We’ve only known Max Chapman for a short time, but it’s obvious there are only a few things in this world that she loves. The first, like most of the women on this show, is baseball, duh. Max lives, sleeps, and eats baseball. She dreams in baseball — specifically, of pitching to Josh Gibson, a.k.a. “The Black Babe Ruth.” She would do anything to play the game — which now means she’s made it her mission to get on the men’s team at the screw factory. The coach doesn’t actually care that she’s a woman, as long as she’s as good as she says she is, but he refuses to let her even show him her pitching unless she’s employed by the factory. And since the factory is currently refusing to hire Black women … well, you see what I’m getting at.
Max tries to get a job there the old fashioned way — you know, asking for her own application from the two women handing them out. Unfortunately, those women ignore her, humiliate her and then dismiss her. One of them is literally named Karen. It’s infuriating, to say the absolute least, but Max remains undeterred. She just knows she’ll have to get creative about it. She actually gets the idea from her mother, who, if she knew that she in any way helped her daughter find a job outside of the salon would 100 percent blow a gasket — her mother, Toni, insists that the only reason she was able to get a loan for her business was because she has a man’s name. Well, Toni gave Maxine one of those, too and she sweet talks our old pal Gary into submitting her application as a man named Max Chapman. You almost want to feel bad for Gary being so easily used like this when Max is clearly not interested in him romantically, but if he can’t see through the cute dress and the sudden desire to slow dance with him at a party, well, that is on you, my man. Still, the job is as good as hers, and a spot on a real baseball team is within reach.
This episode shows us something else Max loves with every fiber of her being: Her best friend Clance. It’s very surprising that the most compelling, layered example of female friendship on A League of Their Own is 50 percent made up of a character who has nothing to do with baseball — but it’s a welcome surprise. The show has taken such care around developing Clance, and not only does it deepen Max’s character, but it helps fill out the world we’re spending time in here.
As much as Clance doesn’t understand Max’s baseball ambitions, Max can’t wrap her head around why Clance takes a lot of her domestic responsibilities so seriously. Clance and Guy are throwing a housewarming, as is tradition for the new couple, and Clance is obsessed with everything being perfect. She has a special dress picked out, wants her hair to look like Lena Horne’s, and above all else, she wants to throw the best crab boil in history for Guy and his family. The crabs are life and death. Of course everything that could go wrong does go wrong, and Max and Clance’s only option left for getting the crab for the boil is to go to the one local market that will have them — even though they both know that even if they can get service there, they’ll be charged double because they’re Black. When they walk in, the man behind the counter won’t even look at them. It’s so dehumanizing and heartbreaking, and Clance runs out in tears. When Max tries to help her just brush it off, Clance explains that Max takes for granted how wonderful Toni made her childhood and her home — Clance didn’t have that. She has to do it all on her own and she already feels like a failure at it.
So Max marches back into the store. She’s doing this for her friend, no matter what. Thankfully, she bumps into Carson and Shirley there and uses her budding acquaintance with Carson to her advantage. The man isn’t going to ignore Carson, so he can’t ignore Max if she’s standing there with her, either. Max saves the day, and Clance’s boil is a huge success. It seems like a simple story line, but it does so much by showing us how strong and meaningful Max and Clance’s bond is. Surely this signals that at some point something might threaten that bond, and I swear to you if these two have a friendship breakup at any point, my heart will crumble into a thousand pieces. I’m steeling myself for this, but still!
Oh hey, wait, there’s one more thing to add to the list of what Max loves: secret hookups. She sneaks out of the boil, changes back into her usual uniform of pants and a button down and heads to the salon. There she’s met by Mrs. Turner — the preacher’s wife! — and the two proceed to furiously make out.
Meanwhile across town, the Peaches are living through a truly misogynistic hellscape. No one’s happy about having to play baseball in a skirt, but the team finds out the uniforms are the least of their worries. Mr. Baker is adamant that the women in his league are pretty — there’s a headline in the most recent local Rockford paper that reads “Can Womanhood Survive the Rockford Peaches?” which, like, wow wow wow — and to that end, he hires beauty consultant Vivian Hughes. A similar makeover sequence happens in the film and while that is shown to be just as appalling and chauvinistic, the TV series doesn’t shy from explicitly stating what’s going on here. As Greta tells Carson, they’re “doing all of this so that we don’t look like a bunch of queers.” They have a narrow definition of femininity — that, once again, has nothing to do with baseball — and if someone doesn’t fit that standard, they’re getting cut from the team.
