-Tyler (uncredited), who played on softball teams in Evansville, where it was filmed, and responded to an open casting call for players. Recently tracked down by Consequence, she said she was told at the tryouts that they couldn’t cast Black women as players because of the time period, but Marshall was impressed by her skills and came up with the idea for the scene.

It’s of course a frustrating scene because it’s a feel good movie, but this woman doesn’t get to fulfill her dreams, and then we return our attention to the white women who do. But I think it’s more admirable to acknowledge it than to sidestep it. Just like the 19th amendment, this league wasn’t progress for all the women, just the white ones.

A goofy subplot I enjoyed is about Evelyn having to bring her son Stilwell (Justin Scheller) on the road with them. She swears to Jimmy that he’s “the sweetest little boy” and then in the next scene the little shit puts his hands over the bus driver’s eyes while he’s driving. A pretty funny character, and so fitting that in the present day scenes he’s played by Mark Holton, a.k.a. Francis from PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE.

So there are plenty of laughs in this. Lovitz got some out of me in his small part at the beginning, mostly with lines I would guess he improvised. A story credit goes to Kim Wilson & Kelly Candaele, who made a 1987 documentary of the same title that inspired Marshall. The script is by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, the Oscar nominated team behind NIGHT SHIFT, SPLASH, and CITY SLICKERS, among others. Like Marshall they got their start in sitcoms (including Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days), and I notice a sitcom flavor to the writing in its willingness to undermine some of the drama for hacky one-liners. For me it cheapens the movie a little but doesn’t kill it.

Hanks was coming off of two movies that were perceived as major career stumbles, JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO and BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. So this was a good time for him to reteam with his BIG director Marshall and further go against type, but in a supporting role where it might be considered more acceptable. Other members of the cast here make me glad I did a summer of ’91 series last year since it really shows me the trajectory of these stars. Davis had had a huge breakout with THELMA & LOUISE, and here she is using her freshly amplified star power to headline a less confrontational version of a women’s issues movie (and with a woman director – something Davis has long championed).

Petty’s summer of ’91 achievement was playing the female lead in POINT BREAK. If I didn’t know I’d think this was earlier, because she really seems younger. She definitely has the kid-sister-trying-to-prove-herself thing down.

Madonna had had a big movie star role in summer of ’90’s DICK TRACY and then the hit documentary TRUTH OR DARE in summer of ’91. It’s cool that for her summer of ’92 movie she seemed to have fun just playing a supporting role where she mostly joke around with her friend Rosie. But she’s also able to share her unique talents in a dance scene and hit end credits song (“This Used to Be My Playground”).

 

The UK poster kinda makes it look like a PORKY’s knockoff!

What strikes me most about the story of A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN is the idea of extraordinary events opening a window to try out something new and then learn from it. Obviously women should’ve been able to play professional baseball well before this, and it’s great that they took advantage of the circumstances to prove that, even if that wasn’t the goal of the money men behind it. There’s a very dramatic moment when general manager Ira (David Strathairn, EIGHT MEN OUT) realizes that his investor sees this league as something to do only for the duration of WWII and then stop as soon as the men come back. So Ira really has to fight to keep it going. (In reality it lasted from 1943 to 1954.)

It’s not as if women’s professional sports have reached full equality all these years later. I’m still regularly fuming how often my city’s most decorated team, the Seattle Storm, gets disregarded. For example a beer hall in my neighborhood made a huge mural with allusions to the baseball team and the football team and centering on symbols for the new hockey team and the men’s basketball team that left town 14 years ago, but no mention of the still-existent team that plays just up the street and has four championships and multiple Olympic gold medalists but gets paid less so the players have to travel around playing in other countries during the off season. To some people it doesn’t count as sports. But fuck ‘em. Push them out of the way.

