#DBW Penny Marshall’s ‘A League of Their Own’ and Its Importance to Women Filmmakers Everywhere

A League of Their Own debuted 26 years ago. It seems like such a long time ago, yet it is still an essential part of women filmmaker discourse. Penny Marshall’s film about the female baseball league had a $40,000,000 estimated budget and only a $13,739,456 box office on its opening weekend in the USA. However, the worldwide gross turned out to be $132,440,06. The film is a fundamental piece of Hollywood culture – for women first and foremost. It became an international success and still is to this day.

The film is a comedy-drama based on a real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Geena Davis and Lori Petty portray sisters, Dottie Hinson, and Kit Keller, whose marvellous talent playing baseball is discovered by Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz). The war makes citizens incredibly tense, and the jobs earlier done by men are either vacant or filled in by women. The owners of baseball teams don’t want the significant American sport to disappear, so they decide to create teams with women. The sisters decide to join Capadino and, along the way recruit more players for an all-women baseball league. Once in training, they meet other athletes: Mae Mordabito (Madonna), Doris Murphy (Rosie O’Donnell), Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh) and many more skilled, bold women. They soon find out that playing serious baseball is rather second tier. Instead of comfortable sportswear, women receive short skirts inspired by the original baseball outfit. As a matter of first importance, they ought to look beautiful and clean — the characters even take lessons on good manners. They learn how to sit nice and accept only one bite of their food. Former Cubs player Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) becomes their baseball coach. 

Soon, they began to show people what they are capable of. What was supposed to be only an interim replacement becomes national excellence. The Rockford Peaches (the sisters’ team), Racine Belles, Kenosha Comets, and South Bend Blue Sox (all founded by women) give people a purpose in the dark times of World War II. Everybody is obsessed with them; they all become role models for young girls who ask them for autographs on their baseball cards. Although the film seems to be a sports movie with female leading roles, it is also a story about friendship, sisterhood, and overcoming trauma. It shows how hard it is to sometimes be in a team where every decision should be made together as a democracy.

Penny Marshall decided to adapt A League of Their Own after viewing the eponymous 1987 documentary about the AAGPBL; the director hadn’t heard about the female league before. Marshall chose to contact the documentary’s creators: Kelly Candaele and Kim Wilson, and ask them to collaborate. Along with a script by Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz, they created the first full motion picture telling the story of the female league. When the film was released, it became a huge success. Thanks to Penny Marshall, more people acknowledged the AAGPBL and its incredible history of talented, fierce women. 

All the actresses in the film had to have the ability to play baseball. They all performed their stunts (except for Geena Davis who knew how to do a split but couldn’t slide into it — the famous split catch), explaining all the bruises and scrapes that were very much authentic. Anna Ramsey, portraying the role of Helen Haley, broke her nose with a baseball mitt. Even the bruise on Alice Gaspers’ thigh (Renee Coleman) was real. As said above, the actresses gave themselves entirely to each portrayed role. Marshall brought the story to life with her ability to show full, multi-dimensional characters who were women, baseball players, mothers, and much more. The director broke the stereotype that states women are not able to play ’manly’ sports. 

According to The Dispatch, issue from July 2nd, 1992, women who were in a real-life league didn’t even think of themselves as groundbreaking or feminists. Penny Marshall was shocked by it and decided to change it. She, indeed, altered the course of history with A League Of Their Own. In 2012, the National Film Registry selected 25 films for preservation. Marshall’s production was one of them. These are films selected due to their significance to American history. According to the Librarian of Congress, James M. Billington, ”they reflect who we are as people and as a nation.” A League of Their Own was chosen as one of those 25 films. Thanks to Marshall more people found out about the AAGPBL. Young girls started playing baseball because they finally had role models to look up to. 

A League of Their Own depicts the history of the United States. It illustrates how women took everything into their hands while men were at war – they were also heroes that people needed, but sometimes went unnoticed. Without them taking jobs previously done by men, many professions would cease to exist.

As this year’s Directed by Women celebration approaches, it’s also an extraordinary month for A League of Their Own. Some actors will come back to Rockford, Illinois for a celebration to honour the movie’s director Penny Marshall. According to 23 WIFR,  Rockford and the International Women’s Baseball Center will host the celebration on September 13th and September 14th. Tracy Reiner, Marshall’s daughter and the actress from the film (pitcher Betty “Spaghetti” Horn ) will attend the ceremony. Megan Cavanagh, Anne Ramsay, and Patti Pelton, who are all in the movie, will join her as honorary co-chairs for the celebration, Tom Hanks and Geena Davis will, too, appear in Rockford. The festival will celebrate Penny Marshall who shaped the course of not only the success of women directed films but also a key turning point in American history.


by Zofia Wijaszka

Zofia lives in LA and is passionate about pop culture, television and Stevie Nicks. She graduated from the University of Wroclaw, Poland with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Social Communication with Creative Writing. Her work revolves around women in television and film. She previously has written for GirlTalkHQ, Reel Honey and Polish film portals. She loves the Scream movies, Carol and Big Little Lies. She wants Sarah Paulson to be her buddy and go for drinks with her. Her Twitter – @zoshugrochu 

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