“A League of Their Own” Episode 105 Recap: Finding a Little Piece of Home

This A League of Their Own recap contains spoilers. (Buckle up! This is the longest recap about a single episode of television that I’ve ever written in my life of writing about television. I loved it that much.)

Max is damn near running down the stairs towards the darkness of night. She’s not with Carson. Make no mistake, Carson is right behind her, on her steps, breathlessly asking “It’s really dark!!??” and “Is this your field?,” scrambling to catch up — but Max is singularly by herself.

She came to Carson after the Peaches game (which ended in a brawl on the field by the way, long story) to call in a favor on Carson’s Big Gay Greta secret from the first episode — “You asked me to forget about what I saw. But it’s still fresh in my mind. So I need you to do something for me.” — and now here they are, fraught. Carson trying to figure out what comes next. Max only hearing her mother’s voice ringing in her ears.

She needs Carson to hit off her.

I know she’s having a breakdown and this not the time nor the place, but she is perfect to meeeee.

Max winds up. The first ball is strong, fast — but wide. She goes again and Carson taps it. Max grows even more frustrated and Carson tries to encourage, “Alright! Give me another!” But it keeps cracking through, her father telling her mother “it always comes back to Bertie!” and her mother spitting back “look at me and tell me that you don’t think she could turn into an invert?” Shit. Shit. Fuck. Max throws again, and Carson knocks it clear out of the field. FUCK.

Carson’s stunned, she’s never seen a woman who could pitch that fast. But of course, she doesn’t get it. Being a Black woman trying to compete means you can’t just be great, you have to be The Best. Great is below Max’s standards. “Great” leaves room for her to choke — and as we saw when she froze on the factory diamond, there can be no room for her to choke. Max isn’t herself. She can’t shake what she heard. She can’t go on if she can’t pitch. She runs away, leaving behind a Carson who has more questions than answers and also, her bag.

It’s fine. This is fine.

The next day at the factory, Max starts by apologizing to Clance. She was so wrapped up in her own baseball world that she forgot their first rule, no matter what else, that they always take care of each other. So how is Clance, anyway?

Clance is good! Sure she just said goodbye to her husband, possibly forever, and each waking moment without him is ripping her apart from the inside out, but that’s nothing! She’s good! You hear me? GOOD!

Max completely understands because she just blew what might be her only shot at her life’s dream, and also maybe she was never good enough to play baseball after all, oh and her entire life has been a lie but psssshhhh she’s fine!

They are Good! STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! They are good!

She’s an icon. She’s a legend.

There’s a new woman in the factory, Gracie, who Clance immediately says looks like Josephine Baker — and my friends, that’s how you know Gracie is gay (it is my personal life wish for someone to say I look like Josephine Baker, the highest of queer Black femme compliments!).

Gracie clocks right away that Max’s last name is Chapman, but there’s no time to get into it on account of this being the worst day of Max’s life. No. Sorry. I forgot. She’s Good.

Meanwhile, the Peaches brawl is front page news, and now even the Girl Scouts hate them! Girl Scouts!  Dove is gone for good and Mr. Baker Junior is here to deliver the bad news that the Peaches are on the verge of being shut down, and also that his uncle might put him in charge of the nougat division for this fuck up (“No one comes back from nougat!”). If the Peaches want to keep playing, from now on they need to be the best of friends. They need to hold hands — Sarge warns, maybe not hold hands — and they will need to kiss and make up — well, maybe not kiss either. Carson will be taking over for Dove as coach and Lupe is being blamed for the entire fight even though it was actually Carson who started it. That’s whiteness working overtime, folks. We’ll come back to this.

Carson and Lupe return home and we find out that the papers are being told that Dove will continue coaching from “from afar” (hahahaha), and also that the team as a whole has pretty much iced out Lupe. I have a lot of strong feelings about that! Considering that they had already isolated Lupe to begin with, when they had their little secret Peaches practice inviting everyone but her, but for right now Lupe takes it in stride with an excellent piece of physical comedy from Roberta Colindrez where Lupe takes a cigarette from Jo, promptly tells everyone Carson’s now in charge and oh by the way the Peaches might be over, and swiftly leaves into the house for Carson to have to deal with the ensuing chaos that Lupe left at her feet.

Carson makes long eyes at Greta from the porch and makes up an excuse about having to ughh… go pee, which obviously means making out in a car in the shed. Carson is stressing about being a housewife while Gretchen calls her “coach” and starts to unbutton her own shirt.

This is what the homophobic Amazon reviewers are complaining about when they shriek “gay sex!”

Shirley is still really freaked out that Jo might be “a queer” by the way, so Carson tells her that Jo and Dove were actually having an affair, as a cover.

