Women in Baseball and Movies

dottie_girls_of_summerBaseball has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Although I’m still getting teased by my mom (a great softball player) for making daisy chains in the outfield in tee-ball, there are many amazing stories about my brother in Little League and in high school he was the greatest catcher there ever was. My dad told tall tales about his childhood summers playing ball. Then there was the summer Dad was president of the Little League and the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Or the year he started a travel team and the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Now he’s assistant coaching a little league team and the phone never rings and it’s great. Anyway, the point is, I grew up around baseball. I really love the game. It’s beautiful–the sounds, the diamond, the history. For many years, because of petty sibling rivalry bs, I distanced myself from the real game and just watched the movies or went to watch my hometown team, the Ft. Wayne TinCaps, with my best friend. This summer, I’ve been fully enjoying watching baseball again.

1010675_10101291023715128_384930288_nWhen at my parents’ house, I get to watch the Cubs play in HD and when at my apartment, where I can’t watch on TV, I’ve been following the games with MLB’s At Bat Ap. The subscription has been worth every penny. About once a game, as the commentators discuss careers and legends, something in the back of my mind asks me, “Where the girls at?” I’ve also checked out about a dozen baseball books (I’m a lit PhD) and, even as they recount the rich connection between U.S. history, national imaginary, and baseball, women are almost entirely left out.

I understand that women don’t (note: don’t, not can’t) play Major League Baseball and so it’s not like they’re going to be talking about Baby Ruth or Henrietta Aaron’s record seasons, but women do have a long and interesting history with baseball. Here are some great resources for learning more. I was refreshed to find so much emphasizing teaching women’s baseball history.

  • PBS has a lesson plan for doing a Women in Baseball Talk Show, which includes a long list of links to resources for students to do research about the history of women in the game. If you’re not a teacher, it’s still full of information.
  • Similarly, the National Baseball Hall of Fame also has a curriculum, called “Women’s History: Dirt on Their Skirts.” If you browse their website, you can also find articles about women and the game, such as this one about Mamie “Peanut” Johnson. You may not have heard of her before, but she would have been Jackie Robinson’s counterpart in the AAGPBL. But they never let her in, so she played with the men in the Negro Leagues instead.
  • Exploratorium has a wonderful introduction to women in baseball, “Girls of Summer” and write ups about many of the star players in the AAGPBL. Did you know that women first started playing pro-ball in 1875? Can you imagine playing in a uniform that weighed 30 lbs, full skirt and all?
  • Finally, I found this interesting article at MLB.com from last summer “For women in baseball, progress steady but slow.”

Like I mentioned, I have a thing for baseball movies. To me, they are the greatest sports movies. Last summer, my best friend and I had a baseball movie marathon (which I highly recommend), and early on, my main squeeze and I bonded over Field of Dreams. Because many baseball movies are really about life off the field, many of them feature deep portrayals of personal connections to the game, often by women. So, here are my five favorite women in baseball movies:

  1. Annie Kinsella, Field of Dreams (1989) Annie is the type of partner I want to be when I grow up. Her husband, Ray wants to plow under a huge part of their corn field to build a baseball diamond and, believing in “the voice,” she goes along with it. She’s fun, supportive, and open to wonder, as well as tough and practical. Plus, there’s that amazing scene in which she fights censorship at the PTA meeting. I dream of a day in which I can pull off that pumped slide out of a meeting.
  2. Rachel Robinson, 42 (2013) 42 isn’t a perfectly accurate recounting of Jackie Robinson’s career (read a beautiful response by Howard Bryant), but I was impressed by the way the film depicted racism as a problem caused by more than just “the bad guys.” I also loved the portrayal of Rachel Robinson as a strong partner to her husband. In the film, Jackie is depicted as having a rebellious streak and an understandably short fuse. His wife stands with him and, when she defiantly walks into the whites only bathroom at the airport, it’s clear that they’re in it together. And it really happened! Check out ABC’s featurette on Rachel Robinson.
  3. Mary Rowengartner, Rookie of the Year (1993) This movie is pretty silly, but Henry’s mom, Mary, is one of my favorite parts. Because Henry has never met his father, Mary wants him to have some father-figure to look up to, so she tells him stories about his father’s baseball skills. At the climax of the movie, after Henry’s arm has healed, taking away his super pitching, he peels away some tape inside his glove and discovers that his mom was the great pitcher, not his dad. Remember her in the stands, “Float it!”? Plus, there’s that awesome scene in which she punches her boyfriend in the face and throws him out because he called her a slut and traded her son to the Yankees.
  4. Annie Savoy, Bull Durham (1988) for obvious reasons, but mostly this monologue. It’s kind of like a sexy version of James Earl Jones’s speech in Field of Dreams. There are also some interesting analyses of her character, morality, and femininity in Stars, Stripes And Diamonds: American Culture And the Baseball Film and Feminist Film Studies. (And, coincidentally, this is the second Kevin Costner movie on the list, because, as Julio pointed out just last night, he’s an actor who can actually play baseball.)
  5. The Cast of A League of Their Own (1992)  This is kind of a cop-out, because this makes the list way more than five. The ensemble cast of this movie, however, is  not only fun to watch (Rosie! Madonna!), it features a team of individuals. Rather than splitting the women up into the pretty one, the sporty one, the posh one, as so often happens in female ensembles, even the smaller parts have complexity to them, hinting at a full back story. Also, Madame President Geena Davis does great work about gender and media through the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

Honorable Mention goes to Amanda Whurlitzer of The Bad News Bears for not taking crap from anyone, and Lindsey/Drew Berrymore in Fever Pitch, for taking a foul ball to the head, which is pretty high on my list of semi-irrational fears. The Trouble with the Curve was miserably trite, but Amy Adams as Mickey was awesome opposite Clint Eastwood. Also, a nod to Wendy Peffercorn of The Sandlot for cementing my love of retro fashion at an early age.

I also have a baseball Pinterest board: Love (of the Game)

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One thought on “Women in Baseball and Movies

  1. Pingback: Geena Davis at Miami, on Gender and Media | Ph.D.s and Pigtails

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