The 1992 classic, based on a professional all-female baseball league in the Midwest during World War II, highlighted characteristics we prize in ballplayers today–grit, determination, perseverance, etc. That the story applied these qualities to female ballplayers didn’t matter at the box office.
According to iMDB, A League of Their Own grossed more than $107 million in the U.S. and more than $132 million worldwide. It also made more than $53 million in rental sales at dearly departed Blockbuster Video stores across the country (Although one stays alive on Twitter).
But just as the movie depicted a different world from 1992, the ’90s seem distant now. Sexism existed 25 years ago, but the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle has made it impossible to ignore today.
The nation still isn’t completely over the undercurrent of sexism that ran through the 2016 presidential election. Oh, and the winning candidate said this. Never forget, because he keeps behaving badly, even with the whole world watching.
The sports world has plenty of it, too. The world was atwitter after tennis star Andy Murray corrected a reporter at his final Wimbledon press conference over a question that ignored women’s tennis. Speaking of sports journalism, researchers at the University of Missouri School of Journalism released a study showing that microaggressions against female athletes in the media increased by almost 40 percent from the 2012 Summer Olympic Games to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
It’s not just the way sports are covered, either. Jessica Luther recently wrote an excellent article for Bleacher Report about Girls Travel Baseball, a Florida-based national travel baseball team for girls that competes against boys’ teams in tournaments all over the country. If you want the sour taste of sexism in this day and age, just sit in the stands at one of their games.
Here’s a sample from Luther’s story:
The girls of GTB are always on the lookout for the hate. They never know if what they are getting is simply bad sportsmanship or if it’s intentional because they are girls. Either way, they are always on alert. They once played a tournament in which three teams dropped out when they found out they’d have to play an all-girls team. For a while, GTB submitted rosters with only the girls’ first initials and their last names. The girls describe how often they get hit by pitches while at the plate or hit by balls while running the bases (they can’t prove they get hit more than the boys, but they all believe it to be true).
The hate doesn’t just happen on the field. After the first game the Prime Team played in Miami, Julie Clines, whose daughter Olivia plays on the team, saw a grown man standing near the field, flapping his arms around, mimicking the girls, saying “I’m a girl ballplayer.” Clines told the tournament director, but there was nothing he could do. “We’re used to it,” she said, angry but resigned.
Meanwhile, people like that so-called grown man had a field day on Twitter when Jessica Mendoza, ESPN’s first female baseball analyst, called the Home Run Derby in Miami this month. Not that that was anything new, really. She takes a beating from the Twitterverse on a regular basis. (And not just from mouth breathers, either.)
It is through this lens that America has spent this summer reminiscing about A League of Their Own. Mendoza contributed to an excellent oral history of A League of Their Own that ran on ESPNw in June. Several major league teams and even more minor league teams have commemorated the film with everything from special player-worn jerseys to actor appearances and bobblehead dolls.
Back in June, The Hardball Times attended one such celebration held at one of the original sites for the movie, League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind.
The exit off I-64 in southern Indiana seems like a mistake. Easing onto Indiana State Route 162 doesn’t seem right. The GPS has malfunctioned, a thought that only gets more alarming when it orders a quick turn left from 162 onto a road that bends, dips and twists through an industrial park and then an endless emerald sea of giant corn stalks interrupted only occasionally by modest farmhouses and weatherbeaten barns. Only after about 20 minutes of this do descending speed-limit signs hint at an approaching town. It’s Huntingburg.
League Stadium is on the right, set back in a quaint little park tucked between the city pool and, yep, more corn fields. Location scouts for A League of Their Own really nailed it when they managed to find this place and pick it as the home of the fictional Rockford Peaches.
We know, there was a real Rockford Peaches, too. That team played in the All-American Girls Baseball League from 1943 through 1954 at Beyer Stadium, which is still in the process of being restored to host the Rockford Starfires of the Women’s Hardball/Baseball League.
League Stadium was an excellent stand-in for the film. The main grandstand dates all the way back to 1894, but the stadium got a major overhaul leading up to the movie shoot, which started in July of 1991. Columbia Pictures negotiated with the town to expand the stadium to its current 2,783 capacity and enhance the early-20th century character it already had. What was left after the movie crew left town is a rustic stadium reminiscent of Birmingham, Ala.’s venerable Rickwood Field.
Nods to the film are still all over the ballpark. The old manual scoreboard has “Rockford Peaches” splashed across it. Many of the outfield billboard ads are painted to look like they’re from the ‘40s. The tiny gift shop sells T-shirts printed with “There’s No Crying in Baseball…” And wedged beneath the grandstand is a life-size shadowbox of the Peaches’ locker room set.
League Stadium now hosts the local high school team, the Raiders, and a college summer league team, the Dubois County Bombers. The Bombers wear knicker-style uniforms designed to look like early-20th century uniforms, and the team slogan is “Where Every Night is Throwback Night.”
The slogan is dead on. For baseball fans who still hold a candle for places like Chicago’s Comiskey Park, Detroit’s Tiger Stadium and the original Durham Athletic Park featured in the 1988 baseball movie gold standard Bull Durham, seeing a Bombers game at League isn’t a recommendation, it’s a must.
The best place to take in the whole scene is atop the renovated grandstand, where a wide aisle gives fans plenty of space to stand and catch a nice breeze from ceiling fans that cut through the thick humidity of a Midwestern summer. The whole town gathers for Bombers games, eating hot dogs, brats, and homemade fried peach pies from the concession stand, washing it down with locally made Dad’s root beer. If you could sum up summer with one place, this would be it.
But to say League Stadium reminds you of the good old days really depends on who you are. Today’s female athletes probably would balk at wearing a uniform that included a skirt.
The 25th anniversary festivities in Huntingburg included an exhibition game between the Peaches and Belles, a la the climactic championship game in A League of Their Own. Many of the players were softballers from nearby colleges, and their faces told two stories. One, they enjoyed playing. Two, they weren’t thrilled with the skirts.
Overall, however, the game was a hit with everyone in the stands. The public address announcer called the game over the speakers, just like in the film, and the game went along quickly. Not as quickly as the players shed those skirted uniforms after the game, though.
A few of them stuck around for the Bombers game, but most left in the early innings, slinging duffles stuffed with bats, gloves and other equipment over their shoulders. In A League of Their Own, the characters left the ballpark of that championship game knowing a more conventional life for women of that day and age awaited them, if not right away then eventually.
Not these softball players. They, along with Mendoza and the Girls Travel Baseball players may still have to deal with sexism, but clearly they’re not going to be stopped by it. Sexism endures, unfortunately, but this is a different age after all, even with all the bad stuff swirling around in politics, the media, sports and society in general.
Here’s what Billy Bean, vice president and special assistant to commissioner Rob Manfred, had to say about A League of Their Own in that ESPNw piece:
This movie is no different than having young girls watch Venus and Serena Williams play tennis. If they see an image they can relate to, it makes them want to try something. To inspire is something to really behold.”
Hopefully A League of Their Own does keep inspiring women and girls to try baseball and other historically male-dominated sports and fields. By the time the 50th anniversary of the film rolls around, maybe they won’t have to put up with as much grief as women today and the women of the All-American Girls Baseball League.