I know that in the comments of our recaps there’s been discussions about Shirley being played as a neurotic Jewish stereotype, and I’ll admit that I didn’t notice it in my first watch of the show, but that’s very real. It’s also definitely not my place to say, other than as a fellow highly anxious person I found Shirley’s self-soothing while Jo crows about her Big Leo Energy (that’s gay) from the hallway to be so comforting, if only because we rarely get to see self-soothing on television at all. My personal method of choice is the 5-4-3-2-1 system, but Shirley’s self-taps while counting to 12 will definitely get the job done.

(Fellow anxiety sufferers — your brain can’t do two things at the same time, so a great distraction is also doing math problems, you’re welcome.)

“Don’t you try and go through life worrying about if somebody like you or not. You best be making sure they doing right by you.” — August Wilson (Fences, 1985)

Max stares at her bedroom wall in the middle of the night, before all at once she starts tearing down all her baseball posters. The stew of rage, confusion, and loathing has roiled to a boil and now there’s no containing it, just spit and snot and tears coming down as Miss Toni comes running into her room at the commotion. Miss Toni, a Black mama to her core, wants to know what the hell has gotten into Max’s head making all this noise?? But Max is just getting started, shouldn’t her mother be happy? She’s giving up all this baseball foolishness for good.

Miss Toni never wanted for Max’s heartbreak, she loves her. Max narrows all of her emotions into a laser, focused directly at her mother: “You love me, but you don’t like me.”

Miss Toni’s taken aback, “it’s not my job to like you. It’s my job to raise you.”

(I’d bet good money that this phrasing is an intentional reference to my one of my favorite August Wilson monologues from Fences, which is also looking at questions of Blackness, worth, and parenting in an mid-size industrial city, in this case Pittsburgh, set in the 1950s, not long after the time period of A League of Their Own.)

Max’s face squeezes tight. Each word pushed out from some place deep inside of her like it’s a punch, “as long as I don’t end up like Bertie… right?”

There it is.

It always comes back to Bertie.

Max always thought that Bertie had done something to Miss Toni, but actually it was Miss Toni who threw Bertie away. “You’re gonna throw me away too if I ain’t what you want.” Max’s chest is heaving, but her back is straight. She knows its the truth.

Miss Toni tells Max that if she don’t stop disrespecting her in her own house, so help her God —

Max gasps quietly, her first real breath since the fight began. Her voice waivers, “You would, wouldn’t you?”

Miss Toni takes too long to respond, just a second too long to say “Maxine stop this” but there is no stopping this, because they both know. Max has known since she heard her mother call her an “invert,” she’s known since every time her mother winced when she put on pants or grabbed her mitt. She just didn’t know the words, and now she does.

Max moves in with Clance that same night, who admits that despite her Oscar worthy performance from earlier – she is not OK. Max agrees to sleep in Clance’s bed and let Clance be the big spoon (and if Clance maybe grazes her ass a few times in her sleep because it’s muscle memory for when Guy was her little spoon, that’s just what friends are for). They will make it through this together.

In Mean Girls, this would be the part when Karen asks Cady if she’s from Africa then why is she white.

The next day Carson shows up at Max’s job at the factory bringing her signature “I need someone to do me a favor” pie and Max’s lost bag, which provides some *truly Top Tier comedy* from Gbemisola Ikumelo as Clance stage whispers, “Is this white woman smiling at you?” followed by the absolutely pitch perfect “don’t you go nowhere with this white woman” — I have nothing to add. No notes. If you know, you know.

That night, Carson and Max meet again on Max’s field. Max admonishes Carson, “you can’t just show up at my work like that” (of course, Carson being conveniently unaware of her own white privilege being a reoccurring theme of the episode, and the series overall if we’re being real). Carson wants to pay Max off to keep the Greta secret, but Max doesn’t want the money, she just needed someone to pitch off of just to see if she’s good enough to keep trying. She got her answer.

Carson wants to go back when baseball was actually fun, because if we’re honest right now it kinda blows. She wants to have a catch (!?!? Carson what??? But also it’s only ever going to be “have a catch” from now on, so sorry), and that’s a turning point in their relationship. Trying to once again find the love of the game they both once loved so greatly.

When we next see them together, it’s daytime and they are having more catch.

I’d let Max Chapman throw me around like she’s throwing around that baseball

hahahhahahaaa WHOOPS!

Max fires one off. “Satchel Paige.” Arguably the most famous Negro League pitcher of all time, with a career that spanned five decades, credited by Joe DiMaggio as the best pitcher he ever faced.

Then another one. “Bullet Rogan.” The player who won more games than any other pitcher in Negro League history, while simultaneously ranking fourth highest in career batting average.

Max says the MLB ain’t got nothing on the Negro Leagues (facts) and Carson tells her to throw one as herself, but I beg please no because I cannot handle it. Every time Chanté Adams winds up, it is hard enough. I am weak. WEAK, I SAY.

