Celebrating MLB's girls' baseball series by looking back on 'A League Of Their Own'
This weekend, girls from the United States and Canada will participate in the MLB-sponsored Trailblazer Series baseball tournament, an event designed to both celebrate girls in baseball and to honor Jackie Robinson's 100th birthday.
The teams participating in the Trailblazer Series will be named after notable alumnae from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The AAGPBL, which ran for 12 years in the 1940s and '50s, is probably most well-known to people today as the basis of the 1992 Penny Marshall-directed classic, "A League Of Their Own."
If you haven't seen it, stop reading, and go watch it now.
Otherwise, here's a short summary: "A League Of Their Own" chronicles the experience of two sisters and their team, the Rockford Peaches, in the inaugural year of the AAGPBL. The sisters -- the beautiful and supremely talented Dottie and tomboyish, stubborn Kit -- battle both each other and the sexism that pervaded the public opinion of girls playing baseball at the time.
I was 6 years old when my parents took me to see "A League Of Their Own." It was the first movie outing we all made as a family. I immediately fell in love with the story, and it led to many, many summers of my dad patiently trying to teach me how to play baseball alongside my brother, who was a pitcher for several years in Little League. I even played on my school softball team for a year and loved it (although secretly I still wanted to play baseball; the bigger ball felt unwieldy in my hand after so many years of the smaller size).
While this summer will mark the 25th anniversary of "A League Of Their Own" hitting theaters (with a special anniversary edition released on Blu-ray on April 18), there are several reasons why it's still worth celebrating:
1. The movie deals with sexism in a way that's hilariously -- and painfully -- familiar.
The women in "A League Of Their Own" face misogynistic treatment everywhere they go. In one funny scene, a commentator on the radio bemoans the creation of the AAGPBL, saying, "Careers in higher education are leading to the masculinization of women with enormously dangerous consequences to the home, the children and our country." In the movie, this commentary is overlaid with images of Dottie, Kit and the rest of the athletes trying out for the league and pushing themselves to their absolute limit.
In another scene, which takes place at their first game, a male heckler taunts the Rockford Peaches, standing up in the bleacher seats to yell, "Girls can't play ball!" After a few minutes, Peaches pitcher Ellen Sue fires a ball right at his stomach, throwing him back a good 2 feet.
In 2017, we still have to deal with tweets that says things like, "Go back to the kitchen" in response to inspiring stories about female athletes. So unfortunately these scenes still resonate, even 25 years later.
2. The movie recognizes the inherent racism of the AAGPBL's format.
Late in the film, a scene honors the talented women of color who were barred from trying out for the league. A black woman, walking by the stadium where the Peaches play, picks up a ball that had rolled to the side. Rather than throw it to Dottie, who's closer, the woman fires it to Ellen Sue, way back near the baseline. When Dottie looks back at the woman with an impressed smile, the woman simply nods her head and walks away.
The woman in the film was designed to emulate Mamie Johnson, one of the athletes told to turn around and leave tryouts for the AAGPBL because she was black woman. Johnson, nicknamed "Peanut," went on to play in the Negro Leagues alongside men and two other female athletes of color, Toni Stone and Connie Morgan. (Note to Hollywood: Where's that movie?!?! Give it to me!)
The baseball series this weekend will obviously be integrated, but if there's one quibble I have with the names of the teams, I wish one of them had been named for Stone, Morgan or Johnson.
3. It shows how popular women's sports were, first as a sideshow attraction, then as a genuine sporting event.
The first few games of the inaugural AAGPBL season are sparsely attended. But after a few attempts to get people in the stands involving audience gags ("Catch a Ball, Win A Kiss" being one of the biggest sellers), the crowds grow until the Peaches are selling out every game. A league that was designed to be a silly diversion while the men were at war turned into a viable financial opportunity for several years after World War II ended.
Fast forward to present day, with the Olympics reinstating softball for the 2020 Tokyo Games after being dropped for 2012 and 2016, and with MLB hosting a girls' baseball tournament. The more visibility we get for girls in baseball or softball, the better.
4. It will create a massive debate in your friend group.
Dottie dropped the ball on purpose.
Actually, there's no debate. That's just what happened.
5. You won't be able to get the AAGBPL theme song out of your head.
"Batter up, hear that call, the time has come, for one and all, to play ball ..."
I'm so glad the MLB is honoring both Jackie Robinson and the AAGPBL by showcasing the talented female athletes this country and Canada have to offer. It promises to be a great weekend!