It’s always been funny to me, the line, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
Tom Hanks shouts it repeatedly, as the manager of the Rockford Peaches, a real-life team from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League immortalized in the baseball cinematic classic, A League of Their Own.
There’s plenty of crying in the movie. And as an overly emotional person and particularly, an overly emotional sports fan, I’ve cried about baseball hundreds of times. Heck, I’ve cried about baseball at least twice already this week, and it’s only Tuesday morning.
Director Penny Marshall passed away today. She was a trailblazer. She was a rockstar. She was a lifelong sports fan. She was the first female director to helm a movie that grossed $100 million. She was the original Girl At The Game.
A League of Their Own was and remains a unique movie. It was actually based on a documentary of the same name, made by a man named Kelly Candaele, whose mother and sister had played in the league. It had aired on PBS, and Penny Marshall had seen it and convinced Candaele to let her adapt it.
Penny’s version was historical, blending drama, comedy, and nostalgia. It starred Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Lori Petty, and of course, Tom Hanks, who often feels like the token man in the movie. Directing was still a male-dominated profession over four decades after women had temporarily taken up the mantle of this other male-dominated profession. But Penny Marshall was a lifelong sports fan, a tomboy who loved baseball and had season tickets to the Lakers. So she made a movie about women living their own lives while the men went to war; women surviving, but also thriving. It was and remains extraordinary, the best-earning and one of the most beloved sports movies ever made.
As a little girl, I dreamed about playing professional baseball; I wanted to be the first female Red Sox pitcher. Seeing the women in ALOTO play the same game I saw male athletes play at Fenway Park blew my mind. I was also a little girl with a baby sister, my best friend in the entire world. One week my freshman year of college in New York, I couldn’t sleep, so I started watching baseball movies. By the end of A League of Their Own, the relationship between sisters Dottie and Kit had made me so emotional that I showed up at home in Boston later that day. To this day, I don’t recall if I told my family that was why I’d come home. But that’s how powerfully Penny Marshall depicted the bonds of sisterhood and friendship on screen.
Penny Marshall gave women a sports movie, and gave men the opportunity to open their minds to women in sports. Now, as a woman carving out her place in a male-dominated profession, I am eternally grateful to her. I’m in awe of the trailblazing woman she was, and her body of work, especially A League of Their Own, and everything she makes me feel when I watch it for the umpteenth time. Penny Marshall depicted women who were strong, sensitive, funny, sexy, and best of all, amazing ballplayers. And through them, she told a story that makes me want to thank my mother, who gave me her old baseball mitt, my father, for teaching me to play and know the game, my girlfriends, for our Doris & Mae-esque friendships, and my sister, for being my best friend and biggest fan.
There’s plenty of crying in baseball. Thanks to A League of Their Own, there are more women in baseball, too.
Photo: The Mary Sue