A League of Our Own
When I heard they were rebooting A League of Their Own into a television series, I’ll admit I was skeptical. The original film, directed by Penny Marshall (RIP) 30 years ago this year, was not just a favorite. In many ways, I imagined it to be a perfect movie. Geena Davis was charming as a reluctant star dubbed the “Queen of Diamonds.” Tom Hanks got to be a little less lovable than usual, which weirdly made him more so.
Madonna proved her chops as a comic actress, Rosie O’Donnell matched her quip for quip, and Lori Petty was pitch perfect (see what I did there?) as Davis’s annoying little sister with twice the drive but perhaps less natural talent.
The film (and the new series) tells the story of the short-lived All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League, which sprang up during World War II to keep America’s pastime alive while the men were off at war. It’s a film with obvious queer appeal. Gay men love it because of the abundance of divas, and the lesbians love it because it’s an honest-to-God sports movie featuring not one but a team full of strong women. For a movie made 30 years ago, it didn’t seem like it could get any gayer.
Well, that was 30 years ago. Created by queer showrunners Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham, the show does explicitly what the original film could only do obliquely. (O’Donnell says that she played her character as gay but was told by Marshall that “we couldn’t go there.”)
The show still features the Rockford Peaches (a real AAGPBL team), the league’s insipid but oddly catchy jingle, fastballs caught bare-handed, and the classic line “There’s no crying in baseball!”—but is otherwise a completely new take on the story. The cast is fronted by Jacobson and Chanté Adams as two ball players—Carson, a married catcher from Idaho who joins the Peaches, and Max, a pitcher from Rockford who is denied a tryout because she is Black—who come into their own, both as ballplayers and as queer women at a time when being caught in a gay bar could land you in jail.
While the show doesn’t ignore the realities of the period, the sexual and gender awakenings we see in the rebooted A League of Their Own fill us with joy, not dread. This is helped perhaps by the fact they are hardly alone. Carson is kissed by Greta (the show’s standout, D’Arcy Carden) in the very first episode, but it takes a little longer to learn that most of the women in the league like girls. She doesn’t just join a team, she finds a tribe—and even though the world was a less tolerant place, any queer viewer can relate to this discovery, that “OMG-there-are-so-many-of-us” feeling.
Max, unlike Carson, knows she’s into girls when the show begins. But being reunited with her Uncle Bertie, a trans man, opens the door to an entire community of Black LGBTQ folks as well as an embrace of a “soft butch” aesthetic—a look, but also an identity.
While watching, A League of Their Own felt like the gayest television show that ever existed. It’s not, of course—shows like Queer as Folk and The L Word have graced our television screens before. Perhaps it felt gayer because its queerness was such a surprise. It didn’t bill itself as a show where everyone is gay—no, it was introduced to us by harkening back to a favorite movie from 30 years ago in which no one was explicitly gay.
That first kiss between Carson and Greta felt right—not only because of the amazing chemistry between the two actors, but because it’s 2022, also because I didn’t know yet where the show was headed. Then we meet Jess, who refuses to wear skirts, and Lupe, who grimaces nervously when asked to play the sexpot for the press.
It’s halfway through the season before it’s confirmed that most players are lesbians, and it totally works because of course most of these women would be lesbians. In fact, they were—a fact recently confirmed by Maybelle Blair, a real-life Peoria Redwing and a consultant on the show who came out at the age of 98 this year. At a time when it wasn’t ladylike to play ball or have crushes on girls, these brave women found their way to each other—and earned a place in history, to boot.
Every time Hollywood returns to an idea that has been done before, whether a remake or a reboot or just a retread—a familiar chorus pipes up to ask, “doesn’t anyone have any new ideas?” And it’s a fair question, I suppose. But every once in a great while, there’s a very good reason to revisit an old story—because there really is a new spin on that ball.▼
Eric Peterson is a Diversity & Inclusion practitioner. His first novel (Loyalty, Love & Vermouth) is available online at Rehoboth’s Browseabout Books. The Rewind Project is available wherever you listen to podcasts.