I just love this movie so much! 20 years later, and it still holds up. I loved baseball when I was growing up in Louisiana and East Texas, and enjoyed spending a rare quite Saturday afternoon with my dad watching the Astros on TV. We even went to a game when we visited Houston. When we moved to Michigan, I changed my allegiance to the Tigers, naturally. In Kansas City, I followed the Royals. And now that I'm in Northern California, I'm a Giants fan.
But, really, I'm a baseball fan. I love the sound of a baseball game being broadcast on the radio or TV. I love the sounds of the crowd and the game. I love the suspense. I love the slow, meditative pace of a game, with short bursts of excitement, and lots of strategy.
Even at a young age, I was pretty aware that things were different for girls and boys. I don't think I ever harbored any unrealistic ambition of being a professional baseball player, like I'm sure many boys my age did. I remember asking my mom why there weren't any baseball players who were women. In fact, in the 1970s, it was pretty rare to find girls playing Little League. She didn't really have a good answer. I don't remember what it was exactly, but I'm sure it was yet another lesson in gender expectations and inequality.
I never heard anything about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. I don't know if she had ever heard of them either.
When the movie A League of Their Own came out in 1992, I went to see it and fell in love. It was the first time I had ever heard of women playing professional sports other than the ones we see in the Olympics (tennis, figure skating, etc.). Which is surprising to me now, seeing as how the AAGPBL was active for a decade (1943 to 1954). How could something that was, according to all the stories I read about it now, so popular be completely missing from our collective memory in the 1970s and 80s? Or was it just not known in my little corner of the world?
The movie is a fictionalized account of the first season, and seems to hold true to the general story. Although it's a movie about baseball players, it's not necessarily about baseball so much as about the story of how the league came into being and the experiences of the individual women in the story, especially the sisters Dottie Hinson (played by Geena Davis, whom I adore) and Kit Keller (played by Lori Petty), who have a strong bond but also a healthy dose of sibling rivalry. Originally placed on the same team, because of an argument that makes Dottie consider leaving the league, Kit is traded to a rival team. Of course, the movie puts both teams in the World Series game, and the last at bat brings Kit to the plate where Dottie is catcher. It's a suspenseful scene.
There are some remarkable performances in this film. Tom Hanks as the coach, screaming, "There's no crying in baseball!" Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell as two feisty friends. John Lovitz as the scout. So many great scenes. So many great lines. It's not a perfect movie, but it's a fun story. And I love these ensemble casts of women. The characters are complex and whole people, not props.
This is a movie I make it a point to watch at least once a year. Usually when I get Spring Training Fever in early February, when I pull out all my baseball movies, getting excited about the coming season. And I see something new each time I watch it.
So, when I learned that February 2 is Doris Sams' 85th birthday, I had to move up the re-viewing to make it happen for a shout-out for her.
I don't claim to have known anything about her, or her record, before this week when I saw her listed on a Wikipedia page for birthdays.
According to the Baseball Almanac biography, written by Jim Sargent:
The Society for American Baseball Research biography, also written by Jim Sargent (actually, it looks like a longer version of the article on BaseballAlmanac.com):Following the circuit's 1947 season, Sammye's second year, she was selected as the AAGPBL's Player of the Year. A pitcher turned outfielder, she was named to the league's all-star team at both positions. No other player in the history of the AAGPBL accomplished that unique feat.
When fans, readers, and baseball enthusiasts consider the fine All-Americans who performed in consistently excellent fashion year in and year out, Doris Sams will be remembered among the best in the league's storied history. Considering her all-around athletic skills, including her accomplishments at the plate and on the mound as well as her down-home personality and widespread popularity, the Knoxville great deserved to be selected among Total Baseball's top twenty players. Indeed, Sammye's popularity in her adopted hometowns of Muskegon and Kalamazoo helps illustrate the glory of hundreds of All-American women who played a high level of baseball on their own fields of dreams in the 1940s and early 1950s.
I would have loved to have known about Doris Sams and the other professional womens baseball players when I was a girl! No telling how I would have used that info. I wasn't especially athletically inclined, but it certainly would have been inspirational anyway. I'm sure I would have devoured biographies about women ball players if I had found any, the same way I read through every book I could find on Amelia Earhart.
I just hope there are lots of little girls out there who ARE learning about professional women's baseball, and other professional women's sports, and are inspired to pursue their dreams. Of course, it's up to us adults to make sure they know about them, and to support them in their goals.
Happy Birthday Doris "Sammye" Sams!