LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
Date of publication: 07/01/1992
By Roger Ebert
Until seeing Penny Marshall's "A League of Their Own,"
I had no idea that an organization named the All-American Girls'
Professional Baseball League ever flourished in this country, even
though I was 12 when it closed up shop, and therefore of an age
to collect Bob Feller and Robin Roberts baseball cards and listen
to the Cardinals on the radio. The league was founded in 1943, when
it briefly appeared that men's baseball would be a casualty of the
war, and once the men came marching home it's a wonder the league
survived until 1954. Then it was consigned to oblivion; history
is written by the victors.
At the time, it seemed as if the women's league might mean the financial
survival of the major league baseball franchises and their owners.
The movie gives us a Chicago candy-bar mogul in place of the Wrigleys
and shows his agents scouting the countryside for women who could
play ball. In a rural area of Oregon, the scout finds two sisters,
Dottie and Kit (Geena Davis and Lori Petty), one who can catch and
hit, the other who can throw but is a sucker for high, fast balls.
He brings them back to Chicago for tryouts with a lot of other hopefuls,
including would-be team members played by Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell
and Megan Cavanaugh.
A coach is needed for the team, which is based in Rockford. The
owner (Garry Marshall) recruits Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), a onetime
home-run king whose alcoholism wrecked his career and left him without
prospects. For the first few weeks of the season, Dugan can hardly
focus on the field, but then he starts to take an interest in his
girls. By the end of the season, Rockford is in the World Series
against Racine (no great achievement, since there are only four
teams in the league).
"A League of Their Own" follows many of the time-honored
formulas of sports movies, and has a fair assortment of stock characters
(the plain girl who gains confidence, the brash girl with the heart
of gold, the jealous sisters), but it has another level that's a
lot more interesting.
After years of perpetrating the image of the docile little woman
who sat at home caring for her lord and master, American society
suddenly found that it needed women who were competent to do hard,
skilled work during World War II. Rosie the Riveter became a national
emblem, Hollywood threw out its romance scripts and started making
movies about strong, independent females, and it was discovered
that women could actually excel at professional sports.
The movie remembers this period from the present; it begins with
Dottie Hinson, the Geena Davis character, now older, taking a trip
to Cooperstown for ceremonies honoring the women's league. What
we learn about Dottie is that she never took women's baseball all
that seriously. She was the best player of her time, and yet, in
her mind, her was simply on hold until her husband came back from
the war. Dugan, the coach, tells her she lights up when she plays
baseball - that something comes over her. But she doesn't seem aware
This ambiguity about a woman's role is probably in the movie because
it was directed by a woman, Penny Marshall. A man might have assumed
that these women knew how all-important baseball was. Marshall shows
her women characters in a tug-of-war between new images and old
values, and so her movie is about transition - about how it felt
as a woman suddenly to have new roles and freedom.
The movie has a real bittersweet charm. The baseball sequences,
we've seen before. What's fresh are the personalities of the players,
the gradual unfolding of their coach and the way this early chapter
of women's liberation fit into the hidebound traditions of professional
baseball. By the end, when the women get together again for their
reunion, it's touching, the way they have to admit that, whaddaya
know, they really were pioneers.