Warning: Contains Spoilers for A League of Their Own (1992 film) and A League of Their Own (2022 Amazon Prime Video series).
I have fond memories of Penny Marshall’s 1992 film, A League of Their Own, so when I heard that a new series was being put out on Amazon Prime Video I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch it. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big Abbi Jacobson fan. I loved Broad City (and if you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend her podcast, “A Piece of Work”), but the show’s trailer features Jacobson running to catch a departing train, much like the iconic film scene with Lori Petty and Geena Davis. Was the series just going to be a carbon copy of the original film with new actors? I hoped not. Turns out, it wasn’t. I gave the new show created by Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson a watch, then went back and revisited the 1992 film to examine what works (and maybe what doesn’t).
Rather than reboot the movie’s main story, the new Amazon series has the opportunity to tell other stories that weren’t included in the original film. It specifically makes a point to have two main characters: Abbi Jacobson as Carson Shaw, a white housewife (who plays catcher), and Maxine “Max” Chapman, a Black pitcher who is not allowed to try out for the women’s team and takes a factory job in hopes of playing for the company team. (Max is played by the excellent Chanté Adams). The only nod in the original film to players of other races is a brief scene where a Black woman throws a ball back to Dottie from the stands and it is a noticeably strong throw. She doesn’t speak, only nods. And that's it. The AAGPBL (All-American Girls Professional Baseball League) was segregated but we never touch on that issue for the rest of the film. Not only does the series feature a Black main character with her own plotline, character arc, and struggles to overcome, but it also showcases players of Cuban and Mexican descent and it doubles down on the decision to make both of its leads queer individuals. This is a lot to tackle but it makes for far more interesting characters that viewers can identify with and root for throughout the series.
In the film, the idea that the players needed to attend “charm school” and be pretty for fans watching the games was played for laughs. Jon Lovitz’s “Ernie the Scout” all but leaves Marla Hooch behind based on her looks alone. Later, the women on the team give Marla a “makeover” and some alcohol, and BOOM! She instantly finds the man she wants to marry. In the show, the ideas of charm and feminine beauty are not only points of contention but methods of survival. Canadian player Jess McCready (Kelly McCormack) looks “too queer” and is going to be thrown off the team until other players come to her rescue. Every day, Jess pays a “fine” to her team’s chaperone for wearing pants, something that is strictly against the rules. In the film, the Rockford Peaches are never openly questioned about being anything but heterosexual. Doris (Rosie O’Donnell) has a photo of her “not-very-nice” boyfriend back home. She defends him though by talking about how all the other guys at home made her feel like a “weird girl, a strange girl, or not even a girl,” just because she could play baseball. But now after meeting the players on her team, she has gained enough self-confidence to rip up his picture. While Penny Marshall’s film never directly commented on the player’s sexuality, O’Donnell has stated in interviews that she always perceived her character Doris to be a lesbian. In the film, Doris and Mae (played by Madonna) are best buds from New York - Mae was a dancer at a club and Doris was a bouncer. In the series, D’Arcy Carden (The Good Place, Barry) plays Greta, who holds a bit of Mae’s essence with some Dottie thrown in for good measure. Greta is beautiful, smart, confident and at times, a persistent flirt; but it turns out, she is also queer. The Yin to Greta’s Yang is Jo, played by Melanie Field. While Jo presents as more openly gay than Greta, she also plays “by the rules.” There are certain things that Jo and Greta have learned over the years that prevent them from being openly queer. This is after all, still the 1940s. The major plot point in the series is when Greta kisses Carson one night and thus, changes everything Carson previously believed about herself.
Heading into the series, one of my main concerns was how could they ever replace Tom Hanks as the team’s coach, Jimmy Dugan? Turns out, they couldn’t and they didn’t even try. Before he gets hired to manage the Rockford Peaches, Jimmy is an alcoholic ex-player who washed out his baseball career by drinking too much and injuring himself. He sets the tone by entering the locker room drunk before the first game and taking one of the longest pees recorded in history. Dottie has to make the lineup from the very beginning. Jimmy sleeps their first game away in the dugout and he still gets credit for “coaching.”