The story makes me think of things we’ve had to do differently to get through the pandemic, and of how hopefully we can keep doing some of those things afterwards if it’s helpful. Unfortunately it seems like our dumb asshole system is determined not to recognize the success of the period when the government was investing in people and businesses to keep people home and safe. But I don’t know, maybe we’ll get to keep some of the closed streets, outdoor dining areas and to-go cocktails.

Another thing it reminds me of is the 2015 Supreme Court decision that recognized same sex marriage as a constitutionally protected right. Of course the concept of constitutionally protected rights is meaningless with the current Republican-packed court, but I think having this 7 year window of sanity in the arena of marriage equality allowed many people with maybe some lingering homophobic conditioning to see it with their own eyes and realize that it was fine. People get complacent with how things have always been done, so you just gotta do it and show ‘em. It’s clear now to any vaguely reasonable person that only a bigoted wacko would have any interest in interfering with other people’s marriages. Of course same sex marriage is okay. Nobody’s making you do it. Go do your thing and stay out of other people’s business you nosy freako.

That’s not stopping the fascists from coming after that right, but it will be harder for them now. I bet there are plenty of people in my state who were against legalizing recreational marijuana but, almost a decade later, can recognize what a stupid fucking waste of time it was not doing it before. Would they vote to make it illegal again? I doubt they would. You just gotta push progress as far ahead as you can and have faith that some of those stragglers will catch up.


In 1993, sitcom vets Ganz & Mandel actually did turn A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN into a CBS sitcom. Cavanagh, Tracy Reiner and Freddie Simpson reprised the roles of Marla, Betty and Ellen Sue, but the roles of Jimmy, Dottie and Kit were played by Sam McMurray, Carey Lowell and Christine Elise. It sounds like it was treated as a sequel – the first episode is about Dottie returning to the team after her husband gets called back into service. Marshall directed the pilot, and Hanks directed the third episode, which is about the team getting a chimpanzee as a mascot. Six episodes were made, but only five aired.

Now there’s an Amazon Prime series of the same title/premise (different characters) starting next month, and it actually looks really good – it’s co-created by and starring Abbi Jacobson from Broad City. But that made me think about how many of the movies represented in this retrospective have been reworked as TV shows in recent years or are about to in the new future: Lethal Weapon, Boomerang, and the Jack Ryan character of PATRIOT GAMES (not reviewed in this series but released that summer) have had shows. The ALIEN series is getting a show. Batman is getting another animated series. Also PINOCCHIO has both a remake and a retelling coming soon, THE STEPFATHER got a remake a while back, and SISTER ACT got a stage musical. Legends never die.

*1992 is when Simpson and Bruckheimer were developing BAD BOYS (then called BULLETPROOF HEARTS) as a vehicle for Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. So picture that when you see Lovitz in this movie.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 28th, 2022 at 9:59 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Drama, Reviews, Sport. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “A League of Their Own”

  1. This is one of those movies that entertain me a lot whenever I watch them, but wouldn’t put in my top 10. But it’s really good.

    And I hear you about women’s sports. This morning my mother told me that our women’s football (Soccer, for you hand egg people) team is apparently in the finale of European Championship and my first reaction was: “There is a women’s football championship happening right now!?” Granted, I am absolutely NOT a sports fan. But if the men play, I at least know, because it’s impossible to escape! People will talk about it when I turn the TV on and when the game is running, I will hear my whole neighbourhood cheer (Which lead to the biggest laugh that I ever had while watching SPARTACUS, but that’s a different story). But now that whole thing is almost over and this is the first time I heard it happened!

    And here is what’s gonna happen if our team wins. Just like last time, it suddenly WILL become a huge event and women’s football will be the hottest thing for a while. But as soon as they lose their next game or even championship, they will go back to being ignored. Which really sucks. Okay, I ignore them too, but I also ignore our male team, so it’s not because of their gender, but because I don’t give a shit about sports in general.

  2. “The The Stepfather (2009)ALIEN series is getting a show.” – If only!

