All it took was one short documentary to catch the attention of director Penny Marshall. One short clip that centered around the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and one which Marshall found so entertaining that she knew she had to make it into a feature she would later call A League of Their Own.
The movie came out in 1992 and featured huge names like Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell – all of whom had to go through rigorous training to become convincing baseball players (even if it came at the cost of a broken nose or a massive thigh bruise).
From Madonna practically begging for the part to Tom Hanks putting on 30 pounds for the role, let’s revisit some untold stories from the set of this groundbreaking movie.
The movie was challenging to cast because they were looking for people who could (obviously) act, but also, for people who could play baseball. And while the game might look easy on TV, the film’s producer admitted, “We all quickly learned how hard it is to throw from first base to third to get somebody out.”
They held a big tryout in which the auditioning actors were judged on running, catching and hitting. Throwing always seemed to be the hardest for the girls because they seemed to throw a bit differently. The directors gave up on some really good actors just because they couldn’t play. One even showed up to the tryout wearing ballet shoes!
Geena’s audition for the part of Dottie Hinson took place in the director’s backyard. “[She] wanted to make sure I could throw a ball,” the actress told USA Today. Penny reportedly threw a ball at her out of the blue, and when she caught it, she said, “OK.” And that was the whole audition.
Davis wasn’t an athlete growing up. She had to train rigorously for the film and ended up impressing all the coaches on set. They would praise her by saying that she had some real untapped athletic skills. After the movie, she took up archery and even participated in the U.S. Olympic Trials in ‘99.
Lori Petty claimed that she tried out eight times for the role of Dottie’s little sister, Kit Keller. “Every woman in Hollywood was reading for this movie,”she told The Ringer. “It was a strong female movie, which, you know, we don’t have now, and we didn’t have in 1991 either.
Petty revealed that even Marla Maples auditioned and desperately wanted to get in the film. Among the stars who managed to excel in the baseball tryouts were Téa Leoni and Janet Jones, both of whom were cast as players on the Racine Belles.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was an actual league that ran from 1943 to 1954. So, it probably won’t be too surprising that some of the characters were inspired by real people. For example, Davis’s character, Dottie, was based on Dorothy “Dottie” Kamenshek, who played for the Rockford Peaches.
The only difference was that the real Dottie was a left-handed-hitting baseman, while Davis was a right-handed catcher. And while Davis’s Dottie retired after one season, the real Dottie became a seven-time All-Star!
Tom Hanks’s character, Jimmy Dugan, was inspired by baseball Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson, both players who ended their careers early due to their drinking habits. After his career ended, Jimmie Foxx became a manager of the AAGPBL’s Fort Wayne Daisies.
The character of Walter Harvey (played by Garry Marshall), who was the league founder and candy manufacturer, was inspired by the man who established the real AAGPBL, the Chicago Cubs owner and chewing gum manufacturer – Philip K. Wrigley.
Tom Hanks desperately wanted the part of Jimmy Dugan – the heavy-drinking MLB star turned manager. At the time, the actor was trying to revive his acting career after two serious flops – The Burbs and Joe Versus the Volcano.
The character of Jimmy was initially supposed to be a man in his 50s, but Tom Hanks convinced the director (Penny Marshall) to make him younger. Marshall was concerned that a younger version of Jimmy would be too easy on the eye, so she asked Hanks to add another 30 pounds to his figure so that the character would appear a bit grubbier.
As to what he ate, Hanks said he had “BBQ pork ribs and enjoyed the desserts of America.”
The scene where Jimmy Dugan stumbles drunkenly into the locker room and spends around 53 seconds peeing was a memorable one. But surprisingly, Hanks wasn’t actually taking a leak. Instead, Penny Marshall stood with a hose and a bucket nearby to simulate the trickling sound.
Hanks did a fantastic job, leaning back, making it seem like he’s simply letting it all flow and making it extra believable by throwing in some orgasmic-like sounds. It’s one of the best scenes in the movie and knowing that Marshall stood right out of camera range with a hose and a bucket makes it all the better.
