Two things began yesterday: women’s history month and Spring Training baseball. Technically, the baseball started the day before, but for me it does not truly commence until my Cubs take the field. Around this time each year, I typically watch The Natural (1984), which reignites the magical feeling I have for the sport. The prospective fortunes of my favorite team may ebb and flow, but each year when the calendar gets to late February and early March the hope returns once more. But because I already reviewed The Natural and my movie choices these days are usually limited to fan requests, that was not going to be an option. Luckily, somebody recently suggested A League of Their Own (1992). It was a moment of incidental symmetry, and not too bad of a film to boot.
I remembered A League of Their Own beginning differently, but that is okay. It is about the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), which began during the height of World War II in 1943. Yet, the whole film is told as a backstory, as in 1988 the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, decided to open an exhibit dedicated to the women who played in the league. One of its first stars, Dottie Hinson (Lynn Cartwrtight) is hesitant to travel to the reunion planned for the opening. She is eventually convinced, and once she arrives we go back to when she was a young woman (Geena Davis) playing fast-pitch softball. She is on a team with her sister, Kit Keller (Lori Petty), for the dairy that her family owns. As the older, seemingly more talented sister, Dottie gets noticed first by a scout, Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz), who is out searching for talent for the new baseball league. Kit feels like she is just as talented as her sister and bristles at any perceived slight to her abilities. When Ernie comes to their farm, he asks only Dottie to come try out. She is uninterested, but Kit convinces the scout to take her instead, which he agrees to only if Dottie comes as well. Thus they travel to Chicago and Harvey Field (you cannot fool this Cubs fan, movie, it is Wrigley Field) where both of them earn a spot on the Rockford Peaches. They are “managed” by Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks). I put that in quotation marks because as a washed-up, former star baseball player, he considers coaching women to be beneath him and spends much of the first part of the movie drunk and not paying attention. Dottie then steps into the leadership role, fulfilling all his duties while also emerging as one of the best players in the league. Meanwhile, the league’s founder Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) expects the women to behave like proper ladies. He enrolls them in finishing school, makes them all get make-overs, and forbids any smoking or drinking. They are also apparently made to go to Mass, though I suspect this is the typical way Hollywood uses Catholicism to signal general Christianity. Being young women, and many of them unattached, they break these rules at almost any opportunity. The Peaches also begin to win, and this is what brings Jimmy out of his drunken stupor. He molds the women in his charge into real baseball players, particularly Dottie. This becomes a problem, though, when late in a game with Kit struggling with her pitching, Jimmy and Dottie meet Kit on the mound. When Kit protests Jimmy wanting to take her out of the game, he turns to Dottie for her thoughts on the subject. When she agrees, Kit throws a fit that leads to her being traded to another team. As destiny would have it, the Peaches and the Racine Belles (where Kit is traded) meet in the World Series, which goes to a dramatic game seven. And, of course, it comes down to the bottom of the ninth with Kit up to bat. She cracks a line drive past the outfielders. Instead of pulling up with a double or triple as per the baseball usual, she continues on to home and knocks over her sister in a bid to score. The collision ends with Dottie dropping the ball, Kit scoring, and Racine winning the game. The sisters make amends after the game, but Dottie is going back home with her husband, the returned soldier Bob Hinson (Bill Pullman), while Kit is staying behind to continue playing. We then go back to 1988, and when they finally open up the exhibit in Cooperstown dedicated to the league, we see the older Dottie reunited with an older Kit (Kathleen Butler). I guess they had not seen each other in forty-five years?
While I like A League of Their Own, there are a few things that annoy me about it. One of them is Mae Mordabito (Madonna). She is a teammate of Dottie and Kit’s, and I will give kudos to Madonna for looking like a credible baseball player. But her character is the worst. It is not just the evidently crazy confession she gives to a priest at one point. She behaves in a scandalous way in general, and is the primary rule breaker. However, when the players learn that the league is about to go under after one season, she complains that she does not want to go back to a life of being a taxi dancer and various clubs about town. If you are unfamiliar with what a taxi dancer is, they were pseudo-professional dancers who worked popular nightclubs and were paid by men to take a spin with on the floor. It was not the most respectable of jobs, and I get wanting to play baseball over that life. Yet she seemed perfectly comfortable getting up close and personal with whoever wandered onto the dance floor when the team went out together one night. I also did not care for the treatment of the team’s slugger Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh). She is portrayed as the “ugly one,” a fact that almost results in her not earning a spot on a team. I get it, there was a differently sensibility back then when it came to feminine beauty. And I commend Dottie and Kit coming to her defense. What I did not like is how they made a joke out of her looks. However, the number one problem I have with the film is Kit. To be blunt, she acts like a brat. God gives everyone talents, and she clearly had a great deal of her own. Nonetheless, she is consistently jealous of Dottie’s accolades, even when the elder sister is self-effacing and does not seek out attention. On top of that, Kit will not listen to any good advice, whether it is from Dottie or Jimmy. This is what leads to her being traded, and the final play where Dottie drops the ball. I feel like she purposely lets the ball slip from her fingers because she is the bigger person and cares more about her sister’s happiness. Had it been me in her shoes, I am not sure I would have done the same thing. Being on a team, much like practicing the Faith, means learning that your needs are not more important than anyone else’s. The sooner you learn this as a player or Christian, the better you will be. Kit made it all about herself, and in the end she is seemingly rewarded for her behavior.
With this being the beginning of women’s history month and A League of Their Own fitting nicely into that subject, this review is a good time to remind you how the Catholic Church has had a role for females from the start. They have had monasteries of their own, so to speak. The film is about showing that girls can play quality baseball too. Personally, if there is a woman who has the ability to play Major League Baseball, then I say go for it. An uninformed person might say, wait a second, would that not be against the prevailing Catholic view of women needing to be homemakers? The stereotype is that people of a more traditional faith practice believe women to be inferior to men, incapable of handling anything outside of the nuclear family. Everything beyond the front door is the male purview. This has never been Catholic teaching. To be sure, the Catechism makes it clear that men and women are different, and that each do have certain roles to fulfill. Still, neither does it say that they have to be confined to those roles. As such, if there is a female baseball player out there that can hit a ninety-five mile per hour fastball (or, better yet, a slower breaking ball), then I say sign that person to a team. Or watch the film.
What makes A League of Their Own good is that it has a heart. One has to grit their teeth through certain scenes, like Mae’s and how they treat Marla. Regardless, Dottie is a noble character, and Jimmy has a solid arc, giving up his drinking at one point. Yet, one of my favorite parts of the film underscores the its goodness, and it is one that choked me up a bit. Once the teams had been picked after the tryouts, one player is left attempting to sort through the names. She has a look of timid desperation, and one of the coaches tries to get her to move on if she could not find her name. It becomes apparent that she cannot read, and one of the other players helps her locate Shirley Baker (Ann Cusack). She had made a team. This scene, others like it, as well as being about baseball, make the annoying parts bearable.