The first time I saw A League of Their Own was in a movie theater during the summer of 1992 when I was in junior high. My family was at the theater as part of a group of AAU families as it was during one of my older sister Sheila's team basketball tournaments taking place in the South. She played for the Lady Classics, an all girls basketball team, that was the best in the nation, including Alaska and Hawaii, for two years in a row. There really can be something special about being part of a team no matter the sport. To be part of something higher than oneself and that those girls, who are women now, were the best ball players in the country is one thing to read about. It's of whole other moment to see. Jewel, Peppie, Moe...it was incredible to see them move. I'll never forget the way Jewel could dribble and spin, as if she was born with a basketball in her hands. She was an unbelievable athlete. When she'd shoot, she'd jump with her spine straight but forward, her legs under her and up to two feet or so in the air in a poise she seemed to hold for a full second before the ball even left her hands in a crisp and clean shot that would almost always go in. A time toward the end of the team she missed a shot, as it veered off the back of the rim, and the crowd went silent as Jewel never missed. She just didn't. I still remember the smell of the gym, the sound of the crowd, and the sweet tangy taste of Starbursts and the comforting taste of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, as I was always getting snacks from the simple table top stands. Or reading books curled up in the backseat of the car on the way to and from games.
The film begins with Dottie Hinson, as an old woman living in a suburb with her daughter; Dottie taps her fingers on a doily covered dresser top, her wedding ring shines still and then she pulls unusually well organized and starched shirts out of drawers as she begins to pack. Hers is a cheerful room with sunflowers. Dottie is elegant looking, tall with sloping shoulders and wearing pearls, a long plaid skirt and cream colored sweater. Her beautiful red hair is cut short. Her daughter enters the room and playfully tosses an old fashioned catcher's mitt onto Dottie's nicely laced cream colored clothes. Her daughter comments that the glove needs oil, after Dottie slams her fist into it, impressively hard for an elderly lady, "Who doesn't?" Dottie quips back.
Dottie, the Queen of Diamonds, is shy about going to an event celebrating the All American Girl's Professional Baseball League. When she gets to the ball park with her old colleagues playing baseball, she remembers back to how it all began. With men off to fight in World War II it was found that to keep baseball going, women needed to play. According to a black and white newsreel, Mr. Lowenstein, a businessman, is given the job by Mr. Harvey of the chocolate bar company, to be the brain child to figure out how to keep baseball going.
The scene changes to Willamette, Oregon 1943 where young women are playing dairy business sponsored softball - two pretty and red haired sisters: a young Dottie and Kit, argue about how Kit should swing at high pitches. Kit strikes out and Dottie hits a home run. There is never ending competition between the two. Dottie is taller than Kit. Perhaps prettier too. Kit complains, while they are on a walk back home to their farm, how their father introduces them to people, "This is our daughter, Dottie. And this is our other daughter, Dottie's sister." Dottie seems to win at everything as the sisters race through the farmyard like little girls.
Ernie Capadino, a portly scout for Walter Harvey takes a keen interest in Dottie's skill. Both girls are milking cows when Ernie enters the barn and recruits Dottie, or tries to as Dottie isn't interested. She is married, her husband is at war, and she does not want to cause any disturbance to her current way of life or marriage.
Neither Ernie, nor the girls are on friendly terms with each other, though there are mutual interests involved as Ernie needs to recruit the best and the League, if they made it would pay the girls $45.00 more per week than what they make at the dairy. Dottie goes to tryouts in Chicago because Kit, the less appreciated one really wants to see the world in a different way than can be done from the perspective of a small town farmworker. On the way to tryouts they stop, with the scout, in Colorado to see another girl Marla, play. She can hit incredibly well, both left and right sides, but Capadino does not want her because she is not as pretty as most of the girls chosen to play baseball for Harvey.
Dottie and Kit both, put their suitcases down in protest at Capadino's choice and so Marla ends up coming with them to Chicago. The girls are in awe of Wrigley Field, when they arrive, and the ever sarcastic scout says, "Hey cowgirls, see the grass? Don't eat it." The girls tryout and the scenes accompanied by band swing music are a lot of fun. Both Kit and Dottie make the list of those who will stay and play for the year. One woman, Shirley Baker cannot read, not even her own name, and another girl looks on the list for her to tell her, if she made the team. The girls applaud and it seems a supportive atmosphere. The women are not happy about playing baseball in short skirts. Beauty and charm school are mandatory. The girls are to be chaperoned with no men or alcohol allowed.
Jimmy Dugan, a once prime professional player, is lowered to the stance of coaching women's baseball (God forbid) and for their first game as a team he stumbles into the locker room, pees, then leaves but not before he tears up a baseball card given to him to sign. The card belonged to a girl's husband. Jimmy steps out of the dugout, and smiles while waving his hat in the air and cursing the fans under his breath. Dottie takes over as coach, given Jimmy's inebriated state and general attitude. It continues to go harshly as there are not so many fans as expected and the girls are heckled but one shows spirit by knocking out the heckler with a ball. The Rockford Peaches win and when Lowenstein, who was watching the game, asks Jimmy why he wasn't coaching and just sat there scratching his balls instead, as there are some pretty good ballplayers among those women, Jimmy responds with, "I haven't got ballplayers. I've got girls."
But it is hard for a group to live, travel and work together without seeing each other as people at some point, otherwise there would not be a team. Jimmy and Ms. Cuthbert, the chaperone get to know each other as Ms. Cuthbert becomes quite ill from food poisoning, as Mae, who plays center, poisons her dinner so they can all go out for a night of swing dancing, drinking and fun. Lowenstein also oversees the team as their general manager. Dottie stays in at first as she is married, but leaves to the Suds Bucket to warn the girls that Lowenstein is coming out and if they get caught they are out of the league. Dottie has the natural personality of a shepherd. She wants to make sure everything is in its place. And that people are all together just right.
Kit and Dottie continue to fight as Kit feels that as long as Dottie is around then she is nothing. This is not true, but it starts to feel that way. Dottie nearly leaves the league altogether because she doesn't like disagreements or for anyone to be upset with her; just when ticket sales are hurting the worst. But she talks to Lowenstein about it, and he trades Kit rather than Dottie to raise scene. At their group house Kit throws a ball near Dottie's head and calls her a bitch as Kit never wanted to be traded. The ball breaks through a window. Dottie is shocked and told Kit she told them to trade her. Kit responds with, "Oh yeah, they'd really trade you. Miss Star. Miss Perfect!" And then Kit runs upstairs to her room with Dottie after her and the whole house listening in. Dottie tells Kit to "Blow it out your rear end. I'm the one who got you into this league goddammit." And so it goes between the two. Already simmering tensions hit a crescendo and Kit leaves to join the Racine Belles. (Though one wonders if team members were allowed to be that bratty during the 1940s). She will always be emotional and being around her sister made it that much more so. But she had a lot of spirit and without Kit, Dottie would never have had the time of her life playing ball like she did. The two meet each other in The World Series and for once, Kit hits a high pitch, to make it a home run. She knocks out Dottie who is catching at the home plate, Dottie drops the ball and the Belles win.
The film really grants insights into the time and how much baseball was an outlet financially and socially. It raised up a lot of women who had little education during the hard times of The Great Depression. Though, it made clear during the film that women known to be of color at the time were excluded, the AAGPBL broke many barriers for how women were viewed physically and in society.
By Sarah Bahl