Film Fest Highlighted By 'A League of Their Own'

Written by: Bill Francis

There may be no crying in baseball, but there were plenty of good-natured laughs as former players of the circuit that inspired A League of Their Own shared their thoughts on the classic baseball film prior a recent special viewing at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 1992 movie, directed by Penny Marshall about the fledging women’s baseball league that lasted a dozen years from 1943 to 1954, launched the 14th Annual Baseball Hall of Fame Film Festival on Sept. 20. The two-day event featured 11 films with subjects as diverse as the St. Louis Browns, a notorious ball hawk, Ernie Banks, a minor league team in Omaha, a former Yankees batboy and the longest professional game in baseball history.

On Day 1, the Hall of Fame’s Grandstand Theater played host to five former members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League – on organization whose reunion included a trip to Cooperstown on the same day – before a screening of the movie that made their oft-forgotten time as professional baseball players more than 60 years ago inspiring to many. In fact, some of the women on stage that night acted in the beloved film.

“We came to Cooperstown to actually shoot the scenes here,” said Sue Zipay, who played with the Rockford Peaches in 1953 and 1954. “While I was here Penny landed in Doubleday Field in a helicopter – her hair wasn’t combed, her cap was crooked, she had a cigarette in her mouth and she hollered, ‘Where’s Beans?’ and I was supposed to be ‘Beans.’ The next day they had me batting over and over and over again. I was supposed to hit a line drive and run to second. So I did it and she said do it again. All day long. It was a long day and a good experience. But the problem was I ran to second base so many times that day I tore some ligaments in my knee.”

Mary Moore, a second baseman with the Battle Creek Belles in the early 1950s, added, with howls from the audience: “During the credits, you have to watch them all the way to the end, that’s when we actually played our reunion game. I was the one who slid into home. Shirley (Burkovich) was trying to tag me out – which I was safe. You’ll have to slow the movie down and watch it frame by frame just to see it yourself. I was safe.

“It was fun, but I don’t think I’d want to be an extra again because they were 12 hour days. It was a lot of sitting around, a lot of waiting, but a lot of fun.”

Burkovich, who played all over the field for a number of AAGPBL teams from 1949 to 1951, couldn’t restrain herself. “Now back to Mary Moore,” as the crowd roared with laughter, “if you freeze-frame that, if we had instant replay like they do today, you would know Mary that you were O-U-T out!”

Soon after, Maybelle Blair, a pitcher with the Peoria Redwings in 1948, chimed in with her own hilarious take on the ongoing topic. “I’m still mad. I had the part Shirley had all memorized within seconds. It took Shirley a week to memorize the lines. Penny chose her. It should have been me. And you know that she’s getting royalties today and she’s never bought me a hot dog. It’s very upsetting. I room with Shirley all the time – we travel a lot together – and I still don’t like her.

“But seriously, we had a great time and we were so honored that Penny invited all of us ballplayers to be there. In fact, she insisted that we were in part of the movie. She treated us like queens.”

On Day 2, the slate of films were shown in the Bullpen Theater. An early afternoon showing of Zack Hample vs. The World attracted a full house, partly made up of Hample’s devoted followers, as he has made a name for himself in baseball for catching balls – in batting practice, those hit for homers during a game, and ones thrown to him from the field by players – that currently number more than 10,000. Hample and the film’s director, Jeff Siegel, attended the screening.

“This definitely falls into the ‘dreams come true’ category. It’s hard to believe,” Hample said. “Topps did a card of me a couple years ago, and that was like a boyhood dream fulfilled. And I always dreamt that I’d end up in the Hall of Fame and in a way I kinda am. It’s really strange. This is a huge thrill and an honor.

“This whole hobby of mine, which started for me back in 1990, this is my 30th year of catching baseballs. I was just doing it because I was obsessed and I loved baseball. And I still do it because I’m obsessed and I love baseball. The fact that it’s taken off like this and touched so many people is kind of mindboggling to just take a step back from it and see what this madness has turned into. This film is 90 minutes. I’m not perfect and I’ve certainly said and done some stupid things that have spilled over into the baseball world, but overall I try and be a positive influence on kids and the baseball world and give back. I think this film shows that.”

Early on Saturday, Perry Barber: The Lady is an Ump! was shown with the subject of the film in attendance. Barber is a longtime umpire and promoter of women in baseball.

“I was thrilled. We had a packed house, people were very inquisitive and open to the new paradigm of women being out there on the diamond umpiring, playing, coaching,” Barber said.

“It’s very different now than it was when I started several decades ago. Once people get over the initial shock of women umpires they are very curious.

“To have this film selected just boggled my mind. I was very surprised, but extremely thrilled.”

Baseball Infinity: The Longest Game in Baseball History, which revisits the 33-inning game between the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings in 1981, was represented in Cooperstown by director Devin Hill.

“This has been awesome,” he said after the showing of his movie. “Anything that’s associated with the Hall of Fame is a good thing to be a part of, so we’re completely honored by it.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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