  3. “There are some things about my mom’s new husband that just seem…off.”
    “Yeah? Like what?”
    “Well, for one, he’s got another, smaller mouth inside his mouth…”

  4. First of all, love this review and how League of Their Own reflects so many relevant themes. I’ve had quite a journey with it myself.

    Between being a 14-year-old boy and not into baseball in 1992 I might have considered this movie overrated. Yet it was pleasant enough I always ended up seeing it again when other people wanted to. Now I fucking love it.

    To me what resonates as a middle aged man is the idea that we are watching what is arguably the most important moments in these women’s lives. And for many it was only a few years, for Dottie only 1. It makes me realize that the moments I’m most nostalgic for are also just fleeting moments of my life, but they’re the ones that matter most. So I guess it’s ok that time passes and I move on. That’s how it happens for everyone and it doesn’t make those moments any less meaningful.

    I think the notion that Dottie was only ever doing it for Kit also drives home the final play a lot more. I always knew she let her sister win, but now I’m starting to realize that was the whole point from the very beginning.

  5. MY STEPFATHER IS AN ALIEN is right there, guys.

  6. I was – and am – very obsessed with this movie and have driven countless folks baseball batty with my overarticulated uselessness. Instead of talking about the subject of discussion, I will talk about connected or similar topics to try to allude to how much something is of importance to myself.

    This movie notably features a hilarious character role by David “Squiggy” Lander, a real life baseball scout who must have been having so much fun in his momentum-providing role as an announcer. Here is a very sad story about the lack of respect given to the differently-abled in Hollywood:

    Somewhat on topic, I really would recommend Lander’s autobiography for a funny, strong and sad portrait of living with illness during an awesome and funny life. Teri Garr’s autobiography is very similar in that regard. Two of the funniest people ever.

    The best work of the Laverne and Shirley universe is undoubtedly the Lenny and the Squigtones LP, it gets my vote for the best comedy record ever. Sorry Derek and Clive, Nichols and May, Richard Pryor and Bob Newhart you trash ass no tracks having devoid of funk lazy bum slobs. The entire thing rules, but to me the key tracks are “Squiggy’s Wedding Day” and “Babyland”. Michael McKean is legit a good songwriter, which makes sense because he was briefly in The Left Banke.

    On their hilarious American Bandstand appearance, Squiggy said with seriousness, “We are Lenny and Squiggy, we are REAL.” I hope that Leonard Squiggman is surrounded by thousands of beautiful moths in Annoying Little Guy With Thin Hair Who Thinks He’s Tough Heaven, and I hope to join him there some day.

    I bet Danzig loves Squiggy.

    I also like it in LEAGUE when Maddona dances with classic sitcom male prostitute, The Big Ragoo, aka Eddie Mekka. She wrote some mean letters complaining about this shoot – “when God decided where the beautiful men were going to live in the world, he did not choose Chicago. I have made a few friends but they are athletes, not actresses. They have nothing on the house of extravaganza.” – but I forgive her. I’m pretty into “This Used to Be My Playground”, but I’m more into “I’ll Remember”, from a movie I (seriously) think about every day the Joe Pesci/Brendan Fraser classic, HARVARD BUM, a song later covered beautifully by The Ramones.

    Fred, I was very moved by your comment. Something to think about.

    I always wanted there to be a fake 70s DC style Laverne and Shirley comic where you flip it over and the cover is Lenny and Squiggy Comics, where you see Lenny and Squiggy reading the coverless comic from the opening credits and it turns out that they’re reading Lenny and Squiggy #1, like all high concept or whatever. Lander has passed but McKean and Harry Shearer could still write it. Or there could be a crossover set a decade and a half after the events of the movie where A League of Their Own Meets Laverne and Shirley, like Rosie O’Donnell meets Rosie Greenbaum or something.

    RIDING IN CARS WITH is my fav Marshall, though I’ve never seen the Whoopsterpiece.

