Opinion: The Ending of A League of Their Own is Brilliant

Spoilers for the entire first season ahead.

Amazon’s re-imagining of the 1992 baseball classic A League of Their Own is a grand slam in so many ways. The series continues to highlight the misogyny experienced by the All-American Girls Baseball League in the 1940s while shining more light on the queer relationships between many players and the racism that kept Black women from joining the games.

Like most great sports movies and television shows, the whole thing comes down to a white knuckle championship game, but the final moments are so different from anything else in sports media that it cements A League of Their Own as one of the truly great pieces of subversive television.

Here’s the set-up. Over the course of the show, several players have gained a greater confidence in being queer to the point they begin frequenting an LGBT bar near their dormitory. The experience is intoxicating to catcher/coach Carson Shaw (Abbi Jacobson), who is very new to exploring her sexuality and is still overwhelmed with joy at getting to play professional baseball. Her enthusiasm draws out her more experienced, but cautious girlfriend, Greta Gil (D’arcy Carden) and Greta’s best friend Jo Deluca (Melanie Field).

Then the cops show up in a violent crackdown. Carson and Greta escape unscathed, but Jo is viciously beaten and arrested. Fearing legal reprisal against the team, she is traded to the South Bend Blue Socks and leaves the house in tears.

Flash forward to the championship game between the Rockford Peaches and the Blue Socks, a grim battle of attrition where Jo’s batting keeps the Blue Socks one step ahead. In the bottom of the ninth, she hits a home run, and everyone watching assumes that’s the end. However, Jo’s knee, injured in the raid, buckles at first base and she crumples to the ground in tears of agony. The umpire informs her she has to round the bases to win, and her team is forbidden to help her. Instead, the Peaches surround Jo and serve as her crutch, helping her over the plate to secure their own defeat.

Lots of great sports media doesn’t end in victory. In Cool Runnings, the Jamaican bobsled team has to carry their broken sled across the finish line. In Rocky, Rocky Balboa loses his title fight to Apollo Creed. Both of those examples are about how going the distance is its own reward.

That’s not what is happening in A League of Their Own. There’s even a moment earlier in the finale where a stirring speech about having made it to the championship at all is winning that falls flat with the team.

The show makes it very clear that the players are outcasts in a myriad of ways. By highlighting the rampant homophobia of the time, often with dire legal consequences like commitment and medical ones like lobotomy, it’s clear that they exist under a terrible shadow even as they win the hearts of fans. The players are supposed to be a symbol of American can-do attitude in the darkness of a war against the evils of fascism, but they exist under circumstances not dissimilar to the ones the men are off fighting against.

In the heat of competition, it’s easy to forget the big picture. When the Peaches pick up Jo, it’s a reminder that the league itself is on one side, and the country as a while is on the other. They literally have to carry a friend who was beaten in a senseless, but legal, attack over home plate. The message is clear: this is their win, even if the system built the arena it happens in. I half expected one of the players to throw a bat and yell at the crowd “are you not entertained?”

Even that pales in comparison to what happens to Black pitcher Max Chapman (Chanté Adams). For a lot of the series, Max gave off some very Daenerys Targaryen vibes in that she was in this incredible storyline miles away from the main one that only tangentially connected. She develops a friendship with Carson through happenstance, and their chemistry is electric, but it always felt like the slow buildup to Max joining the Peaches despite the racial barriers.

I spent every episode waiting for that to happen, history be damned. The show denies the audience that win in favor of the truth. Max ends up playing with a team of Black men who travel around doing exhibition matches heavy on comedy antics and throwing games against white and mixed teams. She’s ecstatic because she finally has a shot to play professional ball, but she’ll likely never end up in the white league.

The show forces us to root for her to achieve the goals a Black woman of her time would not have been able to, and refuses to let the audience pretend sportsmanship conquers all by having her join the rest of the cast. Her story remains a sideshow in spite of all the rules of narrative begging for her to be woven into the fold.

Max doesn’t win by becoming a Peach any more than the Peaches win by taking advantage of Jo’s injury. They win by forcing us to remember how American needlessly and cruelly rigged the game against people for no good damn reason. It’s a foul ball straight to whitewashed history’s face, and it’s wonderful.

A League of Their Own Season 1 is available on Amazon Prime

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