Women of AAGPBL visit All-Star FanFest in KC

Women of AAGPBL visit All-Star FanFest in KC

Women of AAGPBL visit All-Star FanFest in KC
KANSAS CITY -- In the 20 years that have passed since its debut, "A League of Their Own" continues to appeal to generations of baseball fans who have no doubt proclaimed "There's no crying in baseball" and other Jimmy Dugan-isms at some point in their sports-watching lives.

Here's another reason to like to movie: while Hollywood-ized in some areas, for the most part, it stayed true to the actual story.

Oh, sure, liberties were taken. Dramatic moments were sometimes made a little more so, for the sake of cinema. A few supporting characters portrayed in the movie were very much the opposite in real life.

But for the most part, the essentials -- the uniforms, the ballpark settings, the tryouts, the challenges the ladies faced as professional ballplayers, during a time when women just didn't do that kind of stuff -- were accurate.

Just ask the actual ballplayers themselves. Surviving members from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League live all over the United States. They often reminisce and share their experiences, which is the case this weekend in Kansas City, where several stars from the AAGPBL have gathered at the All-Star FanFest.

Whether they're signing autographs or chatting with fans, the women from the AAGPBL are a hit. Between their contributions to the game of baseball and the emotional attachment fans have with the movie, the legacy of these players and their place in baseball history has not diminished.

"None of us thought about the future in terms of, 'Were we doing something historical for women's sports?'" Lois Youngen, a catcher/outfielder for the Fort Wayne Daisies, Kenosha Comets and South Bend Blue Sox, said. "We were into the day, the game, the moment, etc. Secondly, I'd have to say, I'd have to be pretty old to reconcile the fact that I'm a part of history, so to speak."

While some based-on-true-story movies aren't approved by the real-life cast of characters, the ladies who played in the AAGPBL embrace "A League of Their Own." Even if the specific characters in the movie weren't always directly tied to specific ballplayers.

They find humor in it as well. Asked who the Madonna character was based on during a Q&A at FanFest, four of the five ladies on the panel raised their hands.

Maybe they couldn't directly relate to Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell or Geena Davis, but they definitely identified with the tryout process and other nuances depicted in the film.

Scouts really did show up to sandlot games and youth organized leagues and aggressively pursued the best players. The players also heard about open tryouts and drove to the closest site to their hometowns.

In those days, scouts had to get permission to sign players not from agents, but from mothers. The latter was probably more difficult.

"One scout said, 'How would you like to play professional baseball?' Maybelle Blair (Peoria Redwings, 1948) recalled. "I said, 'Are you out of your mind? I'd be thrilled to death. Sign me up, let's go. ... but I don't think my mother will let me go.'"

She was right. Her mother didn't mince words while answering the scout's inquiry. "She said, 'No. Not my daughter. She's not leaving this house,'" Blair recalled. "He said, 'Ms. Blair, you don't understand. We're going to pay her $65 a week.' She said, 'George, start up the car. I'll pack her suitcase and we'll be on our way!'"

That's where chaperones factored into the equation. Inaccurately depicted in the film as too strict and somewhat clueless to the players' rebellious actions, in reality, chaperones were an essential part of the AAGBPL. Without them, few players would have been permitted to leave home.

"I was 16 years old when I signed my first contract and spent my first Spring Training in Indiana," Youngen said. "My mom wouldn't have let me go because she knew nothing about a girl's baseball league. She said, 'If you're going to go, I'm going with you.' She bought a train ticket and came to Spring Training with me. When she saw the chaperone and the manager and saw everything was on the up and up, then she left."

Other scenes from "A League of Their Own" were based on a blend of factual events, rather than one single moment. Take for example the scene where one of the characters finds out, just before a game, that her husband was killed in World War II combat.

That part was loosely based on Dorothy "Mickey" Maguire Chapman, who played in the league from 1943-49. She received word from her mother on a Saturday night, just before gametime, that her husband, pilot Tom Maguire, was killed in action. Dorothy Maguire played the game, played a doubleheader the next day and then announced that her husband was killed.

Except that he wasn't. A couple of months later, she received a couple of letters from him. He had been in a hospital in Italy, had not been identified and was presumed dead. In reality, he was wounded, but very much alive.

In "A League of Their Own," the husband of Geena Davis' character returns from the war, safe but also wounded.

"That was somewhat based on my mom," Rick Chapman said.

Dorothy Maguire Chapman died in 1981, and since then her son has worked to make sure the story of women and professional baseball continues to be told. He, like most who have close ties to the league and its history, endorsed the way the AAGPBL was depicted on the big screen.

"It's Hollywood -- you've got to know what really happened and what Hollywood did. It's based on a lot of true things and a couple things they threw in. The key is that it recognizes the women for what they did. They're true pioneers of their day."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.