In the show, Nick Offerman plays Dove Porter, a buffoon who also takes credit for things he doesn’t deserve and seems to care little about his players. The only player who bonds with him is Mexican pitcher Lupe García (Roberta Colindrez), who Dove views as a potential protégé. The announcer dubs Lupe the “Spanish Striker” to make her more “accessible” to the fans. Dove tries to get Lupe to adopt his signature pitch, even to the detriment of her playing. He comes across as mean-spirited and spiteful when his players try to offer suggestions for coaching. It makes him seem just as bad as the catcalling and taunting men in the stands. He doesn't think the women's league is “real baseball.” It’s a different way of tackling the plotline of a coach who isn’t there for his team. While Jimmy was often hungover early in the film, he actually had good advice for his players. He eventually comes around to Dottie and starts taking a real interest in his team. On one of his more sober days, Jimmy catches Dottie signaling to Marla and disagrees with her call. This is the turning point in the film. He starts actually coaching and he starts actually caring.
On the flip side, unlike Jimmy, halfway through the show’s season, Dove accepts another coaching position for a men’s minor league team and no one is hired to replace him. Carson gets the opportunity to prove to the players that they can coach themselves. When Dove goes missing, Carson and Lupe must work together which often creates friction. The friction between Lupe and Carson seems uncalled for until Lupe finally confides in Jess that she feels everything is given to Carson because she is White. Lupe’s main argument is, “I don't want to just be a really good Latin player. I am a really good baseball player.” Lupe is one of the strongest examples of a player who just wants to be taken seriously, so much so, she plays through pain and injury. Carson worries that Lupe may be looking to leave the Rockford Peaches for another team when she sees her speaking to another team’s player. She follows Lupe one night and discovers an underground queer bar where Lupe is meeting a ballplayer from another team, for a date. Lupe isn’t looking to leave the Peaches after all. Jess is there too, and she helps Carson connect the dots. Lupe and Jess help Carson navigate her own burgeoning sexuality without judgment (only a few teasing questions about Greta). Rosie O’Donnell pops up as the bar’s owner and converses with Carson, whose mind is officially blown.
“Good thing your sister bailed you out,” seems to be the central theme of the original film: sibling rivalry. Kit (Lori Petty) struggles to measure up and prove herself beyond being “Dottie’s sister.” This plot point works in tandem with the women who were trying to prove themselves to America that they too could play baseball and play it well. Something that always bothered me about the film was the idea that Dottie is so reticent to revisit her past as a ballplayer. When she is invited to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new exhibit about the AAGPBL at the Baseball Hall of Fame she tells her daughter it just “wasn’t that big of a deal to me.” That seems like a load of BS. And it is. But we have to watch the rest of the film play out to see how important playing baseball really is to Dottie. There is no pretense like Dottie’s in the Amazon series. Carson Shaw is so ecstatic to finally be able to play baseball for real that no one would ever doubt her love of the game. It grounds the show in a way that I think was really needed. These women are connected by a love of the sport but also by realizing how special and crazy an opportunity it is to play at the time.
In the film, the owner of the Chicago Cubs (and candy bar empire “Harvey Bars''), Walter Harvey, persuades his fellow owners to bankroll a women's league. He puts Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn) in charge. Mr. Lowenstein asks the Rockford Peaches to do “something spectacular” for Life magazine in an effort to boost ticket sales and save the League. Just as the Peaches enter the playoffs he learns that since America is “winning the war” (WWII) there will be no need to extend the women’s league next season. He hopes to prove Mr. Harvey wrong and he pins his hopes on Dottie as his star player. As the Peaches win more and more games, Dottie enters the spotlight and you see Kit grow jealous again. For a while, she was making a name for herself, but now she’s back in Dottie’s shadow again it seems. When Dottie recommends taking Kit out before the end of a game it is the final straw. “It’s like at home. It’s like if you’re here, I’m not here,” Kit says. Dottie thinks the solution to the problem is to leave the team and go home. But instead, Mr. Lowensen trades Kit to the Racine Belles.