    I didn’t think you’d review this. The best part of the whole movie, SPOILER, is when Lovitz say “Hey cowgirls, see the grass? Don’t eat it.” That is so funny, “see the grass”. I wish I was seeing the grass right about now! (A Weed of My Own).

  7. Also sorry that my typing is so bad, I’m still not used to typing on a smart phone, just got one a few months ago. Stillwell is hilarious, the chocolate on his face makes me laugh so much. It would have been funny if the grown up version had that during the scene in Cooperstown. I also love when Rosie O’Donnell takes the field with ADR and no lips moving, an obvious reference to when Laverne and Shirley go to work.

  8. Thanks ALF. To your point on the music, I much prefer Carole King’s song “Now and Forever.” That much more captures the spirit of nostalgia and memory I get from the movie. But “I’ll Remember” is a banger and Harvard Bum is a much better title for the otherwise good movie With Honors. But it’s still no School Ties.

  9. “Stillwell is hilarious, the chocolate on his face makes me laugh so much. It would have been funny if the grown up version had that during the scene in Cooperstown.” <-- This made me laugh out loud.

  10. Michael McKean is legit a good songwriter

    I still can’t believe I’ve heard Spinal Tap’s “mod” hit used as a real song in MULTIPLE commercials

  11. I always forget that “This Used to Be My Playground” is from this and not from HARVARD BUM, I don’t know why that is, I don’t think Harvard has a playground, although maybe they do, it would be nice if they did, they have the money for one I would think.

    Although I don’t forget that HARVARD BUM has the alternate title of WITH HONORS because there’s that bit where Moira Kelly looks at the camera and/or Brendan and says something along the lines of “if we don’t sort this out, we’ll be graduating *without* honors!”, so you know that it’s real important to the characters in the movie (except Pesci I guess) that they graduate *with* said honors.

    Also, I forgot this or didn’t recognise him at the time or something but apparently Gore Vidal plays “Professor Pitkannan” in WITH HONORS, da fuq?!?

    I was wondering if Carole King’s Now and Forever was also Richard Marx’s Now and Forever, but a quick listen confirms that it is not. I always thought the Marx song was very blatantly ripping off Beatles’ In My Life, but it seems he got away with it, which may or may not be why it is the ending credits song on the 1994 version of THE GETAWAY.

  12. Watching this in the 90s I really wanted more Lovitz. And of course it turned they had cut most of his scenes. We all know Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines paved the way for BAD BOYS with RUNNING SCARED, so why not use Lovitz and Carvey. The movie would probably have less topless scenes, but who needs that anyway.

  13. It was brightening to read all the responses to this thread. I think the playground at Harvard is the Harvard Film Archive, and it was also the since-closed Harvard Square location of In Your Ear!. Those used to be MY playground, at least.

    Should anyone have interest in the aforementioned Ramones 1994 MTV Movie Awards medley, it can be seen in all its lip-synched glory in the link I’ve shared here. I think many of the posters and readers would get some good laughs out of the songs that were nominated and hearing them processed through the universal singularity of The Ramones:

    “I’ll Remember (Theme from HARVARD BUM)” gets my vote for best Ramones cover of all time, all eighteen seconds of it. That’s not a complaint or an exaggeration, I really mean that it is completely perfect and shouldn’t have been a second more.

  14. That’s amazing ALF. How many fucking soundtrack songs did MTV nominate? I quite liked the Ramones doing STP from The Crow.

  15. I thought Bill Burr had a good bit on women’s sports:

    Bill Burr Calls Out Women For Failing The WNBA & USWNT During New Standup Special (VIDEO)

    Read “Bill Burr Calls Out Women For Failing The WNBA & USWNT During New Standup Special (VIDEO) ” and other Soccer, WNBA articles from Total Pro Sports.

