'A League of Their Own' TV show dives 'deeper' into queer history of women's baseball

We all know the scene from "A League of Their Own."

During a baseball game in Penny Marshall's 1992 comedy, a Black woman (DeLisa Chinn-Tyler) in the stands recovers a foul ball and mightily throws it back to faraway player Ellen Sue (Freddie Simpson) on the field. The nameless spectator, who's seated in the segregated section, is never seen or heard from again.

It's a short yet stirring moment that left an impact on Chanté Adams, who co-stars in Amazon's TV adaptation of "League" (streaming Friday on Prime Video), which is set in the world of women's professional baseball in the 1940s.

"I watched the movie as a kid and it was pretty iconic, because it was a sports movie led by women," Adams says. "But I also remember I was really happy when I saw the one woman on screen that looked like me for all of 10 seconds – and then really sad when she went away."

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"League" aims to correct that. Co-created by Abbi Jacobson (Comedy Central's "Broad City") and Will Graham (Amazon's "Mozart in the Jungle"), the eight-episode season charts the formation of Illinois' Rockford Peaches, a real-life team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. But unlike the movie, which starred Geena Davis and Madonna, the series doesn't gloss over the realities of race and sexuality, and instead puts multiple queer characters and women of color at the center.

When Graham approached Jacobson with the idea for the show in 2017, "he didn't come to me like, 'Let's remake the movie!'" she recalls. "It was very much about diving deeper and telling a lot more stories inspired by real women who were playing baseball, not just in the (AAGPBL)."

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Season 1 is split between two main storylines: Carson (Jacobson), a white, married housewife who runs away from her small Idaho town in hopes of joining the Peaches, and Max (Adams), a young Black woman who defies her strictly religious mother (Saidah Ekulona) as she pursues her baseball dreams. In the first episode, Max is barred from trying out for the Peaches because of her skin color, so she takes a factory job and attempts to land a spot on the company's all-male team.

Adams, 27, says she could relate to Max as "a Black