It’s all anger-inducing, sure, but it’s also extra heartbreaking after so many of these women have expressed just how at home they feel playing baseball, so many of them finally feel like they belong. This whole exercise chips away at that sense of security.
The hits just keep on coming. And not like the good, baseball kind of hits (the Peaches bomb on their first outing against South Bend), the bad, make-you-want-to-crawl-into-a-dark-corner-and-cry kind of hits. It’s not just Baker and the newspapers that are making comments — the Peaches have hecklers in the stands, too. As if the announcer’s casual sexism wasn’t enough (when Greta comes up to bat, he tells everyone she’s single and asks who wants her number, because he certainly does), there’s a few men in the stands hurling comments at the women — about Greta’s bra size or Jo needing to lose weight — and the women can’t do anything about it. When Greta tries to defend Jo and shut the guy up, Sarge tells her she needs to be a lady and that these are Mr. Baker’s customers, and a whole bunch of other bullshit. It’s only then that the Peaches’ head coach, Casey “Dove” Porter, steps up to take care of the situation. But it turns out, Dove Porter isn’t everything he seems to be.
The Peaches are ecstatic when they learn the former Cubs pitcher is set to lead them through the first season; they’re all fans. Carson can barely form sentences when she meets him, telling him that she’s “the catcher, [she’ll] catch the pitches.” But even from the get-go Dove is a little off. His sincerity is questionable and his “pep talks” are mostly platitudes that don’t even make much sense. On one hand, he does take an immediate interest in Lupe when he sees how good of a pitcher she is, but on the other he runs the bare-minimum level of practice before the game. The ruse is really up after the Peaches lose and Carson overhears him talking to the heckler. He gives the guy a signed baseball and the heckler thanks him for pointing out that the whole thing “goes down easier if you know it’s a joke.” He makes it clear that the only reason he took this job is to bolster his reputation and get his name back out there. In short, Dove Porter sucks the big one.
After the game, Vivian pulls Greta aside and delivers a message from the board, who thinks that she is just “too much” out there. Vivian says she needs to tone her act down and, I shit you not, uses the phrase “be a little less.” It hurts Greta more than she would like to let on and Carson finds her crying in the locker room. She’s mad at herself for letting it all get to her, but Carson reminds her that “it’s okay to want things.”
Everyone is stressed out about getting kicked off the team or the league shutting down and it all goes back to that notion that most of these women have finally found a place where they belong and feel themselves. To have it stripped away from them would be heartbreaking. But Greta reminds Carson that it doesn’t matter how long it lasts, or that they have no control over what they wear or what they can say: “They don’t get to tell us whether or not this is real.” They’re doing this for themselves and for their teammates. And guys, if I could cue up the A League of Their Own “Victory Song” right in this moment, I would! It needs the song!
Dirt in the Skirt
• You should know about Josh Gibson, the guy Max imagines she’s pitching to: He was known as “the Black Babe Ruth” and is considered one of the best power hitters in baseball history. He dominated the Negro Leagues before dying of a stroke related to a brain tumor in 1947 at the age of 35. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
• The “Roosevelt Act” Max refers to when she’s trying to get the women at the factory to consider her application was an executive order made by FDR that banned racial discrimination in hiring at companies that were performing war-related work (like the screw factory depicted here). Obviously, lots of people were more than okay with ignoring that order.
• Oh, it’s not just sexism the Peaches have to deal with, it’s racism, too: Baker and the rest of his board decide to say that Lupe is from Spain because that “goes down easier than Mexico.” So there’s that, too.
• Okay, the makeover stuff is obviously demeaning, but the running joke about how everyone just assumes Carson comes from a farm remains a delight. In her review, her “farm hands” and “farm face” get noted. “I’ve never even been to a farm,” Carson whispers, although no one is listening.
• Clance and Guy are the freaking cutest. When Clance finally makes it all home and Guy sees that she’s flustered and upset, especially because she didn’t have time to pick up the special dress she wanted to wear for the party, Guy picks out a different dress and tells her how he thinks she looks “perfect” in this one anyway. He kisses her and everything seems much, much better. DO NOT HURT THESE TWO.
• Could not be happier to see that the show made the Peaches’ head coach wildly different from Tom Hanks’s Jimmy Dugan. To even attempt to replicate that perfect performance would be blasphemous!