Carson notes that Max has the yips and the only way out is to have to face those voices that tell her she can’t “right in the eye… wait no, voices don’t have eyes… right in the mouth.”

The advice leads Max right back into Miss Toni’s house, but this time she’s riffling for something specific — and she finds it: Bertie’s address, tucked inside Miss Toni’s bible.

Max walks to Bertie’s, a modest home with panel siding, a white iron porch and faded stripped awning. She nervously clears her throat before knocking. And who opens the door? Gracie, who looks like Josephine Baker, from the factory.

Gracie smiles big at the confirmation of her niece standing in front of her, but Max stammers — sure that she has the wrong address. Before Max can get a full sentence out, Gracie calls behind her upstairs, “Bertie! We got company.”

Suspenders and the chain of a pocket watch is some elite level masc fashion, Bertie said you goin’ know about me.

Max comes in as Bertie descends down the stairs, black pants and suspenders over a white button down with a pocket watch tucked in their pocket. Their hair parted to the side. Max’s eyes go slightly wide, she steps back.

Max: “You’re my Aunt Bertie? Toni Chapman’s Sister?”
Bertie: “Well, I am Bertie. Everything else you said is up in the air.”

Max says nice to meet you, but Bertie says they met once before – when she was a baby. With every sentence, Max’s eyes grow just a little wider and wider, her eyebrows arching up, as Gracie (who is leaning on Bertie’s shoulder) tells Bertie about how Max has become a leader at the factory. Bert credits Max’s work ethic to their side of the family — and that stance too, both of them looking at each other with their arms crossed in front of their chest, feet wide apart.

“Two peas in a pod,” Bertie beams. Gracie offers to fix Max a plate and Max asks to use the restroom first. As soon as Bertie and Gracie leave the room, she bolts out the front door.

It’s too much. It’s all just too much, too quickly. For the first time Max is looking at something that could maybe be a mirror.

The overwhelm of it takes all the air out of her lungs.

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Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 502 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. ah i loved this recap so much! the contrast between max’s two hair scenes in this episode (and we can add in carson’s haircut from the pilot) is such emotional storytelling.

    one of my friends who is watching at a more reasonable pace than me texted me “so greta is really just a hot mean femme and they double down on that huh” and it’s v true and i love that about her

    re: shirley. i do genuinely appreciate that her anxiety isn’t like, a quirky character trait but a thing that she recognizes and has coping mechanisms around because yeah, when was the last time you saw a character self-soothe on television without it being a punchline? but the pandora’s box of the danger of a single story has been opened for me and i keep wishing that there was another vocally jewish character and/or challenging of the trope. part of that is the nature of an ensemble show- shirley doesn’t get as much development as carson and max because it isn’t her story

    bertie! the love of my life! when we got the reveal that max’s gay aunt was really dapper butch bertie i was so delighted. i would take an entire series about bertie and gracie traveling the country finding their extended queer family

  2. I loved this episode so much! I have a mom that I love very much and feel very tender towards who knows and doesn’t argue any more, but will never accept me being gay, but we have a relationship with a lot of love and a lot of not being able to love each other the way we need. I’ve never seen a tender and complicated scene like that between a mom and a queer daughter and it really resonated! Oof.

    All of the conversations in this episode felt so real! Like you said, Carmen, not like exposition.

    It also had some moments of humor! Struck a great balance.
    Shirley going on about rhythm and repetition and kinkiness w/Dove making Jo run laps was so funny. Underneath all of her primness, Shirley is so horny! She contains multitudes. And then Jo walking by right after with the Leo comment was the cherry on top.

  3. Be the Boot.

    Earlier in that scene didn’t Sarge tell a story about a General of hers who’s nickname was “the Boot” and how he told her to suck something up?

    “Be the Boot” is to channel the energy of bad-ass no-nonsense Marine General.

  4. I have rarely watched a show and thought “this was written with so much love by a black queer person”. Everything you said- Bertie, the hair mirroring scenes, the suit gift…so much love went into Max’s story

  5. Thank you for the reflection and love that went into this review, Carmen. I loved watching this episode and then revisiting it again through your eyes/with you.

    I didn’t expect the Bertie storyline at all and it ended up one of my favorite element of the series. As others have said, it’s the care – but also the specificity of the characters, of the place, of the actions and dialogue, and it really is so good.

    It sometimes felt like Carson’s intentions were also muddled – is it self-serving? feeling threatened by Lupe? genuinely wanting to protect her pitching arm? I too wish that the tensions between Lupe and Carson had been confronted more directly within the narrative. By which I mean I wish she had been held accountable more directly.

