"A League of Their Own" is one of those sports movies that stands the test of time. It seems like every week it plays on a channel like MLB Network. Just the other night I had to restrain myself from going to a nearby restaurant's movie night because they were showing it.
It was 30 years ago at the beginning of this month the film was released. Many of its key elements that made it so good -- like women proving they can be badasses in baseball -- still ring true today, as women like Rachel Balkovec and Kelsie Whitmore bust down barriers in the sport.
The iconic movie directed by Penny Marshall that stars well-known Hollywood names like Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell, John Lovitz and Lori Petty wasn't just a cute story about girls on a diamond. It was culturally significant and became the highest-grossing baseball movie of all time, pulling in $107.5 million at the domestic box office. "A League of Their Own" was in a league of its own.
What's incredible is that the movie got so much right from what really happened on the Rockford Peaches, the team the girls play on, and the league they played in, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). But, because Hollywood is Hollywood and this movie after all was fiction, many elements from the movie aren't true.
A Comparison: "A League of Their Own" and the Real Rockford Peaches
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Yes, it's true Dottie Hinson (played by Geena Davis) was based on a real player. That real player was the Peaches' very own Dorothy "Kammie" Kamenshek, and she was one of the best players in the league. However, Kamenshek was a left-handed first baseman and not a right-handed catcher like Dottie is in the movie. The rest of the players are said to not be based on anyone real.
Another aspect that wasn't exactly true in the movie was the championship game. In the movie, the Racine Belles win the championship over the Peaches after Kit Keller (Lori Petty) runs over her sister, Dottie, at home plate. The Racine Belles did win the league in 1943, but it was against the Kenosha Comets. The Peaches were the worst team in the league that season.
Also, the girls in the AAGPBL didn't start pitching overhand until the 1948 season, according to the league's website. Because many of the girls came from softball, the first five years consisted of all underhand pitching. However, girls pitch overhand in the movie. The storyline that fans didn't come to games early on is also not accurate, as the league was a hit in Midwestern towns from the beginning.
"The teams were well received by fans in the four sponsoring cities. Attendance was tracked at 176,612 fans for the 1943 season. National League officials, the press and baseball fans across the country were amazed at how well the women played ball and by the enthusiasm and support the teams received in their host cities," the league's website reads.
But Penny Marshall did accurately depict many aspects of the league. The AAGPBL women were expected to act, dress and present themselves as feminine. The charm and beauty school that the players attend in the movie? That was legit. Players used to get makeovers and attend etiquette and hygiene classes at the Helena Rubinstein Beauty Salon. The uniforms, skirts and all, were also accurate.
"Hollywood magic reconstructed the uniforms, gloves and buses so much so that Helen was transported back in time. It had endearingly captured the spirit of the league," wrote MLB.com's Christina De Nicola, who spoke to the son of Helen Candaele, who played for numerous teams in the AAGPBL in the 1940s.
The History of the AAGPBL and the Rockford Peaches
The AAGPBL was the brainchild of Chicago Cubs owner and chewing gum mogul Philip K. Wrigley. With many young men being drafted to the war in 1942, Wrigley feared this would lead to a decrease in quality players and a decline in attendances. He also thought these female teams could play in stadiums while teams were on the road, maximizing profit.
Wrigley then set out to find women across the country who could play ball. Scouts like the one played by John Lovitz in the movie were sent out all over, setting up try-out in major cities. Some 280 women were invited to final tryouts at Wrigley Field, 60 of which were chosen to play in the new league. The women were paid well, making from $45 to $85 a week and could be as young as 15, according to the league's website.
Four inaugural teams kicked off the league on May 30, 1943: the Kenosha Comets, Rockford Peaches, Racine Belles and South Bend Blue Sox. The Peaches played all 12 years of the league's existence and won championships in 1945,1948, 1949 and 1950. Some still call it the greatest dynasty in sports history. Unfortunately, the league disbanded after the 1954 season after the teams began to run independently and the league president resigned.
To this day, the city of Rockford, Illinois still pays homage to the Peaches. Rockford hosted a two-day event this month to celebrate the movie's 30th anniversary at Beyer Field. As if an anniversary wasn't enough to keep the movie more relevant, Amazon is airing a TV reboot of the movie that will debut in August, with a new cast of course.
While the movie may have just turned 30, the original 1943 Rockford Peaches are approaching their 80th birthday next year. The team, as well as the AAGPBL, still inspires little girls across the country to do what people say they can't, proving "you play ball like a girl" is actually a good thing.
MORE: Where is Stilwell from 'A League of Their Own' Today?
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