For a certain set of millennial women, few movies are more beloved than A League of Their Own, the fourth feature film directed by Penny Marshall and her second to surpass $100 million at the box office. (She became the first woman ever to accomplish that feat four years earlier with Big.) It’s insane how memorable this movie is — how many scenes and single lines and specific characters can be isolated out for their perfection, but somehow exist in one cohesive, joyful movie. There’s Marla Hooch’s fateful batting practice, as well as her drunken seduction of the smitten bar patron, Nelson. There’s chubby little “Stilwell angel” and his chocolate fixation. There’s Dottie snatching a fastball barehanded out of the air, and of course, there’s Jimmy Dugan and his enduring motto: “There’s no crying in baseball!”
But for me, the League of Their Own scene that stands out most is the final one, when the members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League are recognized by* the Baseball Hall of Fame. Every single line of this scene will make me cry, every single time.
When the women are walking up to the building in Cooperstown and one of them says, “Hey, look! They’ve got a Women in Baseball thing up there. Isn’t it neat?” Tears. When grown Stilwell tells Dottie that his mother, Evelyn, passed away, and Dottie tells him, “She was a real nice lady, and a damn fine ballplayer.” More tears. And then when Stilwell says Evelyn — the one who cried in baseball — looked back on her years in the league and “always said it was the best time she ever had in her whole life”? We move into full-tilt sobs.
By the time Ellen Sue Gotlander leads her fellow ballplayers in a round of their “Victory Song” — “We are the members of the All-American League. We come from cities near and faaaaar!” — I’m a puddle of feelings on the floor. It’s a perfect sequence that balances love with loss, and you feel the depth of the lives lived by all the characters in the decades since they left the diamond. The faces are different, older than the women you’ve just spent the whole movie getting to know, but you feel you know them just the same. You feel the richness of their collective experience, and the weight of the honor they’re receiving.
A League of Their Own was the first sports movie where I really got to see myself. I was raised on Field of Dreams and Bull Durham and Major League, but as a 6-year-old girl I fortunately did not heavily identify with Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn or Crash Davis. And as much as I loved movies that were more kid-friendly, like Angels in the Outfield or Little Big League, they couldn’t be my Sandlot. But Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own was different. It helped that it was about a pair of sisters growing up in a country town in Oregon, just like me, who played hard with boys and were more concerned with being tough than pretty. When I started playing softball I even went on to become a catcher while my little sister chose to pitch — the Kit to my Dottie.
As I’ve grown older, Marshall’s obvious care for the relationships at the heart of A League of Their Own means even more to me now than it did when I first saw it. She was a trailblazing woman making a movie about other trailblazing women, and she gave priority of place to the female experience. The women of Marshall’s league were athletes and sisters and friends and mothers and wives. They were crying messes and tough-as-nails pro ballplayers who had to weather the storm of misogyny just to play the game that they loved. They cared for one another, counseled one another, gave each other hell, and created a most unlikely sisterhood while living life on the road. The whole experience of A League of Their Own is a delight, and the Hall of Fame send-off manages to wrap it up with a perfect, and perfectly emotional, little bow.
* This article previously stated incorrectly that the members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.