A more somber moment in the film is when someone shows up to deliver a telegram from the war department. We get scared that it might be to deliver the message that Dottie’s husband is dead, but it’s Betty Spaghetti’s (Tracy Reiner). There are no real stakes like this in the new series. Max’s beloved best friend is Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo), an aspiring comic book writer who does not play baseball but also seems to not fit the mold of a traditional housewife in the 1940s either. Clance tries to comfort her husband who is afraid of leaving for the war but we never witness anyone’s death in the series. Dottie seems to argue with Jimmy that once her husband comes home from the war she will have no problem leaving baseball but Jimmy argues that she plays “like she loves it.” Later Dottie’s husband returns home injured but very much alive and Dottie must decide whether to go home or stay for the world series. Jimmy is angry that she is just going to leave. She says it “just got too hard,” to which Jimmy replies, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”
In the series, while the players are suffering the highs and lows of playing the game, they are also experiencing the highs and lows of new relationships. Carson and Greta finally get the chance to share a room during an away game where Carson shows the overeagerness and nervousness of someone’s first time having sex who is afraid of messing it up. Greta frames their relationship in terms of others she has had. She feels that Carson will be able to go back to her husband after the season is over and that she and Jo will go to California. Carson isn’t so sure it will be that easy. In our other heroine’s story, Clance has no idea that her best friend Max is also gay. A double date is suggested with Clance and her husband and a friend, Gary, who is interested in Max. Max is only interested because Gary plays for the factory baseball team. When the date ends badly, Max returns home and overhears her parents arguing about her aunt (who is gay) and how Max could also “become an invert.” When Max finally meets her Aunt Bertie she discovers that Bertie is trans. Meeting her “Uncle Bertie” scares Max so much that she tries to make peace with her mom and Gary, even if she is lying to herself. The plotline of “lying to oneself to fit in” is seen throughout the show for both Carson and Max, and they eventually find each other through their common love of baseball. That might be the most far-fetched plot device of the series, but the two are introduced when Max catches Carson and Greta kissing. Their shared secret of “otherness” bonds them before Carson ever knows that Max is also gay. Up to a certain point, Max was comfortable having secret trysts with married women. But once she is confronted with her family member living as a man (but excommunicated from the rest of her family) she must come to terms with her views and biases.
When Max finally introduces her best friend Clance to her Uncle Bertie, Clance calls him a freak. She might as well be calling Max one too. She doesn't know her best friend as well as she thinks. As some of the Peaches get ready to go to the underground queer bar across town, Max decides to go to a party at Bertie and Gracie’s house. They are having their own queer Black salon and it is joyous and diverse but overwhelming for Max. Meanwhile, in the bar, Greta and Carson get to hold hands “in public” for the first time. But instead of letting everyone enjoy this win, the club gets raided by police. Greta and Carson manage to escape but without Jo. This incident only confirms all of Greta’s fears. Judy Garland's Dorothy repeats, “There’s no place like home,” while we are forced to watch Rosie O’Donnell’s character get beaten by police. It’s brutal. Jo is brought home by policemen and she’s also been badly beaten. As a result of her arrest, she gets traded to another team, the Blue Sox. In the movie, the team’s chaperone, Miss Cuthbert (Pauline Brailsford), is only played for laughs (and sometimes very mean ones at that). But in the show, the team’s chaperone, Sergeant Bethany, is one of my favorite characters and that is no doubt because of Dale Dickey’s performance. Dickey does a great job of humanizing Bethany, giving more depth to her character than the chaperone in the film. At first, she seems like an incredible hardass (and she is), but in time, she offers guidance and proves to be someone who is entirely on the team’s side throughout the season more than they ever realize. Sergeant Beverly pays off the police to avoid them arresting Jo. While she is forced to go to another team, Jo takes this as a chance to not be afraid. She doesn’t want to throw away all she has accomplished throughout the season. Greta is scared for her and tries to convince her to run away together like they usually do, but Jo leaves to join her new team. Unlike Kit’s departure for the Racine Belles, the rest of the Peaches shed real tears when Jo is forced to leave her team. They are sad to see her go and will miss their friend. The raid at the bar shakes Greta to the point that she breaks up with Carson just as Carson’s husband Charlie arrives in town from the war. The bad part is Charlie seems like a good guy. Seeing him and Carson together you can tell they have a shared history and are great friends. He’s such a good guy that he didn’t tell Carson he got the letter that she wrote him while drunk with Greta, all those months ago at the start of the season.
Across town, Max wakes up after her uncle’s house party and wants to track down the woman she danced with all night, Es (Esther). The real stunner is when she finds out the woman she met plays on a men's baseball team. Not only does she play, but she’s also a pitcher. Initially jealous and angry, Max realizes her feelings are really all towards herself. She apologizes to Esther before the game and she defends her Uncle Bertie to Clance. During the game, Es fakes a shoulder injury but they do not have enough players to complete the game. She points to Max in the stands as a fill-in. Max puts on such a good show striking out the other team that she is offered a spot to play.
The climax of the original film comes when the Peaches make it to their final game against the Racine Belles and Dottie returns. In the last inning, Kit, now playing for the Belles, must bat after giving up runs in the previous inning. She’s shaken up by Dottie’s strong performance. Dottie prompts Ellen Sue to throw high fastballs at Kit. Kit strikes out for the first two, but hits the third hard and runs for home. Dottie catches it but Kit slams into her and she drops the ball. The Peaches lose and are devastated while the Belles cheer and hoist Kit into the air. After everything, Mr. Harvey agrees to continue the league next season. When he offers Jimmy a job coaching AAA baseball, Jimmy turns it down to keep coaching the Peaches. The film culminates with the older version of Dottie meeting her teammates again before they are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Jimmy Dugan has died. Ellen Sue starts singing the song Evelyn wrote all those years ago and many women join in just as Kit shows up with her whole family to make peace with Dottie. For Dottie, the journey of the film was to help her realize how truly special and important playing baseball was to her, but not more important than her relationship with her little sister, Kit.
