The Big Picture
- A League of Their Own is a pioneering film that showcases female friendships and empowerment, breaking away from traditional tropes.
- The movie highlights the importance of sisterhood and women supporting one another, culminating in a heartwarming and inspiring story.
- By celebrating women’s contributions to sports history and avoiding stereotypes, A League of Their Own remains a significant milestone in film.
These days, it’s not unusual to see a film centered around genuine female friendships; with the success of movies like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Bridesmaids, and Girls Trip, women both in front of and behind the camera have (long overdue) deservedly been getting the opportunity to tell stories exploring complex and nuanced relationships that women have with one another. However, over thirty years ago, films featuring largely female rosters were few and far between, which is why 1992’s A League of Their Own is such a bright spot in film history. Not only does it allow an ensemble of mostly female characters to shine, but it actively shows women standing up for one another, not threatened by each other’s presence, and avoids long-tired tropes of cattiness to deliver a funny and heartwarming look at one of American history’s more interesting bon mots, the formation of the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League.
A League of Their Own
Two sisters join the first female professional baseball league and struggle to help it succeed amid their own growing rivalry.
- Release Date
- July 1, 1992
- Penny Marshall
- Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, Jon Lovitz, David Strathairn
- Main Genre
- Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel
- To achieve the incredible you have to attempt the impossible.
What Is ‘A League of Their Own’ About?
Coming off the success of 1990’s Awakenings, which received three Academy Award nominations and grossed over $100 million at the box office, Penny Marshall was at the height of her directorial powers when she went into production. Assembling an all-star cast including Geena Davis (Dottie Hinson), Tom Hanks (Jimmy Dugan), and Madonna (Mae Mordabito), Marshall set out to tell a largely fictionalized version of the league’s founding in the 1940s, when men were drafted to serve in World War II and women were left to play ball. The story follows Davis’ Dottie and kid sister Kit Hinson (Lori Petty) as they’re recruited to try out for the league. Eventually, they’re drafted to play for the Rockford Peaches alongside fourteen other women, managed by Hanks’ alcoholic former baseball star. We follow the team and its members through the season as they qualify for the playoffs and eventually, the World Series, losing in a heartbreak to chief rivals the Racine Belles in Game 7 after Kit, previously traded to Racine, scores the winning run by plowing Dottie over at the plate.
Davis and Petty are aces as sisters: Davis the level-headed, older, married Dottie, and Petty the young spitfire Kit who just wants a way off of the dairy farm and out of Oregon. It’s established from the very beginning that there’s a natural competitive spirit between the two, but it serves only to bring the best out in each other. In fact, it’s because of her love for Kit that Dottie even agrees to be recruited in the first place.
We get our first taste of just how much this group of women has one another’s backs when we meet Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanaugh), a power hitter who her father says would be playing for the New York Yankees if she’d been born a boy. Marla has the innate talent for baseball, but she’s not a natural beauty, and the chauvinist recruiter Ernie (played with comedic relish by Jon Lovitz) wants to leave her behind. When he tells the sisters it’s time to go, they drop their bags and refuse to move. They know just how special Marla is and what she can bring to the league. More importantly, they aren’t threatened by her talent, they want her to succeed and have the opportunity to prove herself. Where a lesser filmmaker might lean into the jealousy of it all, Marshall remains focused on camaraderie, a winning choice she’ll make again and again over the course of the film.
Sisterhood Runs Deeper Than Just Dottie and Kit in ‘A League of Their Own’
In Chicago during tryouts, the roster begins to fill out, and it’s where we first meet Doris Murphy (Rosie O’Donnell) and Madonna’s Mae. The natural chemistry between the two is noticeable from the jump—they play off one another brilliantly, almost in Abbott and Costello-type fashion, except neither is playing straight man here. As entertaining as their bada-bing back-and-forth is, you feel the love and respect both characters and actresses have for one another. Madonna has never been better than she is here; the film is big enough and the ensemble talented enough to contain her larger-than-life star presence and keep critics overeager to rip her to shreds at bay. It’s also during tryouts that we meet Ann Cusack‘s Shirley Baker, an illiterate woman who can’t read the final rosters to determine if she’s made the cut. Instead of dismissing her or shunning her, Anne Ramsey‘s Helen Haley comes to her rescue, helping her figure out that she’s been drafted to the Peaches. Not long after, we see Mae teaching Shirley to read—questionable material, to be sure, but in Mae’s own words, “She’s readin’, ain’t she?” There’s no “other-ing” by any of the characters, nor any kind of inherently classist structure set in place; they’ve got one mission, to win games, and they realize the only way to do that is to band together.
It’s this instinct and bond of sisterhood that serves them well following their introduction to Dugan. After he drunkenly stumbles into the locker room to relieve himself before retreating with nary a word, the Peaches know they’re going to have to step up and manage themselves. This is perhaps the underlying and strongest message of the film—women unquestionably succeed and are at their best when they take their own agency. We see it minutes later when pitcher Ellen Sue (Freddie Simpson) nails a heckler with a fastball; when Betty “Spaghetti” Horn (Tracy Reiner) and Kit inspire Doris to move on from her abusive, good-for-nothing boyfriend back in New York; when Marla marries the man she fell for during a night out and leaves for the season. There’s no bitterness or backstabbing among the team, only unquestionable support—never more heart-wrenching than when Reiner’s Betty receives word that her husband George has been killed in action.
What Happens at the End of ‘A League of Their Own’?
During the film’s climactic final game, the atmosphere is understandably tense, but the team spirit is at its highest. From small moments like Bitty Schram‘s Evelyn (she at the other end of Hanks’ iconic, “There’s no crying in baseball”) being pleased that she finally made the correct connecting throw, to larger beats like Kit’s valiant run toward home, we’re on the edge of our seats until the final call, which even then leaves us with the eternal question: Does Dottie drop the ball on purpose after Kit slams into her? Marshall never gave a definitive answer, and the cast is divided as well. Regardless, we get to see the sisters reconcile before we flash forward to older versions of most of the team members witnessing their induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Following the Peaches throughout the majority of the film, of course, we want them to be the victors. However, the fact that the league succeeded at all is what matters most. In reality, the AAGPBL would last from 1943 to 1954 and serve as a blueprint for future professional women’s sports leagues like the WNBA. The film’s enduring popularity led Prime Video to commission a television adaptation that launched in 2022, featuring Abbi Jacobsen as co-creator and star. While we won’t be getting a second season for this show any time soon, one thing the Prime Video show gave us that the film lacked was stories representing women of color — Chanté Adams, Roberta Colindrez, and Gbernisola Ikumelo each play leading characters.
By paying homage to this important moment in women’s and sports history, avoiding stereotypical portrayals of female relationships, and making sisterhood the centerpiece of the story, A League of Their Own is an important milestone in the annals of film history. Marshall proved that studio films directed by and starring women could make bank, though disappointing numbers of female directors and ensembles were subsequently given similar opportunities. Still, its legacy is intact as one of the tent pole films in female-driven storytelling during the ever-evolving landscape of ’90s cinema. Batter up, hear that call indeed.
A League of Their Own is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S.