This A League of Their Own recap contains spoilers.
It’s 1943 in Lake Valley, Idaho and Carson Shaw is hoofing it through fields and over fences, a bag of baseball gear slung over one shoulder and a suitcase full of books weighing down her other hand, late late late. She arrives at the station as the train starts pulling away, her white cotton bra peeking out of her housewife dress, and doesn’t even have time to catch her breath before some nosy neighbor starts barking at her about how she better show up to choir practice this afternoon with a pie! Carson casually lies that she’ll definitely be at church today, oh yes. And she’ll absolutely bring dessert, sure thing. She finally notices her nosy neighbor’s wounded husband has returned from war and says her husband’s having a real hoot over there fighting Nazis. I mean, not like a hoot hoot, but, you know, he’s great, he’s good, he’s having fun, I mean no, not fun, but he’s good, fine. He is fine, thank you so much for asking. She excuses herself, chases down the moving train, slings her stuff through an open door, and then lobs herself inside too.
Carson Shaw is on her way to try out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. To calm her nerves, she opens up one of her favorite books, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a story — she explains to a grandma-age woman knitting in the seat next to her — about a feisty woman and this nice handsome guy between whom there’s no sparks, no passion, no desire, no longing, probably not even any sex or riveting conversation actually, just a man and a woman who make a marriage work even though they both feel bored about each other and Elizabeth wishes she was back home living her life with her best friend Charlotte. The knitting lady senses the lesbianism radiating off Carson Shaw like electromagnetic waves pulsing off the sun and excuses herself to the food cart for a nice heterosexual sandwich (pimento cheese probably, the all-time straightest, most repressed sandwich).
When Carson gets off the train in Chicago in her baseball onesie and matching cap, she immediately spots two other gays. Er, I mean, baseball players: Jo De Luca, Joey, dressed like Dennis the Menace, waving around a map; and Greta, a tall bombshell wearing some kind of matchy-matchy satin workout suit with a child’s size bowling shirt underneath it. Jo says Carson can’t follow them to Baker Field, that she’s the competition, but Greta gives Carson a whole evaluation, head to toe, and says yeah, actually, she can come along. Jo laughs about how Carson’s baseball onesie is country, and she looks country in it, while Greta explains that she’s not from any one place — no, she’s from all over. “The Big Apple. Houston. Paris.”
Carson has heard of it, and in fact her husband, Charlie, he’s in Europe right now having a hoot — no, goddammit, not a hoot! just, like, he is alive or whatever! — in the war. Hearing the word “husband” makes Jo roll her eyeballs nearly right out of her head.
When the gals arrive at Baker Field, they feel like they’ve walked directly into heaven. Women, women, women, as far as the eye can see. Women throwing, women catching, women diving, ducking, dodging, sliding. Women in shorts! Women in pants! Women in an endless ocean of circus-colored baseball caps! The smell of oiled leather and the crack of wooden bats! Here’s Lupe Garcia, with a golden arm, and Jess McCready, firing off homers as easy as making choir pies. Here’s Esti González, straight from Cuba and quoting the musical Oklahoma!; there’s Shirley Cohen, a woman afraid of languages that aren’t English, homosexuals, and contagions. Carson’s got a star by her name on the check-in sheet. Greta winks at her, says, “No pressure!” And honestly, for maybe the first time in her life, Carson doesn’t feel any. When she steps up to the plate and cracks the first pitch deep into center field, she has Greta’s complete attention.
All the players on the field are white or white-passing (one of the guys in charge tells Esti NOT to talk to the press), until Max Chapman and her best friend Clance Morgan walk onto the field. Max is wearing a full baseball uniform, Clance is in a nice blouse. She’s not here to try out; she’s here to support her best friend — and also to pick up a comic book from the city shop. Max tells Clance to just keep walking and talking and maybe no one will notice them, and that’s no problem for Clance because she’s got a lot to say. She is very upset about a recent development from DC Comics. “You already took the one true love of her life,” she snaps. “Just let her have a body, you know? Let her have a body!”
