Are you ever amazed by the randomness of how the same topic can appear in your life for no particular reason two days in a row after you hadn’t thought about it for quite some time?
Such is the case with the movie, “A League of Their Own.” Just got back from vacation, where the movie came up in a discussion with a friend. She played college softball at Texas Woman’s University in the 1970s, and we were discussing how administrator/advocate extraordinaire Donna Lopiano was recently named chair of the women’s baseball committee for the International Baseball Federation (IBAF).
The organization’s goal is to get women’s baseball – not softball – added to the Olympics. A few years ago, softball and baseball were voted out the Summer Games (after 2008, that is) in a decision that many feel reflected – among other things – a negativity toward Major League Baseball for its laissez-faire attitude until recently about performance-enhancing drugs. It was also seen as, to some degree, a vote that was prompted by negativity toward the United States.
Softball seemed to be a “victim” of this vote mostly because it was “linked” to baseball. Softball officials, players, coaches and fans were devastated by this decision and have been working ever since to try to get it reversed.
Lopiano, of course, is a legendary women’s sports figure who is a member of softball’s Hall of Fame. Now she is working toward getting baseball for women added into the Olympics. And I was telling my friend, with some initial trepidation, that I fully supported this.
Why the trepidation? Well, at first I wasn’t sure how she would take what I said. I fear that with all former and current softball players. In fact, it’s hard to just come right out and say it here but, here goes … the truth is that I like baseball a lot better than softball.
Whew! OK, there, it’s out. This isn’t meant to be a knock at softball … it’s just a different game. The size of the ball and the field, the dominance of a different style of pitching … oh, heck, I don’t have to explain how it’s different. Everybody knows that. It’s just that the differences make it a less-appealing sport _ to me.
When I was 9 and went to sign up for the Khoury League, I did not want to play softball. I wanted to play the same game my beloved St. Louis Cardinals did: baseball. Now, the reality is I would have been just as awful at both, but I would have much preferred the chance to be awful at baseball.
I didn’t have the choice, though. The rules then were girls played softball, boys played baseball. At the time, I thought softball was the “dumbed down” version of baseball that they forced the girls to play to keep the “cool” game for the boys only.
I know that’s not really the origin of softball, of course, as it began as an indoor version of baseball. But … sorry. I don’t know that I’ve ever really gotten over that disappointed feeling that I “had” to play softball. (Just kill me now, softball fans. First, tell me how I could swing for a million years and never hit a rise ball, which is true.)
Anyway, my friend actually didn’t disagree with me at all, saying she probably would have opted for baseball, too, had that been a choice. (More and more girls are playing baseball these days at the entry level, but most eventually transition to softball.) And that got us talking about “A League of Their Own.”
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which ran from 1943-54, actually started out as basically fast-pitch softball but evolved into a game virtually identical to “men’s” baseball – including with overhand pitching – with the exception of the basepaths being 5 feet shorter.
We agreed about how funny and touching the movie was, how great Geena Davis and Tom Hanks were, how irritating Lori Petty’s jealous-little-sister character Kit was, how it seemed false that there was not even one acknowledged lesbian, how we cried during the closing sequences that showed the older women playing ball.
Well … my friend said she got teary-eyed. I, on the other hand, acknowledged bawling my head off.
Many things had flashed through my mind at the end of that movie: Despite the passage of time taking its inevitable toll on our bodies, most people still long to “play” … women had this league for a little over a decade, and then it just went away … the 1950s-early 1960s was such a backlash period for women/girls in so many endeavors (not just sports) after all the gains made during the war years … females for so long had far fewer opportunities in athletics and far less encouragement … some of them tried and gave up; some never even tried.
The other contributing factor to the emotional power of the movie for me was the time period it was released. It was in the summer of 1992, and the end of Dawn Staley’s college basketball career had really hit hard. The idea that this court magician was essentially going to be “out of sight” until the 1996 Summer Games (she was not on the ’92 Olympic team) just left me very blue.
The “league of our own” that I wanted then, of course, was a pro basketball league in the United States. At the time, I had no idea that the short-lived ABL and the WNBA were on the horizon.
So a dam, of sorts, burst for me at the end of that movie.
My friend and I chatted about all that … and then – this is where the totally random part comes in – I happened to be looking through a stack of old “Sports Illustrated” magazines when I got back home the very next day. And came across one from July 1992. It contained a review of “A League of Their Own” that was generally positive, but critical of the film’s sentimentality.
“You’ll cringe for weeks thinking about the reunion scenes that frame the movie,” the reviewer wrote. Yes, the reviewer was male, he doesn’t write for SI any more and I’ve found his work over the years to be professionally inclusive in regard to women’s sports.
But emotion in movies strikes people differently, usually based on their experiences or their degree of empathy for others’ experiences. Suffice to say, I couldn’t have had a more opposite reaction to the reunion scenes than the author of that review did. We saw entirely different things on screen.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League lasted 11 years, and then it disbanded. The thought on the part of the owners was that its purpose – helping fill the sports-entertainment gap while so many men were in the armed forces and not playing Major League Baseball – had been served and the league had run its course.
How many players and fans must have grieved its end, we can only guess.
At any rate … what do you think of the softball vs. baseball question for girls/women?
(Additional note: The first comment asks about why the poll could not include the option of having baseball and softball as choices for both men and women. However, I just don’t see any way that softball would ever be added for boys/men at the high school and collegiate levels in the USA. It’s not financially feasible. However, men still play that game (very well) and so I added the option of whether softball should be the Olympic sport – not baseball – for both men and women. With the idea that baseball already has the World Baseball Classic and, of course, has the Major Leagues as a place where all the best players in the world can strive to play in.)