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Is A League Of Their Own Based On A True Story?

"A League of Their Own" instantly won its way into all-time great baseball movie status when it hit theaters in July 1992. The film, directed by Penny Marshall, was the seventh highest-grossing movie at the U.S. box office that year, making $107.5 million on a $40 million budget (via Box Office Mojo). The film stars Geena Davis and Lori Petty as Dottie Hinson and Kit Killer, competitive sisters who set out to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League's inaugural season in 1943. A rivalry between the sisters eventually sparks animosity as the season wears on, leading to Kit's trade to another team and the sisters meeting in the World Series. Tom Hanks (as team manager Jimmy Dugan), Madonna, and Rosie O'Donnell highlight a supporting cast that charmed audiences so much the film was added to the U.S. National Film Registry in 2012 (via the BBC).

Given the film's historical setting, many viewers are likely curious about how close to real-life "A League of Their Own" actually is. As with many works of historical fiction, the answer to that question is complex. For example, the league in its inception wasn't as close to baseball as the movie depicts. According to ESPN, the AAGPBL in 1943 was "a weird hybrid of softball and baseball," and initially used a larger ball with underhanded pitching from a 40-foot distance to home plate. The league eventually shrunk the ball to regulation baseball size and moved the mound to 60 feet from the plate.

Here is a look at what else "A League of Their Own" took from real history and what specifics were fictionalized for Hollywood's sake.

A League of Their Own is based on a real-life women's pro baseball league

Jimmy Dugan and the Hinson sisters may not have been real-life people, but the league depicted in "A League of Their Own" was very real. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was founded by baseball executives Philip K. Wrigley, Paul Harper, and Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey in 1942 to make use of baseball stadiums while the United States' involvement in World War II heavily affected professional baseball (via ESPN). At the height of its popularity, there were 15 teams competing in the league. Although the league played ball between 1943 and 1954, after World War II ended and Major League Baseball took center stage again, the AAGPBL declined. According to ESPN's oral history of the league, a short documentary entitled "A League of Their Own" was created in 1987 and caught director Penny Marshall's eye for a feature-length narrative film.

Kelly Candaele, who co-created the documentary and co-wrote the treatment for "A League of Their Own," told ESPN he was partially inspired by his mother and her sister who actually did play in the AAGPBL on the same team — Candaele's mother, Helen Callaghan, was a center fielder, and her sister played second base. However, for the sake of a compelling storyline, the film's screenwriters decided to make central characters Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller a pitcher and a catcher with a tenuous relationship.

Aside from basic facts about the league's founding, the story at the heart of "A League of Their Own" is fictional. In real life, the Racine Belles did win the inaugural championship by besting the Kenosha Comets in three games (via AAGPBL.org).

Tom Hanks' Jimmy Dugan was loosely based on real-life baseball pro Jimmie Foxx

Tom Hanks' surly coach Jimmy Dugan, much like all the named player and coach characters in "A League of Their Own," is a fictional former baseball pro turned women's league coach. However, the character seems to have been loosely inspired by the career of real-life Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx, who played professional baseball from 1925 to 1945 and coached the AAGPBL's Fort Wayne Daisies in the 1952 season (via SABR.org). While the film depicts Hanks' character as being rude to his players, the Society for American Baseball Research writes that "the women who played for him remember [Foxx] as a true gentleman in every way." So, while it looks like aspects of Foxx's biography were used to create the character of Jimmy Dugan, the film took liberties with his actual personality. 

Real or no, it appears that Hanks enjoyed taking on the role, and he even identified "A League of Their Own" as a favorite movie of his to participate in during a November 2021 appearance on The Bill Simmons Podcast. "All I did all summer was play baseball," Hanks said on the podcast. "I shagged flies, I ate turkey dogs, I took infield... I played baseball all summer long in [Indiana] and in Wrigley Field... It was a great summer, and my entire family still speaks about it."