tv Amazon’s ‘A League of Their Own’ Series Offers Untold Stories About Black Women in Baseball
Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers for Amazon’s A League Of Their Own.
There’s a 15-second scene near the end of the 1992 film, A League Of Their Own, that flies by as swiftly as one of Kit Keller’s (Lori Petty) fast balls, yet delivers the kind of sting its director, Penny Marshall, deemed necessary. In it, a lone baseball falls beyond the periphery of the diamond wherein the film’s protagonists, a real life women’s professional baseball team known as the Rockford Peaches, are playing. Just outside the white chalked lines stands a cluster of bystanders, all of whom are Black—their role as nonparticipants is made plain.
“Right here,” catcher Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) calls out to one of the Black women who’s picked up the ball. But the bystander doesn’t throw it back to Hinson; she hurls it even further, straight and hard into the mitt of another Peach, who then pulls her hand out of her glove and shakes off the shock of the catch. Hinson offers an eyebrow raise, and the woman simply nods in return, as if to say, “I’m here, too, and I’m good.” Without uttering a word, she’s a revelation. Nevertheless, audiences never see her again.
Chanté Adams, who stars in the new Amazon Prime Video update of the cult-classic, told Jezebel she’s always remembered that scene. Now, she has the opportunity to tell the story of the Black women who were sidelined by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). “As a little girl, I was so happy to see myself on the screen, and then I immediately became sad, because we don’t follow her,” Adams recalled to Jezebel during a visit to our Manhattan office. “I wanted to know where she was going. How did she come to love baseball? How did her arm get like that?”
A League of Their Own - Official Trailer | Prime Video
The eight-episode dramedy created by Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) and Will Graham (Mozart in the Jungle) serves as both the answer to many of the questions posed by its predecessor and its all-too-eager-to-imitate little sister. Told through the respective lenses of Carson Shaw (Jacobson), an unhappy housewife fleeing the ennui of Idaho, and Maxine “Max” Chapman (Adams), the Black and Queer daughter of a god-fearing mother with lofty aspirations of pitching in the Negro leagues, the series seeks to summon the magic of the cult-classic film whilst creating some of its own. Thanks to standout performances from Adams and D’arcy Carden as bombshell Greta Gill, a charming ensemble, and a satisfyingly rich story arc, it mostly succeeds—even if parts occasionally land like a twee version of Netflix’s GLOW.
It’s no coincidence that when audiences first meet Jacobson’s Shaw, who is basically Broad City’s Abbi existing in 1943, she’s running—literally towards a train that will take her straight to tryouts for the AAGPBL, but figuratively from her life as a deeply unfulfilled wife to a kind, albeit boring, man fighting in World War II. Upon arrival, she crosses paths with best friends Gill and Jo DeLuca (Melanie Fields), who are an apparent (albeit less bawdy) nod to Madonna’s, “All the Way” Mae Mordabito and Rosie O’Donnell’s, Doris Murphy. Inevitably, all three become Peaches, as do a talented number of others. However, Chapman, a local hopeful with an arm like a cannon, is promptly booted from the field upon her arrival at tryouts.
“When Max gets kicked off the field in that first episode, that is a story that actually happened to Mamie Johnson,” Adams told Jezebel. Jacobson says the character of Chapman is an amalgamation of three trailblazers in the Negro leagues: Johnson, Toni Stone, and Connie Morgan.
“When I first received the email to audition, I was a little hesitant, because I remember A League Of Their Own, and I specifically remember not seeing women that looked like me on that team,” said Adams. “But then I read the stories, and I realized it was not going to be a remake and that it was going to be completely new stories, new characters. Once I got the part and met with Will and Abbi, they explained to me that my character was actually based on real women, and what they were doing was creating a show about a generation of women who played baseball—not the All-American Girls League, or the Peaches. Those people are included in the show because they were such an integral part of that generation, but they weren’t the only part. That’s where Max’s story comes in.”
Chapman’s story, from the first episode to the last, is marred by both personal and professional strife. Unfortunately, she spends much of the series looking for a team that will treat her talent with the seriousness it deserves. Eventually, she finds it, but Chapman must first complete 10 times the labor—physical and psychological—of any of the Peaches. At the midseason climax, she and Shaw strike up a relationship adjacent to friendship and begin practicing together in the middle of the night. Simultaneously, the pair are grappling with their queer identity within their respective opposing worlds, during a time when queerness was criminalized and stigmatized to the point of gay panic (still a relevant theme, unfortunately). By this point, Shaw has already embarked on a lusty affair with Gill, while Chapman first carries on in secret with the wife of the hometown pastor and, later, a fellow pitcher from the Negro leagues.
Even as the Peaches struggle with sexist ownership, press and and hecklers, and, for much of the team, being closeted, viewers are frequently—and poignantly—reminded that Chapman’s trajectory as a Black, woman will always be more fraught, due in part because with the exception of her family and best friend, Clance Morgan (the exquisite Gbemisola Ikumelo), she is all she has to depend on in an industry—and a society—largely unwilling to validate, let alone acknowledge, her existence.
“Max is a Black woman trying to make her way in this white, male-dominated field, as is every Black woman in the world,” Adams told me. “Being able to put that representation on screen is really important.”
Of course, the season ends on a high note for the majority of the main players, complete with firm friendships, touching romantic relationships and a team for Chapman. It’s almost easy not to notice that Jacobson and Graham took certain liberties: For example, midway through the series, the Peaches’ coach, the otherwise forgettable Nick Offerman abandons the team, leaving Shaw to take over. Given the precariousness of the league and management’s demonstrated disdain for women, allowing one of the players to serve as a replacement for him feels like a stretch.
That’s not even the series’ cardinal sin, however. At times, A League Of Their Own appears as if caught in a pickle, fumbling as it attempts to mimic its predecessor and mine its own new territory. When Tom Hanks’ immortal proclamation “There’s no crying in baseball!” makes its appearance in the show, as Shaw weeps white-woman tears upon being confronted by Lupe “the Spanish Striker” García, the moment is not exactly a home run. The same can be said for a few of the characters who seem mere caricatures of those from which Jacobson and Graham drew inspiration.
Regardless, A League Of Their Own is a promising series that’s undoubtedly at its best when it allows its ensemble to do what the original couldn’t: tell the largely untold stories of women of color and queer femmes in the history of America’s favorite pastime.
“To be that character that little Black girls will see, and then feel happy because after I throw that ball, we’re going to continue to follow the story, is really special,” Adams said.