I know the whole situation with COVID-19 and the suspension of baseball has us all down in the dumps right now, and learning of Tom Hanks’s positive diagnosis with the virus isn’t helping matters. I’m struggling with the state of things myself these days, not just as far as baseball is concerned, but also in how this situation has impacted so many other areas of my life, and I’m certainly not alone in that.
So in an effort to help myself and anyone else who needs it to keep our chins up, here is Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan to remind us that there is no crying in baseball.
There’s no crying in baseball!
~Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), A League of Their Own
Earlier this week, cast members from A League of Their Own got together for a little reunion baseball game. The event was organized by Geena Davis, who played Dottie Hinson in the 1992 film. The game took place at the Bentonville Film Festival, which Davis co-founded.
Along with Davis, Megan Cavanagh, Anne Ramsey, Tracy Reiner, Ann Cusack, Freddie Simpson, and Patti Pelton all showed up to play. The women were also joined by one of the original Rockford Peaches, Gina Casey. Casey threw out the first pitch for the reunion game.
Through the Bentonville Film Festival, Geena Davis has focused on a message of female empowerment. The message and plot of A League of Their Own fits right in with this theme!
I re-watched A League of Their Own over the weekend, and I’ve had this song stuck in my head ever since. I wish I could find a video that featured the track alone, without the movie footage, but this will do for now.
Batter up! Hear that call!
The time has come for one and all
To play ball.
We are the members of the All-American League.
We come from cities near and far.
We’ve got Canadians, Irishmen and Swedes,
We’re all for one, we’re one for all
Each girl stands, her head so proudly high,
Her motto ‘Do or Die.’
She’s not the one to use or need an alibi.
Our chaperones are not too soft,
They’re not too tough,
Our managers are on the ball.
We’ve got a president who really knows his stuff,
We’re all for one, we’re one for all,
“There’s no crying in baseball!”
Thanks to the 1992 comedy-drama, A League of Their Own, how many of us have not heard this classic line? The movie dramatizes for us the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. When World War II broke out, and many of the men in Major League baseball were called to away to serve, the prosperity of professional baseball was threatened. In order to keep the sport alive (and to salvage some lost profits), baseball owners created the AAGPBL, scouted women players across the country, dressed them in skirts, and sent them out to play ball.
However, women’s involvement in baseball existed long before World War II. In New York and New England, baseball was being played in women’s colleges as early as the mid-nineteenth century. In 1867, Philadelphia played host to an African-American women’s team, the Dolly Vardens. One great story you might have heard involves Jackie Mitchell of the Chattanooga Lookouts. As a pitcher during an exhibition game in the 1930s, Mitchell struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Unfortunately, this event was quickly promoted as a mere publicity stunt, rather than a serious effort on the parts of Ruth and Gehrig.
Today, there persists a distinction between baseball as a male’s game and softball as a female’s game, but this separation did not exist until the 1890s when softball was invented. For three decades prior to this, however, women played baseball, even as baseball leaders like Albert Spalding promoted it as a “manly” or “gentleman’s” game. No doubt they looked ridiculous, as the uniforms of college women ballplayers consisted of baseball caps and full-length dresses, but women loved playing the game and they proved themselves to be just as competitive and physical as their male counterparts. Unfortunately, society considered it too strenuous and unhealthy for women to engage in too much travel or competition, and as a result, women’s college baseball was confined to existing as an intramural sport, rather than an intercollegiate one. As a result of the sexism of the period, from males and females alike, women’s attempts to establish themselves in baseball were doomed to failure.
As fans, however, the presence of women at baseball games was often encouraged. It was believed that the presence of women would help to discourage the fighting and cat-calling that sometimes happened at the ballpark. In the late-nineteenth century, Ladies’ Day promotions came into being, in an attempt to attract women fans to games. By 1900, middle-class women were attending ballgames throughout the country. In 1909, the National League, convinced that women had become sufficiently interested in the game to start paying for admission, brought an end to the Ladies’ Day promotion.
While the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was certainly a breakthrough for women in the sport, baseball owners made it clear that the league was only temporary, and there was to be no question that those who played were women first and baseball players second. From the short skirts and team names to the mandatory chaperones and strict rules on the women’s behavior, every measure was taken to reassure the public and the girls’ families that their femininity would remain intact.
The sport of softball continues to flourish today, but questions continue to circulate about its impact in perpetuating sexist stereotypes. The common belief is that due to the physical differences between men and women, confining them to separate sports helps to maintain a fair playing field and protects women from needless injuries. But when you think about it, baseball is a game that requires coordination, timing, knowledge of the game, control, and competitiveness — all characteristics that are not exclusively male. Sure, perhaps strength and size can be useful assets, but even male players like Ichiro Suzuki have proven that they are not absolute essentials to being successful ballplayers. And I know from personal experience that, out of the playing field, girls can be just as brutal and ruthless as the guys, if not more so. After all, baseball is considered to be “America’s Pastime,” and as the AAGPBL Victory song points out, “we’re All-Americans” too.
“A League of Their Own.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). IMDb.com, Inc., 1990-2013. Web. Accessed 11 March 2013. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104694/
Frommer, Harvey. Old-Time Baseball: America’s Pastime in the Gilded Age. Lanham: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2006.
Gems, Gerald, Linda Borish, and Gertrud Pfister. Sports in American History: From Colonization to Globalization. Human Kinetics, 2008.
Heaphy, Leslie. “Women Playing Hardball.” Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the Batter’s Box. Ed. Eric Bronson. Chicago: Open Court, 2004. pp. 246-256.
Riess, Steven A. Touching Base: Professional Baseball and American Culture in the Progressive Era. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood P, 1980.
Ring, Jennifer. Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball. U of Illinois P, 2009.