A well-received baseball-based comedy-drama that introduced us to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, A League of Their Own featured a stellar cast that saw Tom Hanks star alongside Madonna, Geena Davis, Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell.
Taking us back to 1943, when a sudden absence of young men during World War II allows young females to show that they too can play baseball, A League of Their Own is a genuinely charming film that is definitely worth revisiting.
Below are 20 things you probably didn’t know about this 1992 film, which it turns out was as interesting behind the scenes as it is to watch!
20. It’s based on the story of a real-life women’s baseball league
Although the events in the film are entirely fictional, A League of Their Own is based on the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).
The league existed from 1943 until 1954, before there were any professional female sporting leagues in the US.
Some characters, like Dottie, were inspired and even shared a name with real players in the league.
However other characters, like Doris, were made up whole cloth, while many others had aspects of their lives or personalities changed.
For example, the real-life founder of the league made his fortune off of selling gum, not selling chocolate like he does in the movie.
Also, the character of Jimmy, played by Tom Hanks in the movie, was apparently far more gentlemanly in real-life compared to the gruff way Hanks played him.
19. Around 2,000 women showed off their baseball skills auditioning for the film
Approximately 2,000 women took part in auditions for A League of Their Own, but it wasn’t just their acting skills that Penny Marshall was interested in.
The director asked all auditionees to first show off their baseball skills, and it was only if those were up to scratch that the ladies were able to meet with the director herself.
How gruelling the baseball portion of the audition was varied according to each actress’ experience, with some remembering it as far more intense than others.
Geena Davis, for example, found that the whole experience was over pretty quickly – with her simply having to get the ball to director Penny Marshall.
Describing her audition, Davis later said: “I threw the ball to her, competently got it to her, she caught it and said, ‘OK.’ That was the whole audition.”
Not to mention, Davis’ audition took place in Penny Marshall’s backyard, which might have been either more or less intimidating than auditioning with all the other girls.
18. The cast spent seven months training in order to improve their game
So that the film’s baseball scenes looked as realistic as possible, director Penny Marshall insisted that all of the cast spent time training.
This training consisted of eight hour-days, six days a week, for seven months, during which both Megan Cavanagh and Tracy Reiner suffered concussions.
The concussions came from the ill-advised idea for the cast to learn how to dive and slide by practising on a Slip ‘N Slide.
Despite seeming like a fun and whimsical way to train, it made it easier for the women to lose control and hit their heads much harder than they would have done otherwise.
The rehearsal practice, as well as the many full games the cast had to play in order to get B-roll footage for the film, did help the group bond and feel like a real team.
The cast allegedly even had a birthday party thrown by Madonna, where she made her own Rice Krispies treats for the cast to enjoy.
17. Tom Hanks at one point performed a puppet show to entertain the extras
In order for the baseball stadium scenes to look as realistic as possible, filmmakers hired hundreds of extras to fill the empty seats.
The heat was intense, so naturally some of the extras were pretty miserable, resulting in some of the film’s main cast going above and beyond the call of duty to keep the masses entertained.
The entertainment was said to have included Tom Hanks performing a puppet show from behind one of the stadium’s dugouts, and Rosie O’Donnell performing one of her trademark stand-up comedy routines.
O’Donnell apparently also invited one of her many comedy connections to do regular stand-up routines whenever the cast weren’t filming.
Madonna didn’t agree to entertain the crowd with an impromptu concert, but the crowd were treated to a Madonna tribute act in the form of Rosie O’Donnell.
That’s right, O’Donnell apparently delighted in singing Vogue and Holiday at the top of her lungs, just because it annoyed Madonna so much.
16. Madonna referred to Geena Davis as a “Barbie doll”
Speaking of Madonna, given her superstar status, many people expected her to be a complete diva on set.
Some evidence supports this, as she apparently refused to sign autographs during production, and referred to Geena Davis as a “Barbie doll” in a letter to her friend.
She also said in the letter “I cannot suffer any more than I have in the past month… learning how to play baseball with a bunch of girls (yuk) in Chicago (double yuk).” So it seems like she might have had a pretty unpleasant time.