When baseball scout Ernie Capadino, played by Jon Lovitz, arrives at the family barn in an attempt to try and scout Dottie, he cries out, “Will you shut up!” at a cow whose mooing sounds were so loud that they interrupted his sales pitch.
But what Lovitz didn’t realize, was that the cow was mooing loudly because it was giving birth at the time the take was being filmed. Fun fact: The cow’s owners decided to name the calf Penny, after the movie’s director.
Madonna was a megastar in the early ‘90s. She had been nominated for multiple impressive awards, and each of her four studio albums had gone multi-platinum in the U.S. Apart from music, the star had also acted in several films, including Dick Tracy and Desperately Seeking Susan.
Still, when it came to A League of Their Own, not everyone at Columbia Pictures believed she could manage a prominent role. “There’s still some dispute about whether she’s a movie star,” one Columbia executive told the L.A. Times back in 1991.
Penny Marshall decided to cast Madonna after the actress hired to play “All the Way” Mae backed out. The singer was elated to be part of the cast, even after one of the producers warned her that she wouldn’t be getting much money for it.
Determined to diversify her career and prove her worth as an actress, Madonna took her job very seriously. Funny thing is, while Madonna was trying to fit in with all the actors, the actors themselves were struggling to fit in with her! They were so starstruck they didn’t even know how to address her.
O’Donnell was the only star who wasn’t intimidated by Madonna’s fame. During downtime, she would often hum Madonna’s tunes, which ultimately got on the singer’s nerves. She would get so mad hearing O’Donnell sing her songs all day that she would jokingly swear at her!
“That was part of their friendship,” actress Megan Cavanagh dished. “Rosie was not afraid of Madonna. She did what she wanted to do, and I think Madonna loved that.” From Holiday to Vogue, O’Donnell would belt out all of Madonna’s greatest dance hits.
In the movie, when the league struggles to promote the game in the first weeks of play, the man in charge of drawing in fans asks the team to do something extraordinary to catch the eye of visiting photographers. That’s when Davis’s character decides to do a full split while catching the ball.
And yes. Geena Davis actually pulled the stunt herself. No double needed! Marshall asked the actress if she knew how to do a split, and Geena replied that with enough practice, she could get there. While she mastered the split, the actress had a little trouble getting herself back up. “My character hops right back up. But there was no hopping up happening. I was stuck there and had to be helped up,” she revealed.
Even though everyone felt the attraction between Jimmy and Dottie, Penny didn’t feel it was right to add a kissing scene. She was afraid it would become the center of attention and maybe even undermine Dottie’s character, so she decided to leave behind their potential love affair.
It took a while to come to that decision because Penny had already shot a scene in which the characters kiss. It was ultimately left out of the final cut because it was pretty upsetting to the real women players the film was based on.
Baseball is a dangerous game to play. Balls are thrown at high speed, players crashing into each other isn’t an uncommon scene, and sliding on dirt takes a toll on the body. So, to look like legit baseball players, the actors had to train strenuously for eight hours a day, six days a week, over a period of a few months.
During one of the games in the film, someone yells for outfielder Alice Gaspers (Renée Coleman) to slide into third base. She successfully pulls it off but ends up with a huge bruise on her thigh. Turns out, the bruise wasn’t the result of a long makeup session. It was 100% real. And painful.
Alice’s thigh bruise was just one of the many real-life injuries the actors suffered. Two weeks before shooting began, Anne Ramsay was injured by a ball that struck her right in the face. “We were in Chicago, the coach throws me the ball… and maybe the fourth time he threw it, it just slips and hits me. It broke my nose,” Ramsay told ESPNW.
She remembered having Marshall tell her that if her nose didn’t look great after it was reset, she would just write the injury as part of the storyline. Fortunately, Marshall didn’t have to do that because Ramsay’s nose healed just fine.