Max smiles and nods like she’s had this conversation (or something like it) a hundred times with her best friend. When a group of white coaches stop Max and Clance and ask if they think they look like the girls on the field, Max says, “I think my form is better, but…?” The coach tells them they’re not hiring Black players, and Max says they really should just take a few minutes to watch her throw, they’re going to want her pitching every game, she just needs a chance. The coach tells them to go back to the south side, and Max tells them they’re actually from Rockford, the place the Peaches will be playing. When the coach tells her, again, to leave, she picks up a loose ball and throws it, without even a single crow-hop, from deep center all the way into the stands. The players stop and stare ’cause who in the heck has an arm like that? Max Chapman, that’s who.
Max and Clance leave. They huddle in the tunnel for a few minutes talking about how fine they both are. Fine. Just fine. Pretending to be fine is fine and that’s fine. Clance says she knows this is bullshit, but also, can they please go get her comic book now? They need something to show for lying to Max’s mom and coming all the way to Chicago to tryout for a baseball league, the one thing Max’s mom absolutely cannot abide! Max says yeah and that Clance probably wants to get home to her husband anyway. Clance says, “Just ’cause I got married to a sexy, sexy gentleman don’t mean I got normal.” What a bisexual thing to say!
On the train home, Clance sketches Max playing ball. It’s stunning. Powerful. Max says so too, but her one note is she wouldn’t let her arm noodle out like that while she was pitching. Clance rolls her eyes, goes back to plotting how to get the “fucking fuckers” at DC Comics to stop twisting her complaint letters and publishing them like they’re compliments. They agree the world is racist garbage but they’re going to get through it together, like they always have, even if they have to move to California for Max to play in one of the “little bit” integrated leagues.
After tryouts, the AAGPBL gals head to a hotel, where they trade tips, superstitions, and endless clowning. Sarge, their chaperone, tells them to calm down! “We’re ladies! Not ball-chasing pound hounds!” she says. Respectfully, affectionately, I’m not sure she’s right about that. Carson’s shuffling around in her hotel room like a ghost, sitting down at the desk to write a letter to her husband, then crumpling it up and swearing, then shuffling around some more. Greta decides what Carson needs is a haircut. Her hair is too long, too farm-y, too much of a curtain to hide behind. Carson doesn’t want a haircut until she realizes Greta is going to put on some lingerie for some reason and give her a haircut herself. And by “haircut” I mean Greta caresses Carson’s hair, runs it between her fingers, twirls it, pushes it behind her ears, tells Carson to close her eyes, asks Carson if she wants her to stop (Carson: “NO!”), snips a little bit off the ends, caresses it some more, puts her bare hand on Carson’s bare shoulder, prods her about her boring husband.
Greta: What does your Freddie think about you playing professional ball?
Carson: Oh, he doesn’t know. I wasn’t even going to come to tryouts. I was supposed to go to church with a pastry.
Carson: But then I got a letter saying—
Greta: —he’s dead?
Carson: What? No. He’s coming home.
Greta: Sorry, hang on. You got a letter from your HUSBAND saying he’s returning from WAR, and your impulse was to pack up all your stuff and go to Chicago to play baseball?
Great: Okay I’m going to need to trim off six more inches.
Greta convinces Carson she needs to write a letter to her husband, so they go to the hotel lobby, get completely sozzled, and mail off a note to poor Steve. Um, Chad. No. Charlie? Greta says maybe Carson isn’t running from something, but running toward something, like her destiny. Carson thinks maybe that’s true, like in one of her favorite books, Anne of Green Gables, the story of a girl named Anne who wants to spend her life with her bosom buddy Diana, and absolutely not that little pigtail-pulling punk Gilbert Blythe.
The next morning, everyone’s on their way to Rockford! Joey, Greta, and Carson all land on the Peaches roster and load up the bus to head north. And Max, whose mom owns a salon in Rockford, comes to work a little hungover and dejected. Her mom wants to know where she was last night, and who played at that supposed concert, and what supposed songs they played. The ladies in the salon try to help out Max, feeding her answers to her mother’s questions, but it’s clear Toni knows her daughter was at baseball tryouts. She tells her, for what is clearly the millionth time, she has got to get her head out of the clouds and start focusing on what really matters: Taking over Toni’s salon. Does she have any idea how hard Toni has had to work to own a small business? As a Black woman, in 1943? Max does, and she wants to make her mom happy and proud, but also she just wants to play baseball.