With that said, producer Robert Greenhut said Madonna was “a complete sweetheart” on set, and praised her for being “so enthusiastic about doing a good job”.
- Credit: Sony
Greenhut admitted that she did occasionally show up late to set a few times, but that’s tame considering how difficult superstars can sometimes be.
People on-set also seemed to like Madonna, especially once she hosted a birthday party at her house and invited the entire principal cast.
15. Many of the cast were injured playing baseball
A number of the film’s actors picked up knocks filming the scenes in which they were playing baseball, and Anne Ramsay (who plays Helen Haley in the film) even broke her nose trying to catch a ball.
Geena Davis (Dorothy ‘Dottie’ Hinson) also revealed that wearing skirts led to injuries for a number of the cast, saying that “some of the cast, from sliding into home, had ripped the skin off their legs.”
If you’re a keen-eyed viewer you may remember Renee Coleman, who plays backup catcher Alice Gaspers, having a huge black bruise on her thigh.
The hugely painful-looking injury was not created with make-up, but was instead a real bruise that Coleman got from sliding into base.
As Penny Marshall’s daughter Tracy Reiner put it: “That was not one pinch of makeup. She had that bruise for, like, 10 years.”
With almost all of the cast getting hurt at one point during the shoot or another, it seems like there probably was some crying in baseball.
14. The film was originally over four hours long
The original cut of A League of Their Own was over four hours long, and included a number of interesting deleted scenes, some of which are available to view on the film’s 25th anniversary Blu-ray release.
Deleted scenes include Dottie suggesting to Kit that she shouldn’t hang out with Mae, and the same couple discussing Dottie’s relationship with her husband Bob, played by Bill Pullman.
Also cut from the original version of the film was a discussion of the name of Madonna’s character, Mae ‘All the Way’ Mordabito.
In the scene, Geena Davis’ character Dottie speaks to her sister Kit about why Mae might be a bad influence, and includes some pretty dated romantic advice.
The cut scene finds Dottie saying that sex should always come after marriage, and for a pretty surprising reason too.
Dottie’s reasoning is that it’s more of an obligation than a fun activity, and more something you have to do than something you actually wanted to do. Yikes.
13. The extras in the opening Hall of Fame scene are all real AAGPBL players
A League of Their Own opens with an older Dottie, who travels to the opening of an All-American Girls Professional Baseball League exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
She then flashes back to 1943, which is where we spend the majority of the movie, watching the formation of the League.
- Credit: State Archives of Florida
What you may not know is that the extras exploring the exhibit in that opening scene are the people who are really honoured in it, since they are all original members of the AAGPBL.
Many of the original members of the league consulted on the League of Their Own script, and were around to give helpful advice, information and anecdotes.
- Credit: Flickr
Given their pioneering work in sport, and their contributions to getting both the movie and the documentary that inspired it made, it was fitting that they got a cameo.
The original players also appeared at the movie’s anniversary celebrations, where it seemed they had become great friends with the cast.
12. Geena Davis really did catch a pop up behind her back
One of the most impressive moments in A League of Their Own is when a ball is popped up behind the home plate, and Dottie, played by Geena Davis, effortlessly catches it behind her back.
The moment shows everyone just how talented Dottie is, but what might surprise you is that the moment is also a showcase of Davis’ own talent.
Initially, the behind-the-back catch was supposed to be done in close-up by a stunt double, but the stuntwoman just couldn’t learn the trick.
Geena Davis insisted on giving it a try, and within a few minutes had apparently mastered the skill, proving her own baseball chops.
Similarly, Rosie O’Donnell who plays Doris Murphy in the film, learned to throw two pitches to two catchers at once.
O’Donnell learned that trick during rehearsal while bonding with one of the pitchers from the real AAGPBL.
11. A scene which showed a heavily pregnant Marla playing on the Racine Belles was cut
The original cut of A League of Their Own was four hours long, so a lot of things had to be cut in order to get the film down to an acceptable runtime.
Most of what was cut involved character development and drama, which was trimmed down heavily to create a more streamlined narrative.
