In the fall of 1942, when most US American baseball players were fighting the Germans in World War II, there was a shortage of good players at home. And the league was making losses. Chewing gum mogul Philipp K Wrigley, who owned the men’s baseball team the “Chicago Cubs” from 1932 to 1937, then came up with the idea of recruiting women for the sport, which is especially popular in the United States. Thus, in 1943, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was founded.
After a rather bumpy start, the league would go on to enjoy great success: In 1948, more than 900,000 spectators watched the games of a total of 15 teams.
Yet, the initial reception they received was that women have no place in baseball. The new Amazon Prime series “A League of Their Own,” starring Abbi Jacobson and Roberta Colindrez of “The Deuce” fame, illustrates the women’s fight against this prejudice.
Not a remake of cult film
The Amazon Prime Video series was inspired by a similarly named film directed by Penny Marshall in 1992. Featuring America’s women baseball players, “A League of Their Own” was a touching and funny retelling of how the female baseball players in the mid-1940s batted their way into the hearts of the initially skeptical fans.
The basic story is closely linked to the fates of the various female players, all of whom chafed against the narrow social conventions of the time. Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna, among others, were cast as the baseball players. Madonna also sang the title song of the film’s soundtrack, “This Used to Be My Playground.”
Tom Hanks played the boozy ex-professional Jimmy Dugan, who was tasked with coaching the “Rockford Peaches” women’s team. The film was a hit in the 1990s. Penny Marshall has since been considered a trailblazer by critics, paving the way for other female directors in Hollywood.
However, the creators of the new Amazon Prime series point out that theirs is not a remake of the film classic. “A League of Their Own” is meant to offer a “fresh approach” and introduce new characters. Thematically, it will not only deal with the gender inequality that prevailed at the time, but also with racism and homophobia — both issues that were not confronted in the 1992 film.
A league of her own
95-year-old former player Maybelle “Mae” Blair, who had played for the “All-American Girls Professional Baseball League” from 1948, was brought in as a consultant. At a promotional event this year, Blair surprisingly announced her coming out. “I’ve been hiding it for 75, 85 years. This is actually the first time I’ve ever come out here,” she said in a video that the series team shared on Instagram.
Blair’s personal experiences have inspired the series’ storylines. Among other things, “A League of Their Own” reportedly features an African-American player who is transgender. In Blair’s time, being open about one’s sexuality was taboo. Female athletes who openly admitted their homosexuality, such as tennis legend Billie Jean King (see photo gallery), were met with hostility.
Late recognition for female baseball pioneers
In the 1950s, playing baseball was also considered unfeminine, which ultimately led to the league’s decline in popularity. In 1954, it was disbanded. It wasn’t until more than 40 years later that baseball’s pioneering women found belated recognition when they were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Nonetheless, even today there can be no talk of true equality. In addition to prejudice that they can’t play, women have to settle for a significantly lower salary. According to studies, athletes in the US have the largest gender pay gap.
Whether this issue will also be addressed in the new Amazon Prime series is unclear. In any case, virtually no details about the content have been leaked out ahead of the international launch on August 12, 2022, adding to the anticipation of the series’ premiere.
This article was orginally written in German.
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