Tonight's offering in Costas at the Movies is the 1992 film, 'A League of Their Own', telling the fictionalized story of sisters Dottie and Kit Keller, plucked from their farm lives to take part in the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The preshow starts at 6pm (Arizona time) on the MLB Network, with your feature presentation at 6:30.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
The league was a wartime creation, carried out to keep baseball in the public eye when most able-bodied men were serving in the armed forces. It was initially founded and funded by Phillip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum magnate for whom Wrigley Field is named, and operated from 1943 through 1954, with teams mostly located across the mid-West, in states such as Illinois and Wisconsin. Some franchises lasted only one year, while others endured for longer: the Rockford Peaches lasted all twelve seasons, and were also the most successful team, winning the championship on four occasions.
Initially, the game as played was closer to softball, with underhand pitching, a larger ball, and a pitcher's mound only 40 feet from home plate, but over the years, the rules gradually evolved to become something close to baseball (though still with variations, e.g. the bases were only 85 feet apart, rather than 90). Many recruits were found on community and corporate softball teams, rather than farms, but was still groundbreaking, in an era when women were not typically supposed to have careers outside of the home, let alone traveling the country and playing professional sports.
Players were subject to a code of conduct, which was positively draconian by modern standards, including clauses such as [capitals in original!]: "AT NO TIME MAY A PLAYER APPEAR IN THE STANDS IN HER UNIFORM, OR WEAR SLACKS OR SHORTS IN PUBLIC. Boyish bobs are not permissible and in general your hair should be well groomed at all times with longer hair preferable to short hair cuts. Lipstick should always be on." The penalty for a first offense was a five dollar fine, not an insignificant sum, considering that the weekly salaries for the players started at $45 per week. Every team had a chaperone, and players had to go through an etiquette and decorum course, under the eye of Helena Rubinstein.
The league actually experienced its biggest success after the war, attendance peaking in 1948 when the ten teams drew a total of almost a million fans. But a recession in the early fifties led to the league being able to spend less money on promotion and publicity, creating a vicious circle of declining crowds. Additionally, the post-war expansion of travel options meant that people were not longer restricted largely to local entertainment, leading to greater competition for the AAGPBL, when it came to the discretionary spending dollar Increased television coverage of major-league ball also hurt the league, as did its lack of a parental body which could provide financial backing.
A League of Their Own
The feature was inspired by another film: A League of Their Own, the Documentary, created by Kelly Candaele and Kim Wilson for PBS in 1988. Candaele's mother and aunt, Helen and Marge Callaghan, were both players in the league, while his brother Casey, played for the University of Arizona in the 1980 College World Series, and played nine seasons in the majors. Kelly and Kim used the experiences of the Callaghan sisters as a basis for the story idea, which was then converted into a screenplay by Lowell Ganz and the marvelously-named Babaloo Mandel (the same pair also wrote another baseball flick, Fever Pitch).
All the characters in the movie are fictional and appear to be composites of aspects from different players, with no consensus as to who inspired them. Tom Hanks' character, manager Jimmy Dugan, is loosely based on real-life baseball sluggers Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson. Geena Davis joined as a late replacement for Debra Winger, days before shooting was scheduled to start - Winger walked off the set after director Penny Marshall hired Madonna. The rest of the actresses had been going through months of baseball training, so Davis had to play catch-up, and did so with ease [she's also a rather good archer, having competed in the Olympic trials]
Almost all the actresses did their own stunts - Davis did require a stunt double for the split-catch slide [she could do the splits, just not the slide], Most of the bruises shown in the film are real, rather than made-up: the "strawberry" on the thigh of outfielder Alice Gaspers (Renee Coleman), the result of sliding into a base, lasted more than a year. Ot worked out in the end of Madonna - the song she wrote for the end credits, This Used To Be My Playground, was nominated for a Golden Globe. But the experience seemed to be a particularly memorable one - and not in a good way! - judging by her letter to a friend:
"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) I have a tan, I am dirty all day and I hardly ever wear make-up. Penny Marshall is Lavern - Geena Davis is a Barbie doll and when God decided where the beautiful men were going to live in the world, he did not choose Chicago."
Didn't seem to put her off baseball though, as Alex Rodriguez can testify... And the film proved a hit, grossing over $107 million in the US and making the top ten in that year's box-office. It rejuvenated interest in the AAGPBL, and much like last week's offering, The Bad News Bears, also spawned a TV series, though this one - starring Sam McMurray and Carey Lowell - only screened five episodes before being canceled. Still, The Dugan's proclamation, "There's no crying in baseball!" was #54 on the AFI's greatest film quotes of all time. Just one of the many pleasures to be found in tonight's flick.