One of the plotlines that was abandoned followed what happens after Marla gets married to the man she meets at the roadhouse.
It is revealed that during the game she plays as a member of the Racine Belles she is heavily pregnant, but doesn’t want to tell anyone.
Originally, when Dottie slides hard and crashes into Marla, Marla is removed on a stretcher, and that is why Dottie is crying before her husband Bob arrives.
That whole subplot was scrapped for the theatrical cut, making it way less obvious why Dottie would be crying when her husband arrives.
10. Doris was written specifically for Rosie O’Donnell to play
If it seems like the character of Doris was created as the perfect character for Rosie O’Donnell to play, then that’s because she was.
O’Donnell originally auditioned for the character of Marla, but lost out when casting directors realised that Megan Cavanagh was perfect for that particular role.
The character of Doris was then invented and written specifically for O’Donnell, allowing her to flex her comedic muscles and bring a unique energy to the cast.
It wasn’t only because she was hilarious that O’Donnell got the opportunity, but because she was a genuinely talented baseball player, and did better than most of the cast in the sporting portion of her audition.
It also helped that O’Donnell had a huge personality, so she wasn’t afraid to match wits with Madonna, who she spends most of her time with onscreen.
O’Donnell allegedly constantly sang Madonna songs to annoy her celebrity costar, and the director loved how unintimidated O’Donnell was.
9. The film inspired Geena Davis to try out for the Olympics
Throughout A League of Their Own, Geena Davis’ character Dottie goes on quite the emotional journey, learning to want more than just simple farm life and accept her skills as a leader and ambitious baseball player.
In being given the opportunity to play Dottie, Geena Davis also went on an emotional journey, leading to her own memorable sports moment.
Before being cast in the film, Davis had always been insecure about her height, and felt gangly and not at all graceful.
As she once said in an interview: “I assumed I was uncoordinated. I was always so tall and awkward. That changed my life – learning how to play a sport.”
The confidence Geena Davis gained while shooting A League of Their Own led her to pursue professional archery along with her acting career.
Davis even got to compete in the US archery Olympic trials, and she went so far as to wear her signature pink baseball uniform while competing at events.
8. It took five years for the movie to begin getting made
- Credit: Sony
Just like how the original female baseball teams took a while to convince the general public they were worth watching, it took a while to convince a studio that a movie about their exploits was worth making.
A League of Their Own began as a documentary about the real AAGPBL and created by the daughter of one of the original players, Helen Callaghan.
The documentary took a while to get made in its own right, and then it took even longer for Penny Marshall to develop the true story into a narrative and write a feature film script.
Factoring in all the research to make sure key points were accurate and that the stories of the living players were adapted respectfully, the pre-production of the movie took a long time.
- Credit: Sony
As director Penny Marshall put it: “We were completely obsessed with this idea. It took close to five years to sell it, to do the research on it, to film it and to write the story for the [feature] film. It didn’t happen in a week.”
The result was a sprawling four-hour movie with half a dozen subplots, which became one of the most beloved female-focused sports movies of all time (once it was cut down a little, at least).
7. Madonna begged to be in the movie
It’s not unusual for a major music star to want to transition into the movie business – just look at Cher or Will Smith.
However, it is more unusual for a famous pop star to willingly take a smaller role in an ensemble movie just because they want to be involved with the project.
As unlikely as it may sound, that’s exactly how it went for Madonna, who begged to be in A League of Their Own even once she found out she wouldn’t be paid very much.
Her reasoning was that she wanted to diversify her career, and loved the concept and message of the movie.
As producer Robert Greenhut put it: “I told her, ‘You know, it’s very little money.’ She explained that she wanted to be diverse in her career. And she took it seriously.”
Critics and audiences might have been divided on Madonna’s performance, but it no doubt helped her score later roles like the title character in Evita.
6. Geena Davis knows if Dottie dropped the ball or not (but she’ll never tell)
Much of A League of Their Own focuses on the rivalry between Dottie, played by Geena Davis, and her sister Kit, played by Lori Petty.
Dottie is the player with more natural talent and inclination, while Kit is far more competitive and passionate about the game.
