Derek Begins…#8
Tom Hanks Stars In Penny Marshall’s
A League Of Their Own

#8 | Penny Marshall’s “A League Of Their Own” (1992)
Starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna
Featuring Bill Pullman and Jon Lovitz

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2 sisters from Oregon and several women throughout the country are recruited to help start and popularize the brand new All American girls professional baseball league (AAGPBL) in the midwest during wartime in 1943 after Major League Baseball threatens to shut down due to many ballplayers serving overseas. Based on a true story.

This movie probably would have been higher on my list had their still been an AAGPBL today. The league ran from 1943-1954. Contrary to what the movie states the league was very popular from the get go. The league ran from 1943 to 1954. It ended up falling because of the rise of television in homes in the 1950s. Prior to that the only way fans could see ball games was to attend the ballparks.

The cast was phenomenal and very well picked, although the movie revolves around the two sisters played by Gina Davis
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and Lori petty.
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Several supporting actors get prominent lines and back stories.
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Most of the characters in the movie are loosely based on women and executives that were involved with the league. But the writers and director Penny Marshall created back stories for the characters to make the film more dramatic and enjoyable. Tom Hanks’ character stands out the most in this movie.
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Many consider this to be a comeback role for him after some previous movie failures in the early 1990s. He plays the the manager Jimmy Dugan. Dugan is loosely based on real-life baseball players Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson.

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Jimmy Dugans playing days had come to an end at the start of the movie due to his alcoholism and excessive partying. Dugans could not be a part of the war effort due to his torn cartilage in his knee. This is probably what led to his alcoholism in the first place as many ballplayers resorted to this self medication back before rehab treatments which became available to players years later.

Dugans only way back into baseball…is to manage a girls baseball team. We learn this 20-30 minutes into the film during Tom Hanks’ first scene.

Very funny to watch.

He is the main & pivotal character of this movie. As a manager, he meets his match…or is intellectual equal…in Dottie, played by Davis.

She knows baseball and the troubles that go with it. At home she is a responsible housewife. She chooses this role. She chooses to wait for her husband who is serving overseas as opposed to living it up like many other housewives might have during that time or the ones portrayed in the movie who would later go on to be her teammates. Dotties biggest problem in the movie seems to be her kid sister Kit, played by Petty, and how to nurse her along.

But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Jimmy and Dottie don’t get along at first. Jimmy is not happy about the job of “Girls Baseball Team Manager” at first and he ignores his managing duties at first. It really isn’t until he realizes that Dottie had been leading the girls on and off the field that he takes an interest as his pride and ego that take over.

But then he and Dottie develop a mutual respect for each other which develops and gets stronger throughout the movie.

Now, originally there was supposed to be a love scene between the two, but I think the writers made a wise choice keeping the viewers guessing and keeping the focus more on the team.

Dugan leads them to the championship and after he reprimands Dottie for wanting to leave to go back home, they rejoin forces for the final game seemingly destined to win the first ever AAGPBL championship.

In his final scene after the season, Dugan explains to Dottie that he turned down a managing job with a major league baseball organization to keep his managing job with the girls team. In the end, in present day, when the ladies of the AAGPBL go into the Hall of Fame and revisit their youth, it is implied by a poster spotted by a much older Dottie that Jimmy died the year before the Hall of Fame induction at 81 years of age.

It also implies that he probably kicked his alcohol habit shortly after the first season of the AAGPBL and lived a more sober and healthier lifestyle until his death; another reason for the success of the league. Too bad it didn’t end this way for his real life counterparts…

but this is a movie, not a documentary.

Spoiler alert:
Finally, the one question left open for the viewers to decide that remains a question to this very day in many movie forums is if Dottie dropped the ball on purpose at the end? My answer is yes!

Several reasons come to mind, but in the end it wasn’t about Dottie’s love of the game or her teammates. That had already been established as she had been labeled the best player in the league. Her teammates supported her decision to retire early both times to want to be with her husband who returned early from the war wounded so she could start a family. The league had gained enough popularity to sell out stadiums and continue on past the inaugural season. Dottie was well aware of these events as she proved to be wiser than most of her teammates.

Her mission was accomplished.

Her purpose was served.

The one thing she was not able to prove until the collision was the love she had for her sister.

For most of the season, Kit was portrayed as a cry baby and a second rate player who couldn’t get out of her big sisters shadow, who happened to be the league’s best player. When they were teammates, Dottie nursed Kit along through tough love rather than being over protective. They butt heads when Jimmy pulls Kit from a close game forcing him to go to a relief pitcher on Dottie’s advice.

