How the Writers of ‘A League of Their Own’ Came Up With Its Most Famous Line
This summer, Greta Gerwig made history with Barbie, which became the highest-grossing movie ever directed by a woman. Thirty-one summers earlier, Penny Marshall accomplished something that, at that time, was nearly as remarkable.
Riding high after the commercial success of Big and the critical acclaim of Awakenings, the actress-turned-filmmaker decided to direct a movie inspired by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was formed during World War II so that sports fans could have something to watch while the men were off fighting the Axis powers. A League of Their Own starred Geena Davis and Lori Petty as Dottie and Kit, respectively, competitive sisters who sign up to play for the Rockford Peaches, who are coached by Jimmy, an alcoholic and a washed-up former big-leaguer, played by Marshall’s Big star Tom Hanks. Sports movies weren’t uncommon during the summertime, but ones with largely female casts certainly were — not to mention ones directed by a woman. But boosted by strong reviews, A League of Their Own became one of 1991’s biggest feel-good hits.
In the decades since the film’s release, its reputation has only grown. What has made the movie such a beloved classic? Writer and journalist Erin Carlson answers that question, and many others, with her new book. No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of A League of Their Own: Big Stars, Dugout Drama, and a Home Run for Hollywood (out now) delves into the making of the film and the personalities who brought it to life, including interviews with (among others) Davis, Petty and Rosie O’Donnell. Carlson, who previously has written about Meryl Streep (Queen Meryl) and Nora Ephron (I’ll Have What She’s Having), persuasively makes the case that A League of Their Own is, as she puts is, an “irresistible underdog tale (that) broke the mold to become the most record-breaking baseball movie of all time.”
Cracked is pleased to present this exclusive excerpt from No Crying in Baseball, which sheds light on the creative process of the film’s screenwriters, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel — and, most importantly, how they came up with the movie’s most famous line, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
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Ganz and Mandel were taking their time on the script.
They disliked doing research, but for Penny, they studied up, poring through a 700-page master’s thesis on the All-Americans written by a woman who had played in the league. Penny was a stickler. She didn’t want anyone to look at the movie and go, Oh, that’s a pile of crap. And so, the writers drowned themselves in the history: the bus trips, the chaperones, the hijinks, the home runs, the first tastes of freedom.
They put their own spin on the siblings at the center of the plot, renaming the eldest Dottie Hinson, an exceptional, self-possessed athlete who overshadows her kid sister, Kit Keller, a feisty pitcher with a colossal chip on her shoulder. While Dottie’s husband, Bob, is off fighting the good fight, she maintains her parents’ Oregon homestead and lords over Kit as her superior on Lukash Dairy’s amateur all-girl softball team. When a wisecracking scout sees Dottie dominate a game, he attempts to interest her in trying out for a brand-new, too-good-to-be-true, women-only league funded by Walter Harvey, the Candy Bar King of Chicago.
At first, Dottie turns the scout down. She’s married. What kind of war wife runs away and takes up professional baseball? But Kit, aching to ditch farm life, begs him to take her to the Windy City tryouts. The scout relents on one condition: Dottie must come along for the ride. Dottie, however, won’t budge. She tries to talk some sense into Kit.
DOTTIE: Hey, you remember that girls semi-pro team from Portland that came out here a few months ago?
KIT: Oh yeah. They all looked like Uncle Ted.
DOTTIE: Remember, how everybody looked at those girls. You want everyone to look at us like that?
KIT: Dottie, I gotta get out of here. I mean… I’m nothing here.
The next day, Dottie gives in, and they hop aboard the moving train to Harvey Stadium.
“This will sound weird,” Ganz tells me, “but Babaloo and I saw ourselves in the sisters.” Once upon a time, the scribes took a leap of faith and left their native New York behind, journeying cross-country to L.A. where they hoped to make it big as comedy writers (not ballplayers). “It felt very real to us,” he adds of Dottie and Kit’s trek. “It felt kind of like something we had done.”
Both were the Dotties of their families, the ones who did the best. When Ganz and Mandel arrived in Hollywood, they kindled a friendship outside The Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard, “making fun of people who had jobs,” Ganz recalls. “We were already completing each other’s sentences before we started writing together.”
They agreed that Dottie and Kit would play for the Rockford Peaches, the league’s most winning team in real life, and they wrote the women a sneering, leering, self-loathing slob of a coach — Jimmy Dugan, whom they loosely modeled on famed slugger Jimmie Foxx, a heavy drinker who fell on hard times. Another apparent muse: Hack Wilson, a colorful, combative character who drank himself out of the Majors.
Ganz and Mandel shared a desk and sat at opposite ends, writing every single word in the same room. Together. Unlike other Hollywood writing teams, they didn’t divide up the work and tackle scenes solo. Instead, Ganz bounced off Mandel, so to speak, improvising, getting into character, the air filling with words. As they spit-balled, they wrote on paper using ballpoint pens.
One day, they conceived a rant in which Jimmy rages at right fielder Evelyn Gardner for missing the cutoff person on a throw. The true-life inspiration: a woman director (whose identity remained secret) weeping during a story meeting in which the duo participated. They heard a producer mutter under his breath, “What is this crying? Did Howard Hawks ever cry at a meeting?”
On the page: Evelyn starts sobbing hysterically, and Jimmy explodes even further, unleashing an earful. Ganz and Mandel concocted dialogue on the fly and acted the scene out loud. They scratched out words and revised in tandem, writing:
“Crying? There’s crying? There’s no crying in baseball. No crying. (getting angry again) When Rogers Hornsby was my manager he once called me a
steaming, talking pile of pig shit. And that was in front of my parents who had driven down tofrom Michigan for the game. Did I cry? No. There’s no crying!”
The Peaches’ sisterhood appalls Jimmy. He hates that he’s managing a bunch of chicks. They offend his fragile, toxic masculinity. Who do these gender-bending lightweights think they are? (What the hell had he become?) As Jimmy rips Evelyn apart, it is possible that he would subject a male crybaby to the same needless verbal abuse. Do men cry in baseball? Oh yes, all the time. And despite his titanic show of anger, Jimmy Dugan is definitely weeping on the inside. His attack on the emotional Evelyn is a projection of the contempt he feels toward himself — for the shameful tears he’s holding back, and that he can’t show because to do so would make him less manly in society’s eyes.
As crafted by Ganz and Mandel, his tirade was hilarious because of its exaggerated specificity and the truths it contained about men and baseball. Jimmy was like those pissed-off, helicoptering Little League dads who live vicariously through their sons and are always yelling over the slightest mistake. (If you’ve ever been to a Little League game, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.) The right actor could take the bit and run with it.
That scene, and Jimmy’s one-liner (“There’s no crying in baseball!”) would eventually be the most-quoted in sports movie history. Scratch that: In sports history, period. For a couple of baseball junkies, that was like winning the World Series.
Adapted excerpt from NO CRYING IN BASEBALL: The Inside Story of A League of Their Own: Big Stars, Dugout Drama, and a Home Run for Hollywood by Erin Carlson. Copyright © 2023. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.