If ever a movie proved that throwing like a girl is no insult, it was the 1992 quotable classic, A League of Their Own. The movie about the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) is equal parts truth and (pun intended) error.
But how close did it come to getting things right? Let’s take a journey back in time when the Greatest Generation was away at war, and women on the home front were donning cleats and catcher’s mitts.
Dottie Hinson is based loosely on the real face of the Rockford Peaches
Geena Davis’ character, Dottie Hinson, was inspired by real-life player Dorothy “Kammie” Kamenshek. A left-handed first baseman and outfielder, Kammie was the most feared hitter in the league, and a perennial all-star. Her movie counterpart, Dottie, is a right-handed catcher.
Unlike Hinson, who retires after one season in the film, Kammie played for ten seasons, finishing with an all-time best .292 career batting average, striking out only 81 times. Major League Baseball once called her the “finest fielding first baseman.” And that included the male players.
The Racine Belles won the first championship
In the movie, after being traded from the Peaches to the Belles, Kit (Lori Petty) famously runs over Dottie, knocking the ball from Dottie’s hand to win the first AAGPBL championship. The Belles did win in 1943. But it wasn’t the Peaches they beat.
The Kenosha Comets fell to the Belles that first year. And, sorry movie lovers, the Rockford Peaches finished in dead last. But they didn’t stay in last place. The Peaches were champs in 1945, 1948, 1949, and 1950!
One offensive team name would never fly today
Debate rages these days about team names like the Cleveland Indians or, more ferociously, the Washington Redskins. But there was a AAGPBL team whose “questionable” name no one batted an eye at way back when.
That team? The Milwaukee Chicks! Sure, feminine names were the idea (the Daisies, the Lassies, the Belles), but this one’s a bit too on the nose for modern standards. The Chicks held their own, though, winning three championships in twelve years.
Garry Marshall’s Walter Harvey character is based on Philip K. Wrigley
Suspecting America’s pastime might be a thing of the past with the onset of World War II, Philip K. Wrigley stepped up to the plate. A chewing gum tycoon and eventual owner of the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley launched the AAGPBL in 1943.
Early in the movie, we learn that Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) is a chewing gum magnate who is trying to start a women’s baseball league. Later, the tryout scene is filmed on none other than Wrigley Field in Chicago. It’s a nice little nod to the real AAGPBL founder.
Philip K. Wrigley was selling sex and Americana
1943 was a time of unity, when Americans banded together in support of the European and Pacific theater struggles. Wrigley wanted his AAGPBL players to represent that American spirit. So much so, that they could be fined for unbecoming conduct.
This is certainly the impression one gets while watching the film. We see girls in short skirts hamming it up for the media, adoring male fans, and a league image saluting national pride. Just listen to the song they sing!
Managers had rather unique problems
The rambunctious brat Stillwell is a constant annoyance for Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) in the film. There may not have been any Stilwells wreaking havoc in real-life, but players becoming pregnant was always a possibility.
Real life player Dottie Collins pitched for the Fort Wayne Daisies, well into her second trimester.
Even more alarmingly, as Jimmy Dugan learns, fears of husbands’ safety while overseas at war were very real. This is captured in the movie’s most gut-wrenching scene, when Jimmy has to inform Betty Spaghetti (Tracy Reiner) that her beau was killed in action.
Some players were even more viciously competitive than Kit
Everyone remembers Kit’s climactic inside-the-park home run, ending with her bowling over Dottie to win the title for the Belles. And this was well within baseball rules up until only a few years ago. But it’s not even close to the lengths the real players went.
One player – Pepper Paire Davis – once punched an umpire in the face, knocking him flat on his back, for calling her out at second! She knew she’d beaten the tag. Of course, she also knew the ump had to eject her.
The public image of female ballplayers was as bad as it gets
Whether they like it or not, professional athletes are looked up to as role models. There are some bad seeds in the lot, no doubt, but most male athletes don’t have to prove to children and families that they aren’t prostitutes.
This was the reputation of the women who played softball before the AAGPBL began. Traveling teams were known as “Bloomer Girls.” In fact, one team’s moniker was “Slapsie Maxie’s Curvaceous Cuties.” By 1943, Wrigley and his new league of ballplayers had their work cut out for them.
The real-life Peaches pitched differently
In the film, the players throw overhand, like baseball pitchers. Historically, this took some time. Since most of the women came from softball, the hurlers threw underhanded, but in modified fashion.
This style continued until 1946, the league’s fourth season. That year, a limited side-arm option was adopted, which quickly led to full side-arm throwing. Finally, in 1948, overhand pitching won out, and pitchers threw that way until the league ended in 1954.
Wrigley demanded his girls all have a squeaky clean image
In part to combat the lewd public image of female softball players, and also to market something entirely fresh, league founder Wrigley sought to wipe the slate as clean as he could. And he meant business.
