A League of Their Own and Joy
Ten reasons why A League of Their Own makes me so, so happy every single time I see it.
1. The relationship between the sisters.
My favorite movies don’t just grow old with me. They evolve. They come to mean something new. The first time -- probably the first dozen times -- that I saw A League of Their Own, it was before we had two daughters. The sweet and fractious and intense relationship between Kit and Dottie was always wonderful, but later, watching our girls fight and joke and be jealous and proud of each other in (somewhat) equal measure, well, it changed the entire movie.
Point being that I’m more likely to cry watching A League of Their Own NOW than I was the first dozen times I saw it.
2. The African-American woman throwing the ball scene.
I cannot think of a single moment in any sports movie that I loved more. That's because there were two ways that A League of Their Own could have handled it:
A. It could have simply ignored the fact that African-American women were not allowed to play in the All-American League.
B. It could have put together an overwrought and preachy scene that would have been right but would have had no impact.
Instead, director Penny Marshall simply shows an African-American woman, dressed well, throwing the ball over the head of the catcher and all the way back to the pitcher. And then she nods. That’s all. She knows. The white players know. The audience knows. It’s all there, so perfect, a whole story -- a whole HISTORY -- in five seconds.
There’s something else about A League of Their Own … a couple of times Marshall uses the device of showing the person catching the ball sort of shaking their glove hand because the throw was so hard. It’s a really fun little gimmick that only a real baseball fan would know to do.
3. The “Hard is what makes it great” speech.
I saw someone make this point on Twitter, and it’s true: The "There’s no crying in baseball” scene is very funny, and at the very core of the movie’s plot. But the “Hard is what makes it great” exchange between Tom Hanks and Geena Davis is what I think about all the time, in so many scenarios. It’s what LIFE, in so many ways, is about.
It is, and I say this with love for Field of Dreams roughly 10 billion times better than the James Earl Jones, “They will come” speech.
Hanks: "Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up. You can’t deny that."
Davis: “It just got too hard.”
Hanks: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everybody would do it. That hard is what makes it great.”
I get chills just thinking about it. If I could get THIS through to my daughters, my job as a father would be complete.
4. Everything about the Jon Lovitz scout.
I’ve just decided this after a lifetime of thinking about it: The Jon Lovitz scout is the best minor character in any sports movie. You could argue for the Robert Wuhl character in Bull Durham. You could argue for any one of the Chelcie Ross characters (the jerk townie in Hoosiers, Dan Devine in Rudy, Harris in Major League, the coach in Heaven Can Wait).
But Lovitz is simply perfect. I don’t think any character in any sports movie -- perhaps any movie, period -- has ever had as high a punchline-to-minutes-on-screen ratio.
“I don’t want you! I want her! The one who HIT the ball!”
“Get these wild animals away from me. Haven’t you ever heard of a leash?”
“You know General Omar Bradley? There’s too strong a resemblance.”
“You know, if I had your job, I’d kill myself.”
“Hey cowgirls, see the grass? Don’t eat it.”
And, of course, the all-time classic: “See, how it works is, the train moves, not the station.”
He’s perfect -- unrelentingly mean, cynical, no heart of gold but maybe the tiniest ounce of gold somewhere in there. I sometimes think I’d like to see a whole Ernie Capadino movie (that was the Lovitz character's name, though no one remembers it). And then I think: No. A few minutes of Ernie was exactly right.*
*A great point from Brilliant Reader Vince ... I actually left out perhaps the best Lovitz line of all:
Ernie: "Mmm-hmm. They’ll pay you 75 dollars a week." Kit: "We only make 30 at the dairy." Ernie: "Well then, this would be more, wouldn’t it?"
5. The final scene with the real baseball players.
I mean, you put the real players from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League on the field at Cooperstown with Madonna’s This Used to Be My Playground playing -- and as the Ghost of Christmas Past says (in Scrooged): Niagara Falls.