In the series, while we do not have competing siblings, we do have Lupe and Esti González (Priscilla Delgado). Esti is a teenager from Cuba who initially only speaks Spanish. When she joins the Peaches, she is relieved and excited that Lupe speaks Spanish. Instead of welcoming her, Lupe tries to distance herself from Esti, often scolding her to try to speak English and fit in. It’s an interesting dynamic because of the way Lupe is critical of her White teammates. At times she softens, trying to help Esti, only to change abruptly and push her away again. Jess is the bridge between Lupe and Esti that sees Esti as a little sister and takes her under her wing. Esti looks to Lupe for help and guidance and just wants to be included, to be a part of the team. One of the best aspects of Jess is that while she doesn’t talk much she seems to notice quite a bit. After their car breaks down, Jess walks to go “get a part from the mechanic,” leaving Esti and Lupe behind to duke it out verbally. When the two finally talk, we learn that Lupe has a daughter that she had as a teenager that she left behind in Mexico, and Esti (painfully) reminds her of her. It’s part of her story as an immigrant that she left behind her family in Mexico in hopes that she could have a better life in America and really “be herself.” Jess returns with some Coca-Colas in hand, all part of her plan to have them work things out in her absence. Lupe is not the only mother on the team. Several of the players have children at home and have been hiding that fact. The show only reveals this information towards the end of the season. It’s interesting to see because several of the players believe they will not be taken seriously in the game if the fans, press, coaches, or even their other teammates, know they have kids at home. One player, Maybelle (Molly Ephraim), tells her judgemental teammate Shirley (Kate Berlant) that she has to learn to accept people as they are. Maybelle’s got kids and has been “living it up hard” while she’s been playing baseball. Shirley, a slightly more neurotic and sheltered individual, says she feels unsafe and betrayed that so many of the Peaches have “secrets.” Shirley goes to see Greta but finds her room packed up and empty after Jo has been traded to another team. Greta is at the train station ready to leave. Carson chases her down and convinces her to stay at least one more week for the championship. When Carson returns to her room, she finds that her roommate Shirley has read a letter Greta left to say goodbye, effectively outting both of them to the more conservative Shirley.
In the final episode of the series, we find out that the Peaches have already lost the first two games in the championship and that Charlie is hanging around while Carson tries to think of ways to boost the team’s morale. It isn’t working. They miss Jo and Carson is freaking out about Shirley knowing about her relationship with Greta. Having her husband present is killing Carson’s ability to really be herself and focus on coaching the team. Greta takes her aside to tell her to get her head back in the game and figure out how to actually coach. Carson asks Charlie to go home. He is too much of a distraction. He goes and is pretty understanding about it which is the surprising part. Max and Carson meet up to talk. Max is about to embark on her own journey that she never thought was possible. She is finally going to be paid to play baseball on a team with Es, who she is excited to openly be herself with. This spurs Carson to have the confidence to confront Shirley and rally the team. She eventually reconciles with Greta, who is heading to New York to pursue a new job for the off-season. Carson decides she can't go home to Charlie but she also doesn't want to go with Greta to New York either. She passionately kisses Greta goodbye and turns to find Charlie there on the porch with flowers, looking defeated. We are left with a major cliffhanger. No word yet on whether League will be renewed for another season on Amazon Prime Video. We will have to wait and see.
News of some of the real players that inspired the characters in the Amazon series lends gravitas to the series. During a panel discussion at the show’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere, Maybelle Blair, a former player in the AAGPBL who worked as a consultant on the series, publicly came out as gay at the age of 95. She had been open with co-creators Graham and Jacobson, but the show’s positive reception gave her the confidence to finally come out publicly. Blair was quoted as saying, “I think it’s a great opportunity for these young girl ball players to come to realize that they’re not alone, and you don’t have to hide. I hid for 75, 85 years and this is actually basically the first time I’ve ever come out.” Blair was cheered at the panel and a clip of the discussion went viral on social media. Blair’s real-life reaction to the series proves that representation matters. Rather than just rebooting the original, the Amazon series has successfully begun to tell some of the stories that were omitted from Marshall’s film. The addition of more diverse characters is the show’s strength, and I hope we get the chance to watch more of their stories in a second season.
Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro