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Behind-The-Scenes Stories From ‘A League of Their Own,’ The Most Rewatchable Sports Movie

In 1987, a short documentary about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL; 1943-1954) aired on television, catching the attention of producer and director Penny Marshall. The documentary inspired the making of the feature film A League of Their Own, which became a commercial and critical hit when it was released in 1992.

Behind the scenes, the cast members trained hard to convincingly portray baseball players, even suffering real injuries in the process. Many of the details in the film, such as the players being sent to charm school, having chaperones, and being forced to play in skirts, are based on the real experiences of the AAGPBL athletes. 

While the film project hit some stumbling blocks along the way - the original studio placed it in turnaround and several of the actors originally cast dropped out or were replaced - the final film remains one of the most entertaining and inspirational sports movies in Hollywood history. In 2012, it was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry. And in 2020, Amazon announced it had picked up a TV series version of the film; the show will follow a new set of characters as they attempt to become professional baseball players.  

In the film, Tom Hanks's character memorably claimed, "There's no crying in baseball!" That may or may not be true, but what is true is that the making of A League of Their Own sounds as fun as the finished movie.

  • No One Thought That 'There's No Crying In Baseball!' Would Become A Classic Movie Line

    Decades after audiences first heard Jimmy Duggan scream, "There's no crying in baseball!" the quote remains a fixture in pop culture. However, screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel never thought the scene would continue to be quoted years after the film's release.

    The intent of the scene, the screenwriters told ESPNW in 2017, was to show how different the cultures of men's and women's baseball were. "We never said, 'And then there will be this great scene where the coach says, "There's no crying in baseball,"'" Ganz claimed. He added that the line didn't come from knowing that Tom Hanks would be playing the manager; it was in the very first draft of the script, well before the actor had been cast.

    Bitty Schram, who played Evelyn Gardner, the right fielder who breaks down in tears when she is berated by her manager for missing the cutoff man, said that the scene was filmed out of sequence and took numerous takes to get right. "What kind of sucked was that they had to fix my face for the next take because I couldn't look like I'm crying before I'm crying," Schram told ESPNW. The actor admitted she couldn't stand to watch the scene when she went to the film's premiere because "it made me nauseous. All I could see is 'Oh, they pick the take where I look like I was crying before' or 'Tom is great, but look at my f***ing double chin.' That's all I think about."

    Geena Davis said she always thought the line was very funny, but never thought it would become as iconic as it has: "That line is a signature. Right up there with 'Hasta la vista, baby.'"

  • It's Still Unclear Whether Dottie Dropped The Ball On Purpose

    At the end of the film, Racine wins the World Series after Kit scores the winning run by crashing into her sister at home plate and knocking the ball out of her Dottie's hand. However, years after the film's release, cast members still don't know whether Dottie deliberately dropped the ball in order to allow the younger sister - who tries for years to escape Dottie's shadow - to be the hero.

    Lori Petty, who played Kit, seems to believe her character knocked the ball out of Dottie's hand. "I kicked her *ss!" she declared to The Ringer in 2017.

    Kelly Candaele, one of the creators of the 1987 documentary about the real AAGPBL, and whose mother (Helen Callaghan) and aunt (Marge Callaghan) actually played in the league, sides with Petty. "My mom would never have dropped the ball, ever," he told The Ringer. "I always tell people that. People say, 'Oh, she [Dottie] did it on purpose, isn't that nice and sweet, she let her sister win.' No one would do that!" Candaele added that doing so would betray both Dottie's teammates and her own integrity, and the belief that she would lose on purpose was condescending. "If you knock someone over and knock the ball out, that's baseball."

    Actor Bitty Schram, on the other hand, believes that Dottie did drop the ball on purpose: "I would say subconsciously yes, because she [Dottie] knew how much more it meant to Kit, and she was too good of a player."

    But Geena Davis, who played Dottie, refuses to give any secrets away. She told ESPNW, "I'll say two things about that. Number one: I know the answer. Because it was me, of course, I know the answer. And number two: No, I'm not going to answer that question. I never have, and I never will."

  • The Auditions Were Actual Baseball Tryouts And Many Prominent Actors Didn't Get Cast Because Of Their Inability To Be Believable As A Player

    In 2017, Robert Greenhut, who was one of the producers on A League of Their Own, told ESPNW that the film was difficult to cast because they were looking for actors who could play baseball. While it might look easy when watching a game on television, the producer admitted, "We all quickly learned how hard it is to throw from first base to third to get somebody out."

    Director Penny Marshall told MLB.com, "There was a big tryout where [the actors] were judged on running, catching, hitting. Throwing is always the hardest for girls because they throw differently. But I would not [audition]... actresses unless they could play ball or were trainable." Reminiscing about the film with Rosie O'Donnell on the latter's television talk show, the director said that there were several good actors who didn't get cast because they couldn't play. One, Marshall remembered, showed up to the tryout wearing ballet slippers.

    Marshall's daughter Tracy Reiner, who ended up being cast as outfielder Betty "Spaghetti" Horn, went to the open tryouts with one of her cousins, even though she had stitches in her mouth from recently getting her wisdom teeth removed. "There were about 2,000 girls auditioning at USC with [former USC baseball coach] Rod Dedeaux, and his coaches and trainers were going to evaluate the girls to see if you were trainable," Reiner recalled to ESPNW. Dedeaux was impressed with Reiner's arm, but she ended up spitting blood because she had popped the stitches in her mouth. When she returned home, she thought her mom would like that Reiner and her cousin had gone to the big casting call. Instead, Marshall's reaction was "[How'd] you two [end up] testing in the Top 20 girls?"

    Geena Davis's audition for the role of catcher Dottie Hinson took place in the director's backyard. "[Marshall] wanted to make sure I could throw a ball, so that happened," Davis told USA Today in 2017. "I threw the ball to her, competently got it to her, she caught it and said, 'OK.' That was the whole audition." However, the actor, who wasn't an athlete growing up, trained rigorously and ended up impressing the actual baseball coaches on the set with her play. "When the coaches would say, 'You have real untapped athletic ability,' it was like, 'Oh, my god, I am coordinated.'" Davis later took up archery and even competed in the US Olympic Trials in 1999.

    Lori Petty claimed that she auditioned eight times for the part of Dottie's younger sister, pitcher Kit Keller. "Every woman in Hollywood was reading for this movie," Petty told The Ringer in 2017. "It was a strong female movie, which, you know, we don’t have now, and we didn’t have in 1991 either. I mean, Marla Maples auditioned, for Christ’s sake. Everyone."

    Among the actors who did make it through the tryouts were Téa Leoni and Janet Jones, both of whom were cast in bit parts as players on the Racine Belles.

  • Several Of The Characters Were Directly Based On Real People

    Photo: Charles M. Conlon / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was a real league that existed from 1943 to 1954. So it's not a surprise that several of the characters were based on or inspired by real people. 

    Davis's character Dottie Hinson was inspired by Dorothy "Dottie" Kamenshek, who played for the real Rockford Peaches, although she was a left-handed-hitting first baseman, while Davis's Dottie batted right-handed and was a catcher. While the fictional Dottie retired after one season, Kamenshek was a seven-time All-Star and two-time batting champion, and holds the AAGPBL's record for career hits.

    Tom Hanks's character, Jimmy Dugan, was based on baseball Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson, both of whom had their careers shortened at least in part because of their heavy drinking. After his playing career ended, Foxx spent one season (1952) as a manager of the AAGPBL's Fort Wayne Daisies.

    The part of Walter Harvey (played by Garry Marshall), the league founder/candy manufacturer, was based on the man who founded the real AAGPBL: the Chicago Cubs owner/chewing gum manufacturer, Philip K. Wrigley.