‘A League Of Their Own,’ a warmhearted comedy and classic baseball movie, turns 30
Women lead the lineup — and show impressive skills on the field — in the enduring 1992 hit.
It all started because Rockford Peaches right fielder Evelyn Gardner didn’t hit the cutoff infielder, allowing the South Bend Blue Sox to put the tying run on second base. After the Blue Sox did indeed knot the game, Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan stopped Evelyn before she could reach the dugout.
“Say, Evelyn,” Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, says in a quiet, low-key manner. “Can I ask you a question? You got a moment? Which team do you play for?”
“Well, I’m a Peach,” comes the confused reply.
And that’s when Dugan goes off:
“Well, I was just wondering cuz I couldn’t figure out why you would throw home when we’ve got a two-run lead! You let the tying run get on second, and we lost the lead because of you! Now, you start using your head. That’s that lump that’s three feet above your ass!”
When Dugan sees Evelyn is tearing up, he’s flabbergasted.
“Are you crying? Are you crying? Are you crying? There’s no crying. There’s no crying in baseball!”
That, of course, is THE iconic moment from “A League Of Their Own,” which was released 30 years ago this month and continues to resonate as a beloved, groundbreaking sports film with a female-led cast and a female director, with “There’s no crying in baseball!” ranked by the American Film Institute as the 54th-most memorable line in movie history (a few notches below Hanks’ “Houston, we have a problem” from “Apollo 13”).
Inspired by a 1990 documentary of the same name about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the 1940s and 1950s and directed by Penny Marshall, “A League of Their Own” became a surprise, breakout hit in the summer of 1992, led to a short-lived sitcom in 1993 and will be re-imagined for a Prime Video series next month that covers the same story with all-new characters.
But the original feature film remains, well, in a league of its own as a classic baseball tale, a wonderful reminder of a special time in history, and just a damn fine, funny and warmhearted story.
As with many a hit motion picture, there were some starts and stops in casting. At one point, Jim Belushi was set to play Jimmy Dugan, and he probably would have been pretty good. But Hanks is Hanks.
Debra Winger had spent months prepping to play the lead character of Dottie but dropped out in large part because Madonna was a late addition to the cast, and Winger felt that would turn the project into “an Elvis movie,” with Madonna’s superstardom superseding the entire production.
Madonna wasn’t shy about voicing her snooty opinions of the Midwest shooting locations — a bit hypocritical given she’s from Bay City, Michigan. In an interview with TV Guide, she said of Evansville, “I might as well be living in Prague.” And, in a letter to her photographer friend Steven Meisel, she wrote, “I cannot suffer any more than I have in the past month ... learning how to play baseball with a bunch of girls (yuk) in Chicago (double yuk).”
To be fair, castmates have talked about how hard Madonna worked — and she delivers arguably the best performance of her film career as Mae Mordabito, from her comedic rapport with Rosie O’Donnell to the show-stopping dance number at the Suds Bucket (actually FitzGerald’s in Berwyn), where she cuts the rug with a dashing soldier played by none other than Eddie Mekka, aka Carmine from Marshall’s sitcom “Laverne & Shirley.” (Marshall also cast another “Laverne & Shirley” regular, David L. Lander, aka “Squiggy,” as the announcer at Racine Field.)
In another bit of perfect casting, Jon Lovitz owns the first few scenes of the film as the blunt scout Ernie Capadino, who has a run-in with chickens on the Oregon farm where Dottie (Geena Davis) and her sister Kit (Lori Petty) live, exclaiming, “Get these wild animals away from me! Haven’t you ever heard of a leash!” And he reacts to Dottie’s last-minute decision to hop on the train to Chicago by saying, “Did you promise the cows you’d write?” Once Dottie and Kit arrive at Harvey Field (you might know it as Wrigley Field) for tryouts, Ernie cracks, “Hey, cowgirls, see the grass? Don’t eat it.”
But even with Lovitz’s killer cameo and Hanks in a brilliant supporting turn (Dugan doesn’t make an appearance until 30 minutes into the film), “A League of Their Own” is always about the women and the many indelible characters, from Dottie and Kit to Mae and Doris, as well as Tracy Reiner’s Betty “Spaghetti” Horn and Megan Cavanagh’s Marla Hooch and Bitty Schram as the aforementioned Evelyn Gardner, among others.
Re-watching the film, I was struck by how much baseball is played — certainly more than we see in “Field of Dreams,” at least as much as in “Bull Durham.” These actors created memorable characters, but they also could really play the game, which adds so much to the verisimilitude of the story.
Also: Jimmy Dugan was wrong. There IS crying in baseball, at least there are multiple moments in “A League of Their Own” when one can’t help but tear up. My top three:
- When Ernie rejects Marla after a tryout in Colorado despite her considerable talents because she doesn’t have certain physical attributes, Marla’s widowed father (the late, great character actor Eddie Jones) approaches Ernie and says, “Hey, Mister. I know my girl ain’t so pretty as these girls. That’s my fault. I raised her like I would a boy, I didn’t know any better. She loves to play. Don’t make my little girl suffer because I messed up raising her. Please.”
- At the tryouts in Chicago, left fielder Shirley Baker (Ann Cusack, sister of Joan and John) stands helpless in front of the lists of the players who have made the cut. She’s told to either find her name on the list or go home, but she can’t. Anne Ramsay’s Helen Haley grasps the situation, comes jogging up and says, “Hi. Can you read, honey?” Shirley shakes her head and says no. Helen finds her name and says, “This is you. You’re with us, you’re a Rockford Peach.” The crusty coach (Don S. Davis) conducting the tryouts says in a kind voice, “Go join your team,” and the other players break out in applause.
- The Rockford Peaches are in the locker room before a big game when a telegram arrives from the War Department. The postman fumbles about until Dugan kicks him out, opens the telegram and slowly makes his way over to Betty, saying simply, “I’m sorry, Betty.” Cut to Dottie, weeping uncontrollably in her hotel room — when who should arrive but her husband Bob (Bill Pullman), who got shot in the foot by a sniper overseas and has been sent home.
And that’s even before the flash-forward to the reunion at Cooperstown.
No crying in baseball? Come on, Jimmy, there’s no game in the world that elicits more tears, whether it’s from joy, sorrow or triumph, and “A League of Their Own” captured that in magnificent fashion.