Please try again
This month marks 30 years since A League of Their Own first hit movie theaters. Starring Geena Davis and directed by Penny Marshall, the movie introduced 1992 audiences to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, put together in 1943 when male athletes were in short supply because of World War II. In the movie, the league’s story is told through the eyes of a fictionalized version of the Rockford Peaches—a real-life team that, in their day, won more league championships than any of their peers.
Three decades on, League remains worthy of repeat viewings because of how much heart it has. It’s a story about how working on a team can make you a stronger and more empathetic person. It’s about female solidarity and women supporting women—something mainstream cinema does not have a great track record of portraying. It’s a film that’s imbued with a gratitude for the female athletes who broke boundaries in the 1940s, and did so with grace. The movie also remains steeped in wish fulfillment, because women’s professional baseball existed for such a short period of time. (The AAGPBL was cast aside in 1954 despite five new teams joining the league as soon as the war ended.)
League somehow also succeeds in highlighting the appalling sexism female ball-players faced, but in a humorous way. Quite a feat given that the women of the AAGPBL were subject to mandatory attendance in charm school, makeup and hair length requirements, and a deeply impractical uniform that consisted of a mini dress and satin shorts. In the movie, the women simply roll their eyes, grit their teeth and get on with the task at hand, eyes trained on the bigger picture.
If there is a criticism to be leveled at A League of Their Own, it’s in its lack of diversity. The movie failed to reflect the number of queer women who played for the AAGPBL, and it failed to adequately explain why women of color were excluded from the league. (It’s worth remembering that legendary pitcher Mamie Johnson was rejected because she was Black. She wound up playing alongside men in the Negro Leagues.)
A League of Their Own reboot coming to Amazon Prime this August, courtesy of Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and producer Will Graham, promises to fill in the gaps left by the original movie. Hopes are already high for the series. Penny Marshall was consulted and gave her blessing, and Rosie O’Donnell—who originally played third baseman Doris Murphy—returns in the new series as a bartender named Vi.
In revisiting the story of the AAGPBL, it’s impossible not to think about the bold individuals who made up the teams. In its 11 years of operation, the league introduced America to 600 female ball-players from all over America (as well as from Canada and Cuba)—including a handful from the Bay Area.
There was Dorothy “Dottie” Stolze from Alameda who, in 1942, left her office job to work as an aircraft mechanic as part of the war effort. She was later recruited to the AAGPBL after grabbing headlines while playing softball with her Alameda team. In her pro baseball life, Stolze played with the Muskegon Lassies (1946–1949), Racine Belles (1949), Peoria Redwings (1950–1951) and Grand Rapids Chicks (1952). She is considered one of the most versatile players in AAGPBL history, playing every position on the field except pitcher. After her retirement from baseball, Stolze became a P.E. teacher and lifelong supporter of the Oakland A’s.
There was also Jerre DeNoble from Oakland, an outfielder who played for the Peoria Redwings and Grand Rapids Chicks. DeNoble’s brothers were more interested in music than sports, so her father played ball with her instead. DeNoble’s career was cut short because of shoulder and leg injuries, as well as a broken finger.
Claire “Buttons” Lobrovich was an outfielder hailing from Campbell, who played for the Kenosha Comets and Rockford Peaches in 1947 and ’48. She helped the Peaches take home the AAGPBL Championship Title in ’48. After her retirement from pro baseball, she returned to softball, playing for the Stockton Vikingettes and Los Gatos Elliots. Lobrovich married a semi-professional ball player named John Kumpotich in 1951, and lived to be 88.
Finally, there was Dolores “Dodie” Wilson from Stockton, an outfielder for the Peoria Redwings and Chicago Colleens in ’47 and ’48 respectively. She played 79 games with a respectable batting average of .217, and was a fan favorite thanks to her stunning good looks. Wilson was inducted into Stockton’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977, and the west diamond in Stockton’s Oak Park Softball Complex is named after her.
A League of Their Own is a story that remains worth telling. And not just because the women who played professional baseball in the 1940s will always deserve a spotlight. It’s a story worth telling as long as female, trans and nonbinary athletes continue to face sexist and discriminatory battles. (Sixteen states are currently enforcing bans on transgender students from participating in sports.) It’s a story worth telling as long as women’s teams are being paid significantly less than men’s. (In 2019, NBA players received 50% of league revenue, while WNBA players received around 25%.)
In 2022 then, A League of Their Own is a pertinent reminder that athletes facing discrimination can no longer simply roll their eyes and grit their teeth. As the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team has so doggedly proven, the only way to create change is to demand it.