A League of Their Own is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Baseball League, begun in 1943 to sub for the men at war. Though the teams continued playing ball until 1954, the girls mostly marched back into the kitchen when their Johnnies came marching home. It wasn’t until 1988 that they were honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Seen from a Nineties perspective, the story has the makings of a stinging feminist manifesto. That, however, is not what director Penny Marshall delivers. Marshall’s take is uniquely her own — lots of laughs, lots of heart and very little sermonizing. Writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (City Slickers) and the actors are also known for their light touch.
Geena Davis stars as Dottie, a dairy worker recruited by a caustic baseball scout (Jon Lovitz is pure joy in too brief a role) who wants players to be lookers. Dottie agrees to try out for the Rockford Peaches if he’ll bring along her jealous sister, Kit (Lori Petty). A slugger dubbed All-the-Way-Mae also makes the team; Madonna plays her with scrappy wit, especially in tandem with Rosie O’Donnell as another player fond of ball jokes.
At first the girls are shaken by the jeering, leering male fans and by Jimmy Dugan, their boozing manager. But since Tom Hanks plays Dugan, you know there’s a softie under the stubble. Dugan’s hands-off flirtation with the married Dottie and his grudging respect for the team redeem him. Despite reports that the actresses trained hard for the baseball scenes, none should quit their day jobs. Still, their spirit enlivens the tired plot. Sentiment mars the film, as it did Marshall’s otherwise admirable Awakenings.
At her best, Marshall captures the camaraderie of these women in ways that rip the film out of its clichTd roots. Davis, who is terrific, subtly shows us the conflicting emotions of a Forties woman torn between ambition and duty, without patronizing Dottie or her choices. In these moments it seems fair to stop razzing League and let rip with a “Go, Peaches!”