Because of the many balls being thrown around on set, executives concluded that if they were to use hard balls, the whole cast would probably end up with black eyes and blue bruises all over their bodies. For that reason, they decided to use softballs.
In the scenes where the players are shown batting, balls with soft centers were used. Geena Davis told USA Today: “For close-ups, those balls were squishy. They looked like real baseballs, but they were all spongy inside so we wouldn’t clock anyone.”
Even many years after viewers first heard Jimmy Duggan yell “There’s no crying in baseball!” the line remains one of the most memorable quotes in the film. However, the film’s writers, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, never imagined that the scene would continue to be quoted decades after the movie’s release.
The screenwriters shared that the line was meant to express how different the cultures of men’s and women’s baseball were. “We never said, and then there will be this great scene where the coach says, ‘There’s no crying in baseball,’'” Ganz explained. He also shared that the sentence was written in the script’s first draft, well before they knew Tom Hanks would be the one yelling it.
Actress Bitty Schram, who starred as Evelyn Gardner, the right fielder who bursts in tears after being yelled at by her manager for missing the cutoff player, revealed that the sequence was shot entirely out of sequence and took several takes to get right.
“What kind of sucked was that they had to fix my face for the next take because I couldn’t look like I’m crying before I’m crying,” she said in an interview with ESPNW. She revealed that she couldn’t bare to watch the scene during the movie’s premiere because it made her nauseous. “All I could see is ‘Oh, they pick the take where I look like I was crying before’ or ‘Tom is great but look at my f***ing double chin.’”
At the end of the movie, Racine wins the World Series after Kit Keller scores the winning run. She does so by knocking the ball out of her big sister Dottie’s hand. However, years after its release, the cast still isn’t sure whether Dottie deliberately dropped the ball to allow the younger sister – who is constantly trying to escape her big sis’s shadow – to be the game’s hero.
The actress who played Kit, Lori Petty, argued that her character won the game fair and square. “I kicked her [Dottie’s] *ss!” she told The Ringer. But Kelly Candaele, one of the creators of the 1987 documentary that inspired the film, said that her mom “would never have dropped the ball, ever.”
Penny Marshall signed a deal with 20th Century Fox to make A League of Their Own come to life, but when Joe Roth became head of the studio, he asked Penny to give up the baseball idea. Roth admitted that asking Marshall to forget about the movie was his “fatal error.”
“In my haste to get some movies going, I took the project away,” he told the L.A. times. Ultimately, the abandoned baseball project was picked up by Columbia, with Marshall directing it after she joined them in 1990.
A League of Their Own could have had a completely different lineup of actors. When the film was still in process at Fox, Jim Belushi was supposed to play the part of Jimmy Dugan. And Sean Young was supposed to play Dottie.
Penny Marshall’s first pick for Dottie was actually Demi Moore, but she backed out due to her pregnancy. With Moore out of the picture, Columbia thought of casting Debra Winger as Dottie and Madonna as Kit. But Winger reportedly refused because she didn’t want to work with the singer.
Anne Ramsay, who played Rockford’s first baseman, Helen Haley, auditioned when the film’s original director, David Anspaugh, was still in charge. She auditioned again years later, after Marshall’s reunion with the project. She delivered her lines so well, that Marshall insisted on having her despite not being sure for which part.
“[Penny] just couldn’t figure out how to fit me in for one of the roles that were already in the scripts,” Ramsay explained, “And I mean, she had me come in at least five times.” She told the actress to wash off all her makeup, then walk from one point to another, constantly trying out different angles to see where she could fit. Eventually, the casting agent called Ramsay and told her that Penny was going to write a role for her just so she could be in it.
While Lori Petty ended up as Kit, Schram was one of the many actors who longed for the part. But her audition wasn’t the best. “I sat there thinking, ‘I’m not right for this,'” she admitted to ESPNW. The casting directors weren’t willing to give up on her just yet and asked to read a bit for another role.