Rules were clear and direct. If a player’s hair was not at shoulder length – or not in bobs – she would be fined. If she wore slacks or shorts out in public, she would be fined. If she smoked, drank, or went without makeup? Yup, she’d be fined.
Charm School was a requirement
Most recall the scene in the movie where Dottie and company learn how to behave like a lady. Poor Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh) is as out of her element as she’s ever been. But in the real-life AAGPBL, she wouldn’t have been alone.
Since most of the girls were athletes, and many grew up on farms, proper etiquette was not exactly in their repertoire. The league brought in Helena Rubinstein – owner of a chain of beauty salons – to teach correct posture, how to apply makeup, and even how to woo a date!
Jimmy Dugan was a composite of two baseball greats
Tom Hanks’s uproariously funny character never existed, but Jimmy Dugan was inspired by a pair of real ballplayers from that era. Dugan is a mix of Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson, former icons of the sport who drank themselves out of their careers.
Three-time MVP Foxx hit 534 career home runs, won two batting titles, and a triple crown. He declined sharply in his mid-thirties, in part due to his affinity for booze, and wound up managing the Fort Wayne Daisies for a season. Sounds a lot like Dugan.
If not for World War II, women would never have played baseball
When the war began, civilians got involved. Among them were Major League Baseball players – more than five hundred, in fact. The AAGPBL formed as a result, since no one knew how long the war would last, or how many Major Leaguers would return.
Legends like Ted Williams and Bob Feller joined the fight. Williams is long revered for his service as a pilot (also in Korea). Feller, a Hall of Fame pitcher, joined the Navy the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, becoming a gun captain on the USS Alabama.
Some feared Major League Baseball would soon be extinct
Wrigley had a plan to gradually replace Major League Baseball with his AAGPBL if the war raged on. He’d initially hoped to have games on Major League fields on off dates and even at night, which was unheard of at the time.
But President Roosevelt would not let America’s Pastime perish, writing in 1942, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before…” Spoiler: baseball survived.
The Peaches’ beloved song was actually sung in the AAGPBL
If you love the movie, you probably know all the lyrics to the “Victory Song” the Peaches sing in the locker room, and again at the Hall of Fame ceremony. But did you know that this anthem predates the film by almost fifty years?
AAGPBL players Nalda Bird Phillips and Pepper Paire Davis wrote the “Victory Song,” a tribute to the country, the league, its players, and its founder, Philip K. Wrigley. Wrigley would have been tickled by its usage in the movie, because patriotism was so important to him.
Playing in a skirt was no easy task
The movie demonstrates the risk of playing with bare skin exposed. Alice (Renee Coleman) sustains a nasty “strawberry bruise” sliding into a base, which was a real injury suffered by the actress. But as it turns out, that was art imitating life.
Former AAGPBL players recall that banged up knees and “strawberries” were commonplace. But those skirts were non-negotiable. After all, it was none other than Philip K. Wrigley’s wife who designed them.
The fields didn’t look like they did in the movie
If you know baseball, you know there’s ninety feet between the bases, and the distance between the rubber and home plate is a precise sixty feet, six inches. The movie abides by this, having the Peaches play on full-size MLB fields. The AAGPBL didn’t.
In reality, the dimensions resembled softball fields. Over the years, those dimensions grew, but never quite hit MLB standards. And while the fields got bigger, the balls got smaller. Using softballs in the early years of the AAGPBL, the women were hurling baseballs by the league’s final season.
Many of the girls did come from farms and farming families
Early in the film, Dottie and Kit are recruited at their farm, and offered $75 a week to play for the Peaches. Not a bad deal, especially when you consider the average wage in the Midwest in those days was a measly $40 a week.
In reality, players were paid between $55 and $150 a week. The choice between being a farm girl or a pro athlete was a no-brainer for most. Here was a chance to make more money and travel the country, doing what they loved.
Some of the women were illiterate
There’s a scene in the film where a woman is unable to identify her own name on the board of roster cuts. It’s a sad and startling moment. But the movie reminds us that America was a different place in those days.
Coming out of the Great Depression, many women of playing age were uneducated. They worked on farms, if they could get work at all. Long bus rides from one city to the next often gave players the time they needed to learn to read and write, if they so desired.
Baseball scouts searched all over the U.S. and Canada
Like Jon Lovitz’s Ernie Capadino, AAGPBL scouts were looking for women who were both talented and feminine. Wrigley had a vision: trot out an aesthetically pleasing, athletically gifted product. He was certain that having one without the other would result in failure.
In the movie, Capadino likes what he sees in Dottie and Kit – their baseball prowess and good looks. But when he encounters the less presentable slugger, Marla Hooch, he’s repulsed. Thanks to the sisters’ protests, and Marla’s father’s pleas, Marla joins the Peaches anyway.