    A little strange that, off-hand, I can’t think of many women’s sports films. There’s this, obviously, and that one where Florence Pugh played a pro wrestler. That King Richard movie, if we’re going to count it when it focuses on Will Smith’s character. I think there was some sci-fi TV show about what, in the future, the life of the first female professional baseball player might be like in-between riding around in flying cars? Yeah, that got canceled quick.

    I don’t know; if I put on my hot take cap, I might say that the hallmark of the sports movie is the protagonist suffering both mentally and physically in order to fortify themselves enough to succeed. And our current Hollywood climate doesn’t really like women struggling that way; they’re just supposed to BE omnipotently powerful and steam-roll over all adversity (Star Wars, Captain Marvel, et al).

    But then women struggle plenty in your average horror movie… although that’s your average horror movie ten or twenty years ago and slasher movies are barely still a thing. Your average horror movie now is probably more about a ghost doing something spooky in a mirror, not trying to run away from a chainsaw-man when your leg is broken.

  16. Million Dollar Baby, A League of Their Own, Whip It, I, Tonya, Secretariat, Battle of the Sexes. Bruised with Halle Berry was just like a year ago. As for the idea of women in horror yeah a lot of movies are ghost stuff in dark hallways and nothing happens, but let’s not forget we just had X, which did not have some perfect female protagonist. We JUST had Men. Invisible Man was no steam-roller. Malignant, Dashcam, Last Night in Soho. All women overcoming adversity and all new.

    And it’s weird to bring Marvel into this, because ALL of their movies have heroes who steamroll. Sure they’ll have some setbacks and maybe a crisis of faith, but in the end did Ant Man or Dr. Strange really have more trouble than Black Widow? Its not like there’s been many Marvel female properties anyway.

  17. Yeah, I was gonna mention MILLION DOLLAR BABY – won best picture, but almost completely forgotten. Also GIRLFIGHT – forgotten, but gave us Michelle Rodriguez. The other one that comes to mind is LOVE & BASKETBALL – overlooked at the time, but now in the Criterion Collection. And I’m glad you mentioned WHIP IT. BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM was popular. We can mention a bunch, but it’s obviously a small percentage of sports movies.

  18. Also Ice Princess is the shit.

  19. I don’t think that MILLION DOLLAR BABY is forgotten, but nobody thinks of it as a sports movie these days, considering its plot twist.

  20. No one remembers DOUBLE TEAMED, a basketball movie not to be confused with the similarly titled non-basketball movie starring Dennis Rodman!

    Tarantino keeps making references to THE WICKED DREAMS OF PAULA SCHULTZ, the Berlin wall-pole vaulting defector movie starring Bob Crane (well, he would, wouldn’t he!), but I think he’s the only one who really cares.

  21. Wait, Secretariat? Isn’t that about a horse?

  22. Do you think no one rides a horse in a race? Penny Chenery rode that horse, the movie is about her.

    Million Dollar is absolutely as much of a sports film as Rocky, which spends as much time as drama vs boxing as that one.

  23. I thought Secretariat was about the female owner of the horse, which seems enough of a gray area to be comment-worthy. I know there was a movie that focused on Meg Ryan training a male boxer, but I think for it to count as a “female sports movie,” the actual athlete has to be female. Like, 42 had a pretty substantial plotline about Harrison Ford as the owner of the Dodgers, but would you say it’s a sports movie about a white man?

  24. I wouldn’t, but horseracing is a sport, and the person who rides a horse is therefore the sportsperson. Jockeys don’t just sit on a horse and let them do all the work. The movie is about Peggy.

  25. I agree, but my impression was that Diane Lane played the owner of Secretariat, not the jockey–looking at the Wikipedia page, the jockey was Ron Turcotte, played by Otto Thorwarth.

  26. Oh that’s right, getting that confused with another movie. So yeah, there’s not as many female sports movies as male ones, but until more recently there were also way less female action movies than male. The default for certain genres was usually male.

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