It was the role of Evelyn, the girl who breaks down in tears. “Then I did it, and I knew I nailed it,” Schram confessed. She felt on the spot that the part was hers. And she was right. They loved her and decided to cast her as right fielder, Evelyn Gardner.
Megan Cavanagh originally auditioned for the movie when Fox was still the studio in charge and had her dreams shattered once the project was scrapped. Luckily, she received an unusual callback once Marshall returned to the project.
Megan explained how they called in all the actresses for a group audition. “I got invited to this audition with women who had already been cast in the movie, so that was pretty exciting…” she noted. “As I was leaving the audition, Rosie O’Donnell followed me out and said, “Listen, you’re the best Marla we’ve seen so far.”
Penny Marshall was inspired to direct the film after watching a short documentary about the All-Girls Baseball League. She invited the documentary’s producers to play a part in helping her make it into a feature film, which was a great idea because one of them, Kelly Candaele, had family members who had played in the league. Kelly’s mom and sister were baseball players, and their story ultimately helped scriptwriters Mandel and Ganz to develop the “sister-rivalry” plot.
Moreover, Mandel revealed that one specific line in the film, the one in which Kit asks Dottie “You ever hear Dad introduce us to people? ‘This is our daughter Dottie, and this is our other daughter, Dottie’s sister” was inspired by a run in with Neil Simon’s mom and brother, in which she introduced her son by saying “This is Neil Simon’s brother.”
Jon Lovitz plays a sarcastic scout who is constantly on the lookout for different players. After he drops off Dottie, Kit, and Marla at the tryouts, he tells them he’s heading home to give his wife a “little pickle tickle,” a line that was completely ad-libbed by the actor.
Lovitz’s part was originally meant to be larger. One of the scenes Penny decided to chop from the film involved Lovitz giving a funny monologue about Babe Ruth and calls a hot dog a “meat rocket.” When Lovitz urged Penny to keep the scene, she replied, “You’re in the film just enough.”
Geena Davis told ESPNW that she was shocked at how well the movie was received. And even more shocked to see how it affected young girls who watched it. It inspired many of them to try out, not only baseball, but other sports as well.
“It’s hard to even calculate how many women were impacted by this film,” she gushed. This wouldn’t be Geena’s first time appearing in a groundbreaking film dealing with gender roles. I’m assuming we can all recall her incredible performance in Thelma & Louise!
The Rockford Peaches were the real deal—one of 15 teams that existed in the Midwest before it fell apart in 1954. The Peaches’ first baseman, Dorothy “Dottie” Kamenshek, told Marquette Magazine: “In the beginning, we were only getting 500 people in the stands.”
But then it got up to 10,000 and, eventually, the team won the crowd over. At first, real-life Dottie revealed that people came just for the skirts. But then the girls showed the crowd they could play.
The players had to sport a short hairstyle, and drinking and smoking were prohibited. Oh, and they also had to wear makeup at all times and weren’t allowed to wear pants!
The film wasn’t done in a week, or a month, or even in a year. Inspired by a documentary by the same name, its co-creators, Kim Wilson and Kelly Candaele, admitted that it took them five years to pitch the project and turn it into a feature.
It took them five long years to go from an idea, to selling the idea, to doing enough research, to filming it, AND to writing the story of the feature film they had in mind. “We were completely obsessed with the idea,” Wilson told ESPNW. And they were willing to put in the effort to make it come to life.
Fresh off the set of Thelma & Louise, Geena Davis was more than eager to take part in the film. “Once I read the script and saw the part I was going to get to play, it was an ABSOLUTELY,” Davis told ESPNW. “I have always sought characters that got to do interesting things, from a selfish point of view as an actor.”
She said she didn’t want to be the girlfriend of the person all the interesting things were happening to. She wanted to experience it herself. And playing ball in an All-Girls league was the ultimate opportunity for that. “I would rather play the baseball player than the girlfriend of the baseball player,” she proudly stated.
