Jimmy: “Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up. You can’t deny that.”
Dottie: “It just got too hard.”
Jimmy: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
A League of Their Own is a classic. It’s synonymous with the genre, as evidenced by the fact that — and this surprised me — it is by far the film people mentioned most when they heard or read that I was doing this. It belongs on any list of the greatest baseball movies worth its salt.
Sure, just about every aspect of film’s production gets pretty cheesy at times, but the film has so much going for it.
The Rockford Peaches may be the most well-drawn team in the pantheon of baseball cinema. I’d say it’s definitely the best written team of adults, as the competition would come from The Bad News Bears and The Sandlot. The Rockford Peaches clubhouse is populated by people, not lazy clichés. I’m not saying they aren’t based on clichés, they definitely are, but the writing works well enough, and the performances add enough extra depth, that the women aren’t cookie cutter dialogue machines. It’s believable you could grab a drink with these players.
Jimmy Dugan is one of Hanks’s best and most loved performances, which is no small feat. He is the quintessential washed up baseball star whose vices have dragged down from his pedestal too soon. His arc, from drunk showing up for a paycheck to invested coach who loves his team, is satisfyingly believable. And let us not forget, “There’s no crying in baseball!” isn’t just one of the most best lines in any baseball movie, it’s genuinely iconic in all of film history.
Dugan is also the last of Hanks’s broad comedic roles. He still made comedies, but his over the top persona gave way to quieter, more nuanced characters. [Woody has some moments in the Toy Story films that come the closest to that old energy.]
Geena Davis breathes a badass energy into Dottie. Her greatness is believable. She’s tough, she’s got ice water in her veins, and she’s head and shoulders better than any other player in the league. [At 6′ tall, she’s also literally head and shoulders above any other player in the league.]
Dottie’s story has made me sad and angry — sangry? — ever since I saw the movie for the first time as a 10-year-old. [She dropped the ball on purpose to let her sister win!?!?!?!!] As much as A League of Their Own is a sweet, charming homage to the game, it’s impossible for me to feel that it isn’t also a tragedy. Dottie’s story has always broken my heart.
Dottie continually diminishes her own considerable strength and talent, ostensibly for two primary reasons.
In part, she is forced to do so because her sister, Kit, is too immature to be treated like an adult. Kit can’t even be relieved in a game without throwing a temper tantrum. Her arm was gassed, it would have been time for any pitcher to be pulled from the game. Yet she acted like her sister was guilty of profound betrayal, simply because Dottie did what any catcher should do in that situation. There are eight other Peaches on the field, and the league wasn’t created to cater to her feelings, but she can only see herself. [Blerg! Grow the fuck up, Kit!] Even my wife’s takeaway — and mind you, she is no passionate baseball devotee — was that Kit acted like a child who didn’t respect the game.
But Kit isn’t the only excuse Dottie hides behind. With her husband returned from the war, she quits the game to start a family. We’ve been given absolutely zero indication that her husband has asked her to quit, or disapproves of her playing; it is never confirmed that it would unfeasible to start a family and continue to play; but still, she walks away. She’s the best at what she does, she comes alive playing the game in a way that’s unique from any other facet of her life, but she’s always looking for a reason to quit. A story about a person who didn’t lean into such a singular talent, and who continually sabotaged her potential, is a sad story.
And then I realize that women have always been expected to hang up their cleats when the time comes to start and care for a family. When phenom hitter Marla Hooch falls in love, she quits the league and gets married. No questions asked. All must be sacrificed at the altar of “traditional family values,” as it would later come to be known.
Perhaps Dottie is continually trying to manufacture reasons to walk away, to never truly let her love of the game take over, because she knows it will all be taken away from her in the end. Her husband never asks her to quit, but maybe she can’t bring herself to ask, to hope that she might be able to hold onto a family and baseball. She’s trying to shield herself from heartbreak.
How could you not be sangry?
Up Next: Bang the Drum Slowly, the film that began the ascendancy of Robert De Niro (it came out just before Mean Streets).