Here is a terrific story about the real women behind a beloved film from a few years back…1992’s dramedy film A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN directed by Penny Marshall, a fictionalized version of a very real thing. When the majority of male Major League baseball players were called up/volunteered for service in World War II, that left a vacancy in the hearts of baseball loving Americans so the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was created. A League of Their Own centered on one team and its fictionalized versions of the real women athletes who played pro baseball during those years and the film, starring Tom Hanks as the coach with Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell headlining as the players was a big hit.
It was also full of baloney since the film shied away from any hint of lesbianism with the players which is blatant “pink washing” of reality. Of course a professional women’s sports league of baseball players is going to have many lesbian and bisexual women on its teams!
The lesbian athletes were ignored on the big screen but books written since then have corrected the omissions of the film (which is, despite those omissions, a very entertaining motion picture.) And, a recent article on the Narratively website by Britni de la Cretaz also goes further to tell the true lives of the many gay/queer women who were star athletes in the middle of the 20th Century.
Josephine “JoJo” D’Angelo was in a hotel lobby in 1944. An outfielder for the South Bend Blue Sox — a team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (A.A.G.P.B.L.), founded the year prior — she had dark, curly hair. Even if you didn’t know her last name, her looks hinted at her Italian heritage.
The hotel was likely decorated with muted colors in the modernist style of the previous decade. Thanks to World War II, there were supply shortages and rations, which put a hold on new design in the early ’40s. All available supplies needed to go toward the war effort.
The story was similar in baseball. With most of the Major League Baseball players deployed, executives decided to fill the gap with female players, paving the way for the A.A.G.P.B.L.
But in the hotel that day, D’Angelo was approached by one league executive and told that she was being released from her contract. This was devastating for the right-hander who’d batted .200 in her two seasons with the Blue Sox. She’d been playing since she was a little girl, and had spent her days working in a steel mill in her hometown of Chicago while devoting evenings to playing ball, before attending a tryout for the league at Wrigley Field. That scene was made famous by the film “A League of Their Own,” with hundreds of women traveling from around the country to the brick ballpark with the ivy-covered outfield wall.
Why was D’Angelo being cut from the thing she loved most in the world? When she told the story later in her life, she gave the reason: “a butchy haircut.” It was a haircut she says she never even wanted, one she was pressured into getting by the hairstylist who assured her she would look lovely with her dark curls trimmed into a bob.
D’Angelo had broken one of the cardinal rules of the A.A.G.P.B.L.: “Play like a man, look like a lady.” But she wasn’t the only one. Connie Wisniewski was told she’d be kicked off her team if she chose to get a close-trimmed cut. Multiple recruits were immediately handed tickets home after they showed up to spring training with bobs, and “Dottie Ferguson was warned by her chaperon against wearing girls’ Oxford shoes, because they were excessively masculine-looking,” writes Lois Browne in her book Girls of Summer: In Their Own League.