The Inspiration Behind The Movie ‘A League of Their Own’
The popular sports comedy, “A League of Their Own” is a fictionalized retelling of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Even the manager, Jimmy Duggan, played by Tom Hanks, was fictional (though some believe he was loosely based on Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx, but Foxx did not coach in the league). Geena Davis’ character, Dottie Hinson, had the closest resemblance to one of the player’s Dorothy ‘Kammie’ Kamenshek.
Kamenshek, who was Hinson in the movie, played women’s softball with her sister before trying out for the women’s baseball league. In the movie, her character is a catcher, but in her baseball career, Kamenshek was a first baseman. She was one of the biggest names in the game as she surpassed 1,000 hits, had a lifetime batting average of .292, and stole 631 bases. The first baseman was second all-time in triples (41) and won two batting titles, 1946 and 1947.
“Unlike Hinson, who retires after one season in the film, Kammie played for ten seasons, finishing with an all-time best .292 career batting average, striking out only 81 times,” Brendan Higgins wrote for The Collider. “Major League Baseball once called her the ‘finest fielding first baseman.’ And that included the male players.”
The AAGPBL was created by P.K. Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs and a chewing gum company. The movie’s Walter Harvey was a resemblance of Wrigley. The Cubs owner established the league in fear that the MLB season would be canceled due to World War II. In all, women’s baseball league lasted from 1943 to 1954.
Though few characters were based on real players, the movie did make a nod towards other facts from the league. The Rockford Peaches were a real team and one of 15 in total. In the movie, the four organizations were Rockford, Kenosha Comets, Racine Bells, and South Bend Blue Sox. According to an ESPN article, written by Jeff Merron at the end of the movie, the Racine beat Kenosha in the best of five games in the championship, and then the same team beat Rockford in the best of seven World Series.
Jeneane Lesko was only 18 when she played for the Grand Rapid Chicks. The pitcher played for two seasons in the AAGPBL, until the league disbanded in 1954. There was no character based on her in the movie, but in an interview with ABC, she said the movie was accurate with a few exceptions.
“It was very accurate, except for the way [the women in the film] treated the chaperones, which wasn’t very nicely,” Lesko said in an interview with Michael Rotham. “Of course, the gals did pull tricks on them, put salt in their beds and other stuff, but it was all in fun. They weren’t making fun of them or anything.”
Black women were not allowed to play in the league, despite MLB integrating in 1947. In a Fangraphs article, Daniel Epstein wrote, “The AAGPBL mirrored major league baseball in segregation as well. Only white athletes were allowed to participate, even after Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. The Negro Leagues, sensing their own demise would be brought about by integration, looked for new ways to entice fans. This included recruiting female ballplayers.”
The first woman to play in the Negro Leagues was Toni Stone. The second baseman played for the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs. Stone also recorded a hit off of Satchel Paige. Mamie Johnson, a pitcher, tried out for the AAGPBL, but wasn’t allowed. She went on to pitch in the Negro Leagues and was one of three women to do so.
The movie is seeing a reboot after Amazon picked up the new series. Created by Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham, the series doesn’t have an air date yet, but Lesley Goldberg for the Hollywood Reporter wrote that the show, “will have the spirit of Penny Marshall’s beloved movie while expanding its lens to explore race and sexuality as the series follows a new ensemble of women carving out their own paths in the league and outside of it.”