In the more than 25 years since its release, “A League of Their Own” has become a classic sports movie.
It’s a movie about women’s camaraderie – a team of underdogs banding together to defeat the odds and become legends. The film has gone on to inspire and move countless viewers.
Only, it’s not a full picture of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Left off-screen were the illicit romances between players. To ward off accusations of lesbianism, All-American Girls Professional Baseball League founder Philip K. Wrigley ordered his players to wear makeup on the field, attend charm school and outfitted the women’s baseball uniform with skirts instead of pants.
Painful sliding burns aside, it was a time where women were forced to hide their sexuality if they weren’t looking for a male partner.
“When we look at a modern lens we see it’s oppressive,” says sports writer Britni de la Cretaz. “They couldn’t go to bat until their lipstick was refreshed. At the time, they just wanted to play baseball, and most were willing to do it.”
De la Cretaz knew a bit about this hidden aspect never shown in Penny Marshall’s 1992 movie.
Now, she is shining a light on an almost forgotten chapter in sports and queer histories.
“I assumed there was more out there, and I took a gamble,” she says. She spent six months doing research before publishing her story in online publication Narratively.
It all just so happened to line up with Women in Baseball Day and the 75th anniversary of the Rockford Peaches, the team featured in “A League of Their Own.”
Surprisingly, de la Cretaz found most of her stories in the obituaries of former players.
Hidden in plain sight were details about the “longtime companions” of some of the players, a common euphemism to denote a same-sex partner.
Some of the players who are still alive still didn’t want to talk about their relationships, and de la Cretaz respected their request for privacy. “I didn’t want to out someone who wasn’t already out,” she says, noting that some stories were cut at the last minute from her article.
“I thought I would hit the same wall as others,” says de la Cretaz, citing previous failed attempts to tell this story. She credits changing attitudes toward the LGBTQ community.
Otherwise, we might have missed the story of Pat Henschel and baseball player Terry Donahue, two women who fell in love and spent the next 70 years of their life together, only coming out in their 80s and 90s. There’s now a documentary in the works about the couple.
Despite the omission, de la Cretaz says she still loves the movie, “A League of Their Own.”
“I know why there were no queer characters in the movie,” she says of the 1992 movie. “It’s a product of its time just as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was a product of its time.”
Now, de la Cretaz has her fingers crossed for a more accurate depiction of the group in the upcoming TV adaptation of “A League of Their Own.”