The league was a huge success
In the movie, curious spectators first show up just to see pretty women in short skirts running around. However, the fans quickly realize that the women are professional-level athletes, and, by the end of the film, the stadiums are full.
Historically, public interest in the league also gradually increased. By the end of the second season, attendance jumped to more than 250,000 fans. Wrigley, who had lost money founding the league as a non-profit, would sell it to advertising executive Arthur Meyerhoff for $10,000.
Black women were not allowed to play
Even though Jackie Robinson had broken Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947, no woman did in the AAGPBL, though not for lack of trying. Mamie Johnson tried out, but was turned away. She would later pitch in the Negro Leagues, one of only three women to do so!
The movie references Johnson, in a scene where a black woman impressively fires a loose ball back to Dottie. The chasm between them is palpable, and the look on Dottie’s face suggests she’s aware of the gross injustice of the league forbidding women of color.
Some players did retire for their husbands
In the end of the movie, Dottie decides she’s going to retire after one season, stunning Jimmy and the rest of the Peaches. Dottie’s the best, most marketable player—how could she do this? Well, her husband made it back alive, and they want to start a family.
Impromptu settling down was the new craze as the Baby Boomer generation took off. Irene Sanvitis, a Rockford Peach until 1947, was no exception. With her boyfriend’s military service complete, she called it quits for the same reason Dottie does.
Historical accuracy can be a pain… literally
Prior to filming, the actresses trained with modern equipment, which was stronger and more durable than the gear used by the real-life AAGPBL. They probably didn’t anticipate the switch to era-appropriate equipment could leave its mark… on their faces.
Just prior to filming, the cast began using mitts of the 1940s. Anne Ramsay, who plays first baseman Helen Haley, had a ball slip through the old glove’s shoddy webbing and hit her in the face, breaking her nose. She claims her nose has never been the same.
The first ever night game at Wrigley Field was an AAGPBL game
Wrigley Field was the last MLB park to get lights and host night games. So when the Cubs and Phillies played after dark on August 8th, 1988, it was an historic moment for baseball.
Only, it wasn’t actually the first time a night game was played at Wrigley.
Though it doesn’t get a mention in the movie, the AAGPBL had an all-star game at the end of their first season. They played it under portable lights. At Wrigley Field. Not surprisingly, the game earned only a brief two paragraphs in the Chicago Tribune.
AAGPBL players enjoyed a good prank or two
In order to keep the players in line, chaperones were hired for every team. The film’s chaperone, Miss Cuthbert, is often the butt of the women’s jokes. The Peaches actually drug her in one scene, so they can go out dancing.
Pepper Paire Davis recalls luring their Grand Rapids Chicks chaperone from her bubble bath, only to place a fish in it when she left. Upon discovering it, the chaperone—deathly afraid of fish—ran out of there, naked and screaming, much to the team’s delight. They were fined, of course.
If not for a 27-minute documentary, the movie never would have existed
In 1987, the world had largely forgotten about the AAGPBL. But producer Kelly Candaele and director Mary Wilson were able to bring it back into the public eye with their short doc, also titled A League of Their Own, which aired as part of a television series.
Fortunately for us, one of the TV viewers was director Penny Marshall. She had never heard of the league, and believed others probably hadn’t either. Inspiration followed, and the rest is Hollywood history.
The documentary was also the catalyst for the AAGPBL’s permanent exhibit in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as seen in the end of the movie.
Kit and Dottie’s rivalry is based on the writer’s mother and aunt
Kelly Candaele, who produced the documentary and shares a story credit on the film, first conceived the idea for the doc from his own mother’s experience in the AAGPBL. His mother was an outfielder, and her sister was a second baseman.
When it came time to create a fictitious story around the league, it only made sense to put a sisterly conflict at the heart of it. And Candaele figured that making them a pitcher and catcher on screen would only increase the tension. It sure did.
Tom Hanks and Geena Davis were supposed to kiss
In the original cut of the movie, a drunken Jimmy, after taking some batting practice from a pitching machine out on the field, kisses Dottie when she wanders over and chats him up. She briefly returns the kiss before running off, ashamedly. So why’d it get removed?
When the film was screened for former AAGPBL players, that scene upset them deeply. Seeing a woman, whose husband was away at war, kiss another man, was egregiously out of moral character for one of their own. The filmmakers heard them, and the scene was cut.
There IS, in fact, crying in baseball
Screenwriter Lowell Ganz wanted to emphasize the disconnect between men’s and women’s baseball. He figured nothing demonstrated that quite like a disgruntled baseball purist ripping into a blonde in a skirt for getting teary eyed after messing up a play.
Any student of the game knows that the men who play ball are as emotional as they come. Wilmer Flores, for example, visibly wept in the middle of a game in 2015 after hearing he’d been traded by the New York Mets. Turns out, he hadn’t been, and his emotional outburst made him a fan favorite.
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