The real story behind a league of their own

To mark the 30th anniversary of the film’s release, here’s a look at the real story behind A League of Their Own.

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By Will DiGravio Published June 7, 2022

Real Stories is an ongoing column about the true stories behind movies and TV shows. It’s so simple. This episode focuses on the true story behind Penny Marshall’s 1992 classic, A League of Their Own.


Few films epitomize the moniker “classic” better than by Penny Marshall 1992 movie, A separate league. The film features the all-star trio of Geena Davis, tom hankand Madonna. Marshall’s film follows the Rockford Peaches, an all-female baseball team formed as part of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) at the start of World War II.

Naturally, the fictionalized narrative of the AAGPBL is inspired by real events. Here is an overview of the true stories and people who inspired, A separate league.

form the league

The United States’ entry into World War II in 1942 posed a threat to Major League Baseball. Many potential and current players have been drafted or volunteered to serve in the war. The teams have been disbanded. And the owners, fearing the league would collapse, began looking for alternatives.

Between: Phillip K. Wrigley. If his last name sounds familiar, it’s because Wrigley was heir to the famous gumball fortune of the same name and owner of the Chicago Cubs, who play at Wrigley Field, baseball’s second-oldest home park. country professional. Wrigley inspired Walter Harvey in Marshall’s film. Harvey is played by the director’s brother, Garry Marshall.

Wrigley, according to the league’s official history, ordered Ken Sells to seek alternatives to MLB. This led to the formation of the All-American Girls Softball League in the spring of 1943. Sells served as the league’s first president. As ESPN noted, he likely inspired Ira Lowenstein (played by David Strathairn) in Marshall’s film.

From softball to baseball

Although the women’s league played a game that looked more like softball, halfway through the first season they changed the league’s name to the All-American Girls Baseball League. However, according to league history, the reference to “baseball” has caused some controversy. This, in part, stems from the fact that the league featured an underhand throw and larger bases. And so the league changed its name to the more ambiguous All-American Girls Professional Ball League.

But then, in 1945, the league underwent another major change. The league adopted the overhand pitch and reduced the bases. The game started to look more like MLB. And so the league became the All-American Girls Baseball League. The name will remain until 1950.

Talent Search

One of the best parts of Marshall’s film is the search for talent to play in the newly formed league. In the film, we watch scouts scour small towns in search of young women willing and eager to play baseball. A similar search did indeed take place.

A seasoned baseball veteran named Jim Hamilton, according to league history, was hired to lead the scouting. The goal was to find women from all over the United States and Canada and get them to sign contracts. In Marshall’s film, a scout is played by Jon Lovitz.

One of the league’s key signings included Mary “Bonnie” Baker. A wide receiver, Baker was an All-Star for the South Bend Blue Sox. According to AAGPBL history, Baker stood out in one of many popular softball leagues in Canada at the time. She would also inspire a key figure in the history of cinema.

The inspiration(s) for Dottie

The duo at the center of Marshall’s film are Rockford Peaches catcher Dorothy “Dottie” Hinson and “All the Way” Mae Mordabito. Dottie is played by Davis and Mae by Madonna.

Neither of the two characters actually existed. But each is said to be based on real players. Baker is one of many players cited as an influence for Dottie. According to Baker’s AAGPBL obituary, Davis’ character “resembled Baker the most.”

Other inspirations for Davis’ Dottie include Dorothy “Dottie” Kamenshek. A left-handed first baseman, in 1999 she was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the 100 greatest female athletes of all time. At Kamenshek’s New York Times obituary, her friend and fellow player Lavonne Paire Davis reportedly said:

[Kamenshek] could strike with power, she could land the bunt and steal the base. She was a great first baseman – she could get off the ground four feet and grab or pull him out of the ground. She was a tough woman, and she was as smart as can be.

Inspiration for Mae

As for Mae, “All the Way” Faye Dancer served as inspiration for the character, her New York Times obituaries. Known for his “home runs and spontaneous cartwheels,” Dancer has become a staple of the AAGPBL.

According to Time, she was the first player in the league to hit two home runs in a single game. Sportswriters have described her as a “fly-catching genius”. As for her on-court ability, her teammate Davis said:

I have never seen a woman or a man do better.

The events of World War II weigh on Marshall’s film. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, outfielder Better (played by Tracy Reiner), receives a letter stating that her husband was killed in action. It’s a moment that many women dread. Similarly, Dancer, his Time obituary notes, lost her fiancé during the war. According to Davis, Dancer “never really considered marrying anyone else.”

Inspiration for Jimmy Dugan

Of course, no discussion of the movie would be complete without Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan, played by Hanks. Like Mae and Dottie, no real Dugan existed. However, the character was certainly inspired by real former ballplayers.

The most cited inspiration for Dugan is Hall of Fame player-turned-manager Jimmie Foxx. Foxx played for a host of MLB teams, including the A’s, Red Sox and Cubs, and hit more than 500 home runs during his career.

In 1952, he took a job as manager of the Fort Wayne Daisies, an AAGPBL team. According to the Society for American Baseball Research, his time with the team “has been enjoyable.” His daughter, Nanci, worked as a batgirl. SABR notes Foxx’s resemblance to Hanks, but adds that “women who played for him remember him only as a true gentleman in every way”.

Foxx led the team for just one year, citing “many long bus rides” as his reason for leaving.

Enshrinement at Cooperstown

those who have seen A league apart will remember that the film begins and ends decades later when former AAGPBL players gather in Cooperstown, New York, to celebrate an exhibition dedicated to the league at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Such an event actually happened on November 5, 1988, when, writes Hall of Famer Matt Rothenberg, “Memories, artifacts, stories, and memories alone…could have filled an institution at least twice. larger than the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

About 150 of the more than 500 women known to have played in the AAGPBL attended the opening of the “Women in Baseball” exhibit in Cooperstown. In previous years, a committee of former players, including former pitcher Dottie (Wiltse) Collins, began advocating for league recognition. His work helped inspire the exhibition and inspired Marshall’s film. Collins even served as an advisor on the project.

In the report for the Hall of Fame, Collins is quoted as saying:

Back then, we were just kids having fun. It wasn’t until the end that we realized we had been pioneers in women’s sports. It’s the thrill of a lifetime for us.

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Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based video critic, researcher and essayist who has contributed to Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.

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