6. The “Did she drop the ball on purpose?” question.
Mike Schur and I have been asking sports movie questions on our podcast, and this is probably my favorite one: Did Dottie purposely drop the ball when Kit ran into her at the end of the championship game? On the one hand, Dottie was ultra-competitive, and it doesn’t seem like she would ever do that. On the other, there was this beautiful bond between the two of them that lasted throughout the movie, and it's clear that Dottie so desperately wanted Kit to be happy.
I have come to believe that she DID drop it on purpose, but only because the movie begins with Dottie telling her older grandson to take it easy on her younger grandson (foreshadowing!).
BUT let me reiterate the point here, because it might be easy to miss -- I don't think what I believe matters. I'm roughly 50.003% convinced that she dropped the ball on purpose, and that .003% can move at any time. I love that the QUESTION is out there, forever, and people can feel strongly both ways, and in the end, whatever you think speaks to something larger about how you see things.
7. The Squiggy broadcasting.
David Lander, who played Squiggy on Laverne & Shirley, is also a baseball scout who has worked for the Angels and Mariners. He played the broadcaster, and he offered the classic line: “If you’re nearby, and you must be since this isn’t a powerful radio station, come on down to the ballpark. And bring the kiddies.”
8. The whole exchange between Tom Hanks and Garry Marshall.
When Walter Harvey (Marshall) offers Jimmy Dugan (Hanks) the managing job in the league:
Harvey: "Jimmy, I’m thinking of giving you another managing job."
Dugan: "Oh, well, Mr. Harvey, I guarantee I’ll do a better job than last time."
Harvey: "You kind of let me down on that San Antonio job."
Dugan: "Yeah, I had no right to sell off the team’s equipment like that. Won’t happen again."
Harvey: "Let me be blunt. Are you still a fall-down drunk?"
Dugan: "Well, that is blunt. No sir, I’ve quit drinking."
Harvey: "You’ve seen the error of your ways?"
Dugan: "No, I just can’t afford it."
Harvey: "Your drinking is funny? You’re a young man, Jimmy. You could still be playing. If you just would’ve laid off the booze."
Dugan: "Well, that’s not exactly how it happened. I hurt my knee."
Harvey: "You fell out of a hotel, that’s how you hurt it!"
Dugan: "Well, there was a fire."
Harvey: "Which you started. Which I had to pay for."
Dugan: "I was gonna write you a thank you card, but I wasn’t allowed anything sharp to write with."
I mean that exchange, every word of it, is priceless, like a perfect old Vaudeville routine, and it was delivered perfectly.
Bonus: When Dugan coughs up a huge wad of chewing tobacco and spits it on Ira Lowenstein’s shoe.
Lowenstein: "If we paid you more, could you be just a little more disgusting?"
Dugan: "Well, I could certainly use the money."
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9. The shortstop throwing the ball at the guy on the dugout.
Just a subtle moment, but hilarious every time -- the guy starts strutting on the dugout, attempting in the lamest way to mock the women warming up, and the shortstop -- the incomparable Freddie Simpson, who had played semi-pro softball -- nailed the guy with a throw. I don’t know, it’s simple, but it gets me every time.
10. Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell
Years ago, I interviewed Rod Dedeaux, the legendary old coach at Southern California, who served as the baseball advisor for the movie. And I remember he went on and on about how good a baseball player Madonna was. He just kept talking about how athletic she was and how she just had an incredible feel for the game.
I love that.
And Rosie O’Donnell was just plain great.
“Boys always made me feel like I was wrong, you know, like I was some sort of weird girl, or strange girl, or not even a girl, just because I could play. And I believed them, too. But not anymore, you know? I mean, lookit. There are a lot of us.”
That “lookit” -- which is actually “look” in the script -- might be my favorite word in the whole movie.
A final note: Jon Weisman makes the excellent point that this post is incomplete without mentioning that the movie was written by Lowell Ganz and Babloo Mandel, the pair who wrote Laverne & Shirley and several other movies including Splash and City Slicker.