In Her Own League
Penny Marshall helped resurrect the memory of the AAGPBL
In March, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates Women's History Month with a look at women who changed baseball history.
Most Americans are aware that in the 1940s and early 1950s a baseball league in which the players were entirely women hosted games across America. What many may not realize is how remembrance of this league was almost lost to greater American memory save for the efforts of another important, groundbreaking woman: Penny Marshall.
Penny Marshall grew up in the Bronx a die-hard New York Yankees fan, and continues to be a big baseball and sports fan today. Marshall first burst into cultural consciousness as “Laverne” on the ABC sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” in the 1970s, and propelled her career to new heights in the 1980s, directing movies such as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Big,” and “Awakenings.” “Big” became the first time a female director broke $100 million at the box office.
While shooting “A League of Their Own,” the movie that immortalized the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), Marshall told the New York Times Magazine that the project was undertaken out of a feminist motivation: “...I wasn’t doing it just to do a women’s picture. Women’s issue is a turnoff altogether.”
Still, it was clear that this important part of baseball and American history wasn’t as recognized as it arguably could and should be, “It’s a subject nobody knew about. A baseball league existed, but nobody knew about it.”
Marshall executive produced and directed the film, which tells a fictionalized story of the creation of the AAGPBL. The league was created by Philip K. Wrigley in 1943 in response to depleted Major League Baseball rosters during World War II and was under his oversight until 1945 before going through a couple different phases and petering out in 1954. The film was a huge success, and was Marshall’s second to break the $100 million milestone. It also put into circulation one of the great baseball movie quotes: “There’s no crying in baseball!”
While it may not have been Marshall’s purported intention to do a “women’s picture,” or to promote a feminist view of history, the creation of the film certainly has contributed a greater understanding of the role women have played in baseball, and become a cultural touchstone in its own right.
Hall of Fame visitors can learn more about the AAGPBL and see artifacts from the movie in the Museum’s Diamond Dreams and Baseball at the Movies exhibits.
Celebrate Women's History Month with the Museum's Girls Got Game features. Subjects include Alta Weiss, Ila Borders, Mamie Johnson, Nicole McFadyen, Eliza Green, Kim Ng, Nancy Faust and Penny Marshall.
Max Miller was the 2012 the Library-Photo Archives intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development. For information on how to apply for the Class of 2014 Steele Internship Program, click here