    I have found it satisfying that the show calls out (in narratively fluid rather than didactic ways) all the various layers and forms of inequity… I think of the “charm school” scene when Greta reminds Carson that she doesn’t have to worry as much about performing femininity in particular ways because on the surface she checks the normative boxes: white, middle class, married, sufficiently feminine/pretty by mainstream societal standards, etc.

    • I was to say yes to this- it’s the specificity of the characters and dialogue that make the max/Bertie/Toni story the best of the series. (I love you Roberta Colindrez though and you can never have enough screen time). The dialogue feels real. The sentiments feel real. There are layers to the dialogue that say important things about how the queer black experience is different. Bertie feels both surprising and very much like a person who existed in that time and space. It’s the rootedness of the people and the excellent writing + character development that rises to something noticeably better than the rest of the show

  6. Amazing. Love love loved that episode.

    Can we also talk about how the end of this episode hair cutting scene absolutely parallels the end of Season 2 Epsiode 5 of the OG L word where Shane cuts Jenny’s hair? Like it’s the same fucking shot. I refuse to believe that’s a coincidence.

    However, the context of the League of their own version is so much more nuanced and beautiful that I wish I had seen it first!

  7. Does anyone else feel like this show is exactly how it felt to be on a high school / college sports team in the 90’s? Secretly holding hands on the bus, hoping (but never getting to) room with your crush or gf, your gf being seen with a man on her arm, someone is sleeping with the coach, everyone is secretly gay but no one is talking about it… It’s really bringing it all back!

  8. Uncle Bertie & Gracie & what the writers & actors do with so few words & so little time is amazzzzing.

    Also, Abbie Jacobson if you are reading this – Carson’s unawareness of white privilege is also happening at a meta level in that Carson’s story is NOT more interesting than other stories here, but Carson & her convo partner have more lines & space to deliver them. Like Max, the black and latinx actors & writers on this show are accomplishing twice as much with 1/2 as much time. Please have a season 2 and please make Carson’s story & lines more concise so we have more of Lupe/Roberta Colindrez (their monologue later on is bare minimum i mean more than that)and so Max’s story can have more camera pauses, slower cuts away, & maybe Max & Clance don’t always have to talk so fast.

    • ok i slept. let me try again –

      Mfoniso Udofia and Katrelle Kindred, thank you for this episode and for all your other work writing & creating on this show as a whole. it’s so many gifts for all of us rolled into one. Uncle Bertie and Aunt Gracie, and Max’s moments with herself will be with me for the rest of my life & I’m sure for many other people. This script is magnum fucking opus, full of tiny exchanges that do more than most plays, and i’m in total awe of the writing & the loving camera work & sets, and every detail.

      Abbi & Will! this whole show is fucking phenomenal & i second all of the praise & celebrations in the recaps & the comments here. Thank you for bringing on AMAZING writers & directors for the whole show and most episodes. . . I also want more story for Lupe’s character and for Roberta Colindrez’s acting, and I want the camera to linger more on moments like Max’s moments with herself, and on Uncle Bertie and Gracie loving each other & trying to support Max, I want more of Es . . . . I know every 1/2 a second of this show is so precious & hard fought for. As you approach season 2, which there had better be, in season 1 there are many 1/2 seconds that Carson, Greta, and Charlie didn’t 100% need, if you look carefully at their lines, conversations & their delivery. Any conversation Uncle Bertie is in, or that Esther is in, accomplishes SO much with every phrase. Max and Clance have that spacious friend back and forth which is soooo sorely needed, and they talk realllly fast thru it. There IS more space to give them, tho it is measured in 1/2 seconds, and that space CAN be found in & around Carson’s lines in the script. The writers on this show are writing novellas in 3-5 lines exchanges for many other characters (most prominently among Black characters, but also for Jess, Jo, Vi), and Carson’s writing can also be that compact, and the luxury of say – time on e.g. her & greta’s slower back and forths can go to e.g. Max and [redacted for spoilers] having slower back and forths ;).

  9. Carmen! I needed to read all of these after watching the series, but now I think I need to re-read each recap and then watch each episode one by one with more time to digest.

    You are so on point about the many types of queer television and queer love stories. All of the feelings

  10. It would be great if the writers here did it similarly to “Orange Is the New Black” and took a story that starts mainly with a feminine white woman at front and center (here: Carson), used her as a Trojan Horse and then told actually many stories about Bertie, Max, Jo, Lupe and Jess in season two. I would like to see more masculine-of-center characters instead of Carson and Greta as the main couple with most screen time and who seem to be the primary love story.

  11. I really don’t agree with the “Carson started the fight” take. She touches Lupe twice in that argument, but both times are pretty gentle touches to her arm to try to keep the attention of her fellow coach and a teammate who is refusing to play. Sure, she probably should’ve just let Lupe go back to the bench and deal with it later instead of continuing the argument, but Lupe is the first one to make it a physical fight between the initial shove and the tackle that escalates it.

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