This summer, Tom Hanks and the Rockford Peaches prove that a woman’s place is at home…first, second and third.
There was a lot happening in 1992. Bill Clinton showcased his saxophone skills in a now meme-worthy performance on The Arsenio Hall Show during his presidential campaign, the Olympic games were being held in Barcelona and Microsoft released its revolutionary Windows 3.1 software. More specifically, in July 1992, Penny Marshall’s film, A League of Their Own was in cinemas and topping the box office. The film recounts a fictionalised version of the members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and stars Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna. Now, 27 years after its release, the movie’s tagline, as seen above, exemplifies the impactful nature of its story. Here’s why A League of Their Own became a trailblazer for all things regarding women and sport.
Firstly, if you’ve never watched this film, my suggestion is to do so right away. Not only is it a great story, it’s culturally and historically significant, and has been recognised as such by the Library of Congress. The film is set in late 1942; amidst the tension of WWII, officials have threatened to shut down Major League Baseball. Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall), a candy bar connoisseur (although in real life his business was in chewing gum) convinces the other owners to invest in a professional women’s league. From there, we’re introduced to rural players, sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty), who are invited to try-outs for the League in Chicago. 64 girls are chosen to represent the AAGPBL; Dottie and Kit make it into the Rockford Peaches, alongside Mae (Madonna), Doris, Marla, Ellen Sue and others. The girls spend their days training for the World Series and dealing with the city’s disapproval.
One of the best features of ALOTO is its timeliness; issues regarding sex and race are handled in the film in painfully familiar ways, even almost three decades later. From the very beginning, the League is treated as a joke; women playing sport is revered more as a sideshow attraction and the players’ sincerity are mocked. Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), the Peaches’ coach, is a poignant example of the public’s attitude. He repeatedly tells the girls they’re not ball players, refuses to take coaching them seriously and makes it clear he’s only in it for the money from the get-go. There are other subplots wherein the girls deal with casual sexism: they are made to wear short dresses to keep the crowd’s attention and they have to take classes on ‘ladylike’ duties like sipping tea and sitting close-legged.
The film also recognises the inherent racism of the League. In a scene where the Peaches are practising, a group of black women stand behind the fence, watching. When the ball rolls towards one, instead of throwing it back to Dottie, who is closer, she hurls it to Ellen Sue, standing farther out at the baseline. After exchanging an impressed nod, the black woman walks away. This scene was intended to honour those WOC banned from trying out.
ALOTO’s significance can be credited due to its organic portrayal of women in sport. As the audience, we get to see how much these women really cared about being included, and it resonates. We become voyeurs of these women’s struggles and relish in their success.
During a reunion of the Rockford Peaches, pitcher Maybelle Blair stated: “After the league (folded), we were supposed to go home and put on our aprons and wash the dishes…And then when the movie came out, it brought back women to be able to do what we wanted to do — and that was play ball and enjoy our lives.”
Davis similarly believes the movie is a home run for female empowerment. “Suddenly I had every teen girl and young woman recognizing me from that movie and saying, ‘You changed my life. I play sports because of that movie.”