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When Penny Marshall knocked a classic out of the park, inspiring generations to come, in ‘A League of Their Own’

When Penny Marshall knocked a classic out of the park, inspiring generations to come, in ‘A League of Their Own’
Madonna, center left, and Rosie O'Donnell embrace in "A League of Their Own" as Geena Davis, in catcher's gear, looks on. (Louis Goldman / Columbia Pictures)

The day the world said goodbye to Penny Marshall, it turns out, there was crying in baseball. In the compilation book “The Female Gaze: Essential Movies Made by Women” (Mango: 236 pp., $19.99), Times film reporter Jen Yamato pays tribute to the enduring emotion, dirt-in-the-skirt thrills and quotable lines of Marshall’s “A League of Their Own,” and most of all, the bonds of baseball and sisterhood that inspired generations of women and girls to batter up, hear that call and play ball.

WITH DIRECTOR PENNY MARSHALL AT THE HELM of the based-on-the-incredible-true-story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, “A League of Their Own” knocked one out of the park as one of cinema’s most enduring and loving odes to sports history, women, and sisterhood.

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It’s also, arguably, one of the most quotable movies of the decade — with dozens of lines, moments, and scenes forever etched into the hearts of a generation of fans.

“Lay off the high ones!”

“I like the high ones!”

“Mule!”

“Nag!”

Lori Petty, left, Tom Hanks and Geena Davis star in "A League of Their Own."
Lori Petty, left, Tom Hanks and Geena Davis star in "A League of Their Own." (Louis Goldman / Columbia Pictures)

Geena Davis and Lori Petty star as Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller, the farm-raised sisters turned rival baseball phenoms who anchor the Golden Globe-nominated period dramedy. But a sprawling ensemble of talented women (Megan Cavanagh, Rosie O’Donnell, Ann Cusack, and Madonna among them) bring further vibrancy to the fictionalized ode honoring the talent, grit, and legacy of the female athletes who were recruited in real life by a chewing gum magnate to play hardball in skirts, on teams with names like the Rockford Peaches, Racine Belles, and the Grand Rapids Chicks, during WWII.

Sweeping photography by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek captures the textured beauty of a wartime American heartland traversed by our barnstorming heroines; the rapid-fire patter of a script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (from a story by Kim Wilson and Kelly Candaele, whose mother, Helen Callaghan, was a center fielder in the AAGPBL) takes flight out of the mouths of a stellar supporting cast, including Tom Hanks in a career-best performance as washed up team manager Jimmy Dugan.

And between scenes of good, old-fashioned, pulse-quickening baseball, between those hard-earned raspberries from sliding into base, Marshall never forgets to remind us there was more at stake for these women than just a game.

They were ball players, sisters, mothers, wives, dreamers, doers, and trailblazers, fighting for their turn at bat at a time when others still would never get the chance.

Rare is the Hollywood studio movie that centers so pointedly on the lives of women like these, who defied gender norms and swung for greatness.


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Rare is the Hollywood studio movie that centers so pointedly on the lives of women like these, who defied gender norms and swung for greatness while still having to prove their mettle to skeptical male owners and the public alike.

Whether you saw yourself in Dottie, Kit, fast-talking “All the Way” Mae, tomboy slugger Marla Hooch, sweet right fielder Evelyn Gardner or Betty “Spaghetti,” you probably had a favorite Rockford Peach.

The tears you’ve shed watching Kit round third belie the misguided notion that there’s no crying in baseball — not when your heart is truly in the game.

And when you hear that familiar refrain, the rest of the words fall right into place: “We are the members of the All-American League / we come from cities near and far…”

[From "The Female Gaze: Essential Movies Made by Women" by Alicia Malone, reprinted with permission from Mango Media Inc.]

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