Sports Fix: A League of Their Own Is a Baseball Movie That Has Everything
If this was a normal year, the opening day for Major League Baseball would have taken place on Thursday, March 26. This is not a normal year, however, and opening day is now pushed back to an as-yet-undetermined date. Fortunately, there are enough great baseball movies to tide us over until the first pitch of 2020 is thrown.
Baseball makes for great cinema; the duel between pitcher and batter is so direct that ever game is full of potential drama that is worthy of the big screen. There are so many good baseball movies, in fact, that choosing one to start with can be difficult. We've chosen a movie that also hinges on a possibly delayed season, and which focuses on the support and eventual rivalry between two sisters: A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN.
Penny Marshall's 1992 movie might have a cultural footprint thanks to the supporting role played by Tom Hanks, who delivers the line "there's no crying in baseball!" in a way that earned it a spot in movie highlight montages and career retrospectives for decades to come.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN is really about two sisters, however: Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty). As the 1943 baseball season is on the verge of cancelation thanks to World War II, Chicago Cubs owner Walter Harvey spurs the creation of a women's league. Catcher Dottie is recruited from a softball game, but initially turns down the offer to play. Kit is much more eager to join the new league and persuades Dottie to sign on.
As the two sisters meet a colorful cast of aspiring players and ultimately play hard enough to convince doubting audiences of the league's value, the supportive relationship between Dottie and Kit is set as a fundamental aspect of the story.
A Motley Crew
Tom Hanks comes into the picture as Jimmy Dugan, a down and out and often drunk former Cubs slugger who approaches the league like a dressed-up softball game. He's a lout. Despite agreeing to manage the Rockford Peaches, which counts Dottie and Kit as catcher and pitcher, he doesn't have patience for the needs of his players, or for their eccentricities.
The players may be a little wild, but thanks to screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who tee up beautiful scenes, and the light, observant direction from Penny Marshall, none of them are weird. From Dottie and Kit to Dugan and the introverted Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh), we know what every character wants. We understand why they make their decisions, and what they're playing for.
When Dugan finally turns himself around we believe it. When he has to give terrible news to one of his players, it's a heavy, emotional moment. And when tensions boil over between Dottie and Kit, their conflict drives the second half of the movie.
And still, this is a baseball movie, and the baseball in A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN is as good as everything else. Penny Marshall, cinematographer Miroslav Ondrícek and editors Adam Bernardi and George Bowers all keep the energy high and the tension taut. There's a lot of bat-cracking entertainment in the ball game montages, with character-building moments for every cast member.
We're not going to spoil the end of the movie for those who haven't seen it, but there is some uncertainty about a climactic play that has kept fans talking about A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN for almost three decades. After Dottie and Kit's sisterhood has curdled into rivalry, they face off in the league's World Series. The way it plays out still has people talking about whether one sister let the other win, or if the World Series victory was genuine.
A perfect game — where a pitcher prevents any player on the other team from reaching a base — is a baseball dream. There's no real perfect movie, but A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN is as close as it comes. Penny Marshall's movie shows us baseball as a force that can unite us, and entourage growth and redemption. It's a beautiful game, and this movie lives up to all the ideals of the sport.
Want to look back at more Tom Hanks movies?
All images courtesy of Columbia Pictures.