Penny’s daughter, Tracy Reiner, played left fielder Betty “Spaghetti” Horn. And while it’s easy to assume she got the part on the spot due to her connections, she revealed that she had to earn her role fair and square. When she turned up to the open call, she did whatever she could to stand out in a group of 2,000 other girls.
She came somewhat prepared because she was used to playing softball on the weekends, and the coach who was hired to evaluate the girls’ skills noticed that. He looked at her and said, “That girl has got an arm!” A few weeks later, she was informed she had landed a spot in the top 20 girls.
Makeup can do wonders. So, it’s not surprising that many viewers assumed that the flash-forward scene showing an older Dottie was actually Geena. But no, it was Lynn Cartwright, a then 65-year-old actress who, appearance-wise, fit the part perfectly.
But the voice didn’t match. Cartwright’s voice was way deeper than Geena’s. “Lynn’s voice is so different, so deep, it would have pulled you out,” one of the producers explained. For that reason, they decided to dub in Geena’s voice instead.
Lori Petty (who played Kit Kellet) and Rosie O’Donnell (who played Doris Murphy) were the two most skilled baseball players on the set. Even though Petty was six inches shorter than Davis, she fully surpassed her when it came to their athletic skills. She had to intentionally run slower in the scene when the two sisters were racing!
As for O’Donnell, her impressive on-the-field skills resulted from playing with her brothers as a kid and taking part in little league. Out of all the actors, she was probably the best-trained player of all.
To make the baseball stadium scenes look realistic, the filmmakers had to hire hundreds of extras to fill the seats. Naturally, after a while of shooting, the extras grew impatient. So, to keep them entertained, the cast had to get creative.
Tom Hanks reportedly arranged a puppet show, and Rosie O’Donnell performed a stand-up comedy routine. She even invited some of her comedian friends to join and help keep the crowd entertained. And although Madonna refused to sing, the extras were treated to a Madonna tribute by none other than O’Donnell, who was glad to sing her heart out to Madonna’s songs whenever she had the chance.
The film’s original cut was over four hours long and included numerous deleted scenes, some of which are included in the film’s 25th anniversary Blu-ray release. Deleted scenes include Dottie telling Kit that she shouldn’t hang out with Mae, and the two sisters’ discussion about Dottie’s relationship with her husband Bob (played by Bill Pullman).
Also removed from the original version was a conversation surrounding the name of Madonna’s character, Mae ‘All the Way’ Mordabito.
Most of what was taken out involved dramatic scenes that were more focused on character development. But producers agreed that they took away from the film’s general storyline. So, they trimmed the film down to create a more coherent narrative.
The movie’s opening scene features an older Dottie, arriving at the opening of an All-American Girls Professional Baseball League exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The event floods her memory, causing her to flash back to 1943, where the film focuses on how the league came to be.
Interestingly, the extras in the opening scene’s exhibit are the people who inspired the movie – the original members of the AAGPBL. Given their pioneering work, it was only fitting that this group of skilled players would get a cameo.
One of the most impressive scenes in A League of Their Own is when a ball is suddenly thrown to Dottie behind the home plate, and she catches it effortlessly behind her back. This moment shows just how skilled Dottie is, but it’s also a clear example of Davis’s own talent.
Initially, the catch was meant to be done in close-up by a stunt double, but the stuntwoman failed to learn the trick. Cue Geena Davis, who decided to try the move herself and, after a few minutes, mastered it.
Rosie O’Donnell also learned some cool skills, like throwing two pitches to two catchers at once.
If it looks like Rosie O’Donnell was the absolute perfect fit for the character of Doris, that’s because she was. Doris was created specifically for O’Donnell. She originally tried out for the role of Marla but was turned down after casting directors realized it was tailor-made for Megan Cavanagh.
They didn’t want to give O’Donnell up completely, so they invented a character that would suit her unique energy. And it wasn’t only her fun spirit that impressed the casting directors, it was also her incredible baseball skills. She did way better than most of the cast in the sporting bit of her audition.