In today’s game, going to the bullpen is very common and essential to keep the batters from facing tired arms. Relief pitchers are paid millions for their services.

Back in the 1940’s it didn’t work that way.

The only time bullpens were really used were in one sided games. If a starting pitcher got pulled late in the game and the score was close, the starting pitcher’s assignment was considered incomplete. Today starters only need to last 6-7 innings and they get their “pats on the butt”. So, by comparison of the eras, one could imagine Kits frustration.

The Rosie O’Donnell character, who I do not care to discuss, played a major antagonist role in letting Kit have it for not finishing the game. When Kits temper gets the better of her and the two fight, Dottie pretty much tells Kit to grow up rather than coming to her defense. Dottie is clearly bothered by her sisters behavior, but knows she can’t show it. She realizes right there that the only way Kit will get her wish to stay off the farm back in Oregon and in the league is if they are separated. Dottie knows of Kits desire to escape her big sisters shadow, so she asks for a trade. So, Kit is traded instead furthering the tension between the two. They don’t see each other again until the deciding game of the championship series. Kit realizes this is her last chance to prove that she belongs in the league without being in her sisters shadow. It’s a tie game until the top of the 9th inning. Dottie comes up to bat against Kit and rips a line drive single that almost takes Kits head off. Dotties team takes the lead. Kit goes back to the dugout crying.

The Rockford Peaches seemed destined to win it all now.

This is the team in the league that the movie spent most of its time focusing on so the viewer is led to believe that this is how they will win the first ever championship in the AAGPBL. The focus from the start of the movie wasn’t who will win it all, it was if the league will survive past the first season. This all gets answered in the bottom of the 9th inning. It starts when Kit is in the dugout crying about giving up the biggest hit of the season to her big sister. Her teammates comfort her in the dugout and tell her the game isn’t over yet and she still has her chance to bat. Dottie witnesses this from behind home plate. She seems emotionless…but at the same time hopeful….that Kit could overcome her error the hard way.

When the Peaches get the first 2 outs accompanied by Rosie’s characters boastfulness, the viewers outlook changes a little bit. Kit is the last batter.

  • Will she pull through?
  • Did the comforting words in the dugout help her?
  • If the situation had been reversed, would she have gotten that comfort in the Peaches dugout?
  • Or would Rosie or Madonna’s character have isolated her and put her down for her mistake?

Finally the at bat. Dottie tells her pitcher to pitch high fastballs because Kit can’t hit them, nor could she lay off them. One last shot of tough love from Dottie. Kit Swings and misses at the first 2, but nails the 3rd one to the wall in right center field much to the surprise of the Peaches. The tying run scores, but that isn’t good enough for Kit. She runs the bases full speed and is given the stop sign at 3rd by her coach. She ignores it and runs right through it heading for home with one thing on her mind : Score the winning run! The girls get the ball to Dottie at home plate who has a good 2 seconds to brace for a collision play at the plate. Kit knocks over Dottie but doesn’t jar the ball loose. Both girls fall to the ground on top of home plate. The camera focuses on Dotties bare hand which is holding the baseball. Once the hand hits the ground the ball comes loose as Dottie “seemingly” lets go of the ball due to the impact of the hand hitting the ground.

Game over!

Raccine Bells win the championship. Several characters come full circle and their story-lines get resolved in the next few minutes.

Kit is carried off by her teammates as the hero.

The fans love it.

Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) tells Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn) that the league will continue after repeated pleas from Ira not to fold the league now that the boys over seas are slowly returning home. Dottie looks on at the celebration with Kit. The look on her face is one of being proud. Part of her is sad, but a bigger part of her is enjoying watching her little sister being hailed the hero. Dugan is right next to her possibly understanding what just took place and why. He looks on as well with a look of understanding instead of being disappointed after a loss. Finally the one play that gets forgotten during the final play when Kit is rounding the bases is that right fielder Evelyn Gardner (Bitty Schram) finally hits the cutoff man during the play. She is seen briefly celebrating this in the outfield before the cameras cut back to the play at the plate. Earlier in the movie it was Evelyn who was scolded by manager Jimmy Dugan for not hitting the cutoff man which led to one of the most famous tirades in sports movies and one of the most famous quotes in american movie history

“There’s no crying in baseball!”

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The sisters reconcile after the game. Kit has finally found her calling. She could continue playing in the league no longer being in Dotties shadow.

All of the other characters reunite and reconcile at the end when the characters are much older in present day 1988.

A beautiful ending to a truly entertaining movie.

4 and 1/2 stars.

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