This rivalry comes to a head in the final game, when a dropped ball by Dottie allows Kit to score a victory over her sister.
Fans have been speculating ever since about whether Dottie genuinely fumbled the ball, or faked dropping it on purpose to allow her sister an important moment.
Who knows? Well, Geena Davis does, but she’s vowed never to reveal the answer, saying: “I’ll say two things about that.
“No. 1: I know the answer. Because it was me, of course, I know the answer. And No. 2: No, I’m not going to answer that question. I never have, and I never will.”
5. Mae’s baseball position had to be changed because Madonna couldn’t master fielding ground balls
Madonna might have been one of the biggest pop stars in the world at the time A League of Their Own was filming, but that didn’t translate into her having a relaxed and easy time on set.
It also doesn’t mean that skills such as baseball came easily to her, as she actually had to work harder than a lot of other people in the cast.
Madonna trained with everyone else during the eight weeks of rehearsals, but there was just one skill she could not master.
Specifically, she couldn’t get the hang of fielding ground balls, which involves catching hit balls that are often moving much faster than thrown balls.
To get around this problem, Madonna’s character Mae was moved from third base to the outfield.
Aside from shuffling the other characters around to accommodate, no other changes were made to give Madonna an easier ride on set.
4. Jimmy and Dottie were supposed to end up together
Another casualty of the movie being cut from four to two hours was the romantic subplot between Dottie and Kit.
There were several scenes of romantic tension between the two in the original script, and that atmosphere was also encouraged during the filming of certain scenes.
However, members of the original AAGPBL were apparently scandalised and upset by the choice.
Specifically, they rebelled against the idea that Dottie would ever fall in love with another man, both because she was married and because she was waiting for her husband to return from the war.
Conveniently, the filmmakers already knew that the theatrical cut would have to be roughly half the length of the original, so it was easy to chop out any romantic implications.
The lack of a romantic subplot for the main character for most of the movie also made Dottie’s sporting and personal achievements the main focus of the film, in hindsight a more suitable choice.
3. The Madonna song used in the film wasn’t allowed to appear on the soundtrack album
Despite Madonna being a massive part of the film, A League of Their Own spawned a soundtrack that only made it to number 159 on the US albums chart.
That could in part be because, although the Queen of Pop’s song This Used to be My Playground appears in the film itself, it could not be added to the soundtrack for contractual reasons.
Despite Madonna’s song not appearing on the soundtrack, the released version did include a fair few other recognisable names.
The soundtrack includes songs performed by everyone from James Taylor to Art Garfunkel, rather big names in their own right.
There were even songs written, performed and produced by stars such as Carole King and Billy Joel.
With that said, one song from Madonna might not have been enough to turn the album into a hit, but who knows?
2. It spawned a short-lived TV series
In 1993, only a year after the release of the film, an A League of Their Own TV series aired on CBS in the US.
Unfortunately, despite seeing Megan Cavanagh and Tracy Reiner reprise their roles from the film, the show was not successful, and only five out of the six episodes were ever aired.
Excitingly for fans of the original film, in 2020 it was announced that an A League of Their Own web series was being created.
The web series is supposedly an adaptation of the film rather than a sequel, and so it will follow roughly the same events of the movie.
However, the series is also set to include brand new characters and storylines, courtesy of writer and comedian Abbi Jacobson.
The web series format means Jacobson will have the time to explore the characters more, rather than having to cut any unnecessary character beats to preserve the runtime, like in the film.
1. A massive reunion was organised for the film’s 20th anniversary
- A big event was organised for the film’s 20th anniversary in 2012, which saw 47 former All-American Girls Professional Baseball League players reunite in New York.
The celebrations included a game of softball, an outdoor screening of the film itself and a display of cars that had featured in the film.
The cast even reunited to get dressed up in their best baseball attire and play a game together, even if they didn’t take it quite as seriously as their characters.
Echoing the opening scene of the film, the cast and former professional players travelled to the real National Baseball Hall of Fame.
A similar reunion took place in 2017 to mark the film’s 25th anniversary, with fans and cast members in attendance.