Dottie and the Dropped Ball

All right, because my last piece launched a discussion, we should do a quick dive into the question:

Did Dottie drop the ball on purpose at the end of A League of Their Own?

* * *

Answer: No.

Lori Petty played Kit, the little sister who smashed into Dottie at home plate (after it took Rosie O’Donnell like 30 minutes to make the cutoff throw). So obviously she would know.

Lori Petty says no.

"I knew you were going to ask me that," Petty told The Ringer. She did know. She gets asked all the time. She once Tweeted that the person who worked customs in L.A. asked her if Dottie dropped the ball on purpose. She told that person no. This has been her consistent and vehement view.

"They’re insane," Petty said of anybody who thinks that Dottie would have dropped the ball intentionally. "I kicked her ass!"

* * *

Answer: Yes.

Helen Callaghan played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and her son Kelly Candaele made a documentary that focused on Helen and her sister Margaret. The documentary inspired A League of Their Own, and Callaghan was the inspiration for Dottie. So obviously Kelly and Helen would know.

Callaghan said yes.

“I took her to see [Penny] Marshall’s film when it came out in the summer of 1992, not long before she died of cancer,” Candaele wrote in the Los Angeles Times this week. “She loved it and felt that Penny had 'got it right.' But she added that she would never drop a ball on purpose — not for anyone — as Dottie does in the movie’s big-game climatic scene. It would have been a betrayal of her teammates.”

* * *

Answer: Who knows?

Geena Davis played Dottie. Geena Davis has been asked this question hundreds of times. Her answer is direct and consistent and to the point.

“I'll say two things about that,” she told ESPNW. “No. 1: I know the answer. Because it was me, of course, I know the answer. And No. 2: No, I'm not going to answer that question. I never have, and I never will.”

* * *

Answer: Yes (subconsciously)

Bitty Schram played Evelyn, the right fielder who overthrows the cutoff woman and had to endure the furious dressing down by Jimmy Dugan, culminating with the “There’s no crying in baseball!”

Bitty Schram says yes, sort of.

“If I had to pick,” she said to ESPNW, “I would say subconsciously yes, because she knew how much more it meant to Kit, and she was too good of a player. From what I remember subconsciously, yes.”

* * *

Answer: No (and this shouldn't even be a topic of discussion)

Jennifer Iacopelli is an author of young adult books. She writes -- as she explains on her Website -- about kickass girls, and she’s a huge baseball fan (well, a Yankees fan). We had a fun Twitter exchange where she made it quite clear how she feels about this topic.

“I was all set to love this article and then OF COURSE he believes that Dottie dropped the ball on purpose,” she wrote. “I DON'T CARE HOW SWEET YOU THINK IT IS. IF DOTTIE DROPPED THE BALL ON PURPOSE IT RUINS THE ENTIRE MOVIE. IT BETRAYS HERSELF, HER SISTER AND BASEBALL ALL AT ONCE. STOP IT.”


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If ANYONE can appreciate a good uppercase letter screed, it’s me. Jennifer's note made me think that maybe I hadn't gotten my point exactly right — I did write that I think Dottie dropped the ball on purpose, but I don't know that, don't feel that strongly about it, and what I love is the QUESTION, not the answer. So I added a paragraph to clarify that part.

Jennifer wasn't buying.

“But see here's the thing,” she wrote, “that it's debated is the frustrating thing. The ease at which we acknowledge it's a possibility that I don't think would exist if it was a movie about men playing baseball. … We so easily reconcile the idea that Dottie would cheat and throw a game to make her sister happy when the cardinal sin of baseball is throwing games and tarnishing the integrity of the game? Just ... no.”

Is that true? It's a fascinating point. Is this whole question really built around the way we look at men and women? I can't help but think back to Dave Barry's hilarious bit about this talented woman player on his softball team. "She's been on the team for three seasons now, but the males still don't trust her," he wrote. "They know that if she had to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she would probably elect to save the infant's life, without even considering whether there were men on base."

Would I feel the ball was dropped on purpose if this was a movie about two brothers instead of sisters?

I'm pretty sure I would. But I don't know for certain.

“There's a question I think about a lot,” I wrote to Jennifer. “Did the pitcher groove a pitch to an aging Cal Ripken in the All-Star Game so he could have a final grand moment on the stage? I think yes, and I think it was great because it was bigger than the game.”

“That pitch was definitely grooved,” she wrote back, “but also ... it was the All-Star Game and not Game 7 of the World Series.”

“True,” I said, “but the pitcher was also not Ripken's older brother with so many deep and swirling connections.”

And then she wrote the clincher.

“That makes it even MORE likely that the pitch was grooved,” she said. “If, especially as adults, I ever let my little sister win at something that important, she would despise me for it and rightly so.”

And that’s when I had to concede the obvious point. We're looking at it in different ways.

“I think we're now getting at it,” I said. “You're viewing it as the big sister. And I'm viewing it as the sappy Dad who would always hope that my oldest daughter would, in the end, take care of my youngest. So you're probably right.”

* * *

Answer: It depends on how you define “more.”

There’s a telling line in the movie, one that happens when Dottie and Kit meet after the collision.

Kit: “Dottie, look, I’m sorry I knocked you over.”

Dottie: “No you’re not.”

Kit: “You blocked the entire plate! How do you expect …”

Dottie: “You did what you had to do. You just beat me. You wanted it more than me.”

What did Dottie mean by that? You wanted it more? Did she mean that figuratively, in the clichéd, broadcastery, sportswritery, "Notre Dame just wanted it more," sort of way? Or did she mean it LITERALLY, as in, "Yes, in the end, you were willing to smash full blast into your older sister without any consideration for your or my well-being, and I simply wasn't willing to send my younger sister into a lifelong haze of regret and pain? YOU wanted it more."

As far as I know, Penny Marshall, the film's director, has never said what she meant. As far as I know, the writers, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, have never said what she meant.

The wonderful part of fiction is that, well, it's fiction. There's no truth here. Even if Geena Davis ever DID tell us what happened (and here's hoping she never does), that wouldn't make it so. Geena Davis is not Dottie Hinson, and Dottie Hinson is not Geena Davis, and the movie I see is a little bit different from the movie you see is a little bit different from the movie Marshall directed is a little bit different from the movie Ganz and Mandel wrote.

You can see Dottie Hinson as the ultimate competitor who would NEVER drop the ball, not under any circumstances. There's evidence of that in the movie. Remember, she wouldn't even let her sister beat her in a simple walk home. Remember, she had just told her pitcher to throw the ball high because Kit couldn't lay off the high ones.

You can also see Dottie Hinson as someone who thinks other things are more important than baseball. Remember, she had just quit, despite Tom Hanks' "Hard is what makes it great" speech. She left the team for six games; it was surprising that she even came back. Also she asked to be traded because of her sister, and for the rest of her life she kept telling everyone close to her that it all "wasn't that important to me."

We don’t know.

We’ll never know.

And we'll keep arguing about it anyway, because it's fun to argue about and because we just know that it's better this way.