As fate would have it, the Rockford Peaches, under the direction of Greta, end up at the same bar as Max and Clance that night. Clance’s husband, Guy, works as a cook at the place, and so Max and Clance are allowed to drink for free. Max does help herself to some whisky but not before making Guy cower and apologize for telling Toni about their trip to Chicago for the tryouts. Max and Clance watch the Peaches dance, from the kitchen, all bunny hops and feminine spins and twirls. Clance says, “What in the Howdy Doody white Jesus unseasoned chicken kind of dance is this?” Max doesn’t know, doesn’t care, just scowls. The problem with Max’s scowl, and I would never tell her this because I am married to a world class scowler, is that her face is so dang cute that her surly grump huffiness only makes her more adorable.
Gary the waiter agrees and shuffles over to flirt with her. Unfortunately, his clumsy attempt at wooing Max Champman includes the information that he’s playing for the screw factory baseball team now. She says, and I quote, “Gary, you can’t even get hit with the ball. I am literally four billion times the player you are!” He doesn’t argue, just notes that it doesn’t matter, on account of Max is a woman and this is a men’s baseball team. In the background, Clance downs a vodka in a single gulp because she knows Max is going to — ah yes, smashed glass. Cause a scene. Max is going to cause a scene.
Clance marches Max out to the shed behind the restaurant and tells her, once again, she’s got to stop losing her temper in front of white folks, getting Guy in trouble at his job, and picking fights with every man who gets the chance to be on a baseball team. Max agrees about the first two things and is sorry. She sinks down into a bunch of potato sacks to think about what she’s done while Clance goes to clean up her mess.
While the rest of the Peaches dance, Carson sits at the bar and ponders one of her favorite books, The Great Gatsby, a story about how women who marry men end up getting run over by cars. Greta joins her from time to time, leaning in close and intimate, dipping her finger in Carson’s cocktails, helping herself to the garnish. Carson wants to know what she drunk-wrote in the letter to her husband. Greta tells her she knows what she wrote, come on. They talk about robbing the bank, metaphorically, and how they’ve never met anyone like each other. Greta pulls Carson up by the hand and leads her out the door, down an alleyway, and into the shed behind the restaurant.
Carson awkwardly stands in the dark and asks if Greta wanted to tell her something, or? Like, did she bring her out here to do a book club? Because maybe they could start with something on the short side and see how it goes. Like Roald Dahl’s The Twits, for example? It’s a story about how straight people are gross. Greta smiles, pulls Carson toward her, and kisses her gently. It’s the first time Carson has stopped talking the entire time we’ve known her. Greta pulls away and Carson stares are her for one of those rare moments in life where ten seconds unfurl before you like a millennium. And then she smashes her lips right back into Greta’s lips. When they finally stop smooching, Greta grins and says, “I thought so.” She walks out and leaves Carson alone in the shed.
There’s a crash in the dark, and Carson turns around to see Max sheepishly pulling herself up out of the potato sacks. Oops-a-daisy!
Greta leaves the bar on the arm of a soldier, despite Carson’s protests. “You hardly know him! You know, when Jane Eyre left a party with a guy she hardly knew, she ended up almost murdered to death by that guy’s insane zombie-wife!” Greta says thanks, but she can take care of herself. Carson finds herself alone in the alley with Max. Max says she doesn’t care about the gay smooching. Carson says Max has a rocket for an arm, and Max says she knows. And that any team would be lucky to have her.
The next day, Max wakes up early to throw pitches against the brick wall of her mom’s salon. And Carson joins the Peaches in their locker room, where they suit up in their iconic pink uniforms and cheer about being all for one, and one for all, and All-American. Greta smiles and raises her eyebrows at Carson, and Carson looks away. Her dreams are coming true, her hair feels light and free, and she’s starting to think maybe she had it all wrong. Maybe Elizabeth and Darcy didn’t hate each other. Maybe her destiny is baseball. Maybe falling for someone feels a lot like getting sucker punched in the guts.
Editor in Chief Carmen Phillips and Senior Editor Heather Hogan will be trading off A League of Their Own recaps, one a day, every single day, for the whole first season. See you back here tomorrow!