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The Real-Life Historical Inspirations For 'A League of Their Own'

August 20, 2020 28.5k views18 items

When A League of Their Own was released in 1992, it brought attention to a women's professional baseball league that had disbanded nearly 40 years earlier. Based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed from 1943-1954, the film attempts to put the AAGPBL - which went from being a gimmick to save baseball from going extinct during WWII to a respected league that drew sizable crowds for years - in some sort of context.

Some details, like the short-skirted uniforms and the players having to attend charm school, are accurate, while others are pure dramatic license. The film also glosses over the fact that the AAGPBL banned women of color from playing, and ignores the idea that the rules emphasizing a feminine appearance may have been instituted, in part, to keep players from being perceived as lesbians.

Sadly, there have been few opportunities for women in the US to pursue professional baseball since the AAGPBL folded in 1954. A League of Their Own reminds us that the league is an important part of American history that shouldn't be forgotten.

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  • The League Was Formed To Compensate For The Potential Loss Of Major League Baseball During WWII

    In the fall of 1942, Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley asked Ken Sells, the assistant to the Cubs' general manager, to head up a committee to come up with ideas to compensate for the loss of revenue if Major League Baseball got shut down by WWII. Several minor league clubs had already disbanded due to players being drafted (or volunteering to serve), and Wrigley and other MLB owners feared the same thing would happen with MLB players.

    The committee came up with the idea of forming a women's softball league whose teams would be prepared to go into MLB parks if the attendance started to drop significantly. Sells was named as the league's president. The new league's first tryouts were scheduled for Chicago in the spring of 1943 and drew almost 300 women from across the United States and Canada. "The need for additional recreation in towns busy with war defense work prompted the idea," Wrigley said.

    Originally called the All-American Girls Softball League, the name was changed midway through the inaugural season to the All-American Girls Baseball League in order to distinguish it from other women's softball leagues, and because the AAGBBL played by some of the MLB's rules. At the conclusion of the first season, the name was changed to the All-American Girls Professional Ball League (AAGPBL), but that wasn't the last name change. In 1945, the league went back to calling itself the AAGBBL; later, when independent team owners bought the league following the 1950 season, its official name became the American Girls Baseball League (AGBL). It wasn't until the late 1980s that the league actually became known as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).

  • Jimmy Dugan Was An Amalgam Of Jimmie Foxx And Hack Wilson, Two Hall Of Famers Whose Careers Were Plagued By Injuries And Alcoholism

    In A League of Their Own, Rockford manager Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) is a former major league star whose career was cut short by a combination of injuries and heavy drinking. The screenwriters based Dugan's character on two real MLB players, Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson.

    Foxx was a phenom who made his MLB debut when he was just 17 years old.  A three-time league MVP and two-time World Series champion, he won the Triple Crown in 1933 and was named an All-Star nine times. He finished his 20-year run with a .325 career batting average, 534 home runs, and 1,922 RBIs.

    Foxx began experiencing recurring double vision and facial pain in 1936, but that issue may actually be traced to a concussion he suffered after being hit in the head by a pitch in 1934. He sought treatment multiple times, but doctors couldn't find a remedy. Plagued by his vision problems and various injuries, he began to decline in 1941. Teammate Ted Williams said that while Foxx had previously only been a social drinker, by 1941 he was using alcohol to cope with health issues. Williams remembered one cross-country flight during which Foxx drank "about a dozen" miniature bottles of scotch to numb the pain.

    Foxx was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951. The following year, he became the manager of the AAGPBL's Fort Wayne Daisies. Although he led them to a first-place finish, that was his only season in the league. He passed in 1967 at age 59.

    And then there's Wilson. The 5-foot-6 slugger, whose 191 RBIs in 1930 set a single-season record that still stands to this day, saw his own career burn out quickly. One sportswriter who covered Wilson's career said, "For a brief span of a few years, this hammered down little strongman actually rivaled the mighty Babe Ruth." But his career was plagued by heavy drinking - and his tendency to get into fights. When asked if he ever played a game while drunk, Wilson replied, "Hung over, yes, many times... drunk, no." He passed in 1948 at age 48, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979.

  • Dottie Hinson Was Largely Based On Dorothy 'Dottie' Kamenshek, An All-Star First Baseman In The AAGPBL

    In A League of Their Own, Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) is a catcher, but the character was based in large part on first baseman Dorothy "Dottie" Kamenshek. Unlike the fictional Hinson, who retired after one season, Kamenshek played in the AAGPBL for 10 years (1943-51, 1953), winning two batting titles and earning seven All-Star nods. Her talent even drew attention from outside the AAGPBL; in 1947 she declined an offer by a men's minor league team in Fort Lauderdale, FL, to buy her contract. She was later named one of the top 100 female athletes of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated.

    Former MLB first baseman Wally Pipp once called Kamenshek "the fanciest fielding first baseman I've ever seen, man or woman."

    "She had the whole package," former AAGPBL player Lavone "Pepper" Paire Davis told The New York Times shortly after Kamenshek's passing in May 2010. "She could hit with power, she could lay the bunt down and steal the base. She was a great first baseman - she could go off the ground three feet and grab it, or dig it out of the dirt. She was a tough lady, and she was as smart as they come."

    The filmmakers made Dottie a catcher in order to create more dramatic tension between Dottie and her younger sister Kit (Lori Petty), a pitcher.

  • Walter Harvey Is Based On Philip K. Wrigley, The Chewing Gum Manufacturer And Chicago Cubs Owner

    In A League of Their Own, the women's league is founded by a group headed by candy bar manufacturer Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall).

    The character of Harvey is based on Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing gum manufacturer and owner of the Chicago Cubs. Wrigley was the main person behind the formation of the AAGPBL. He was on its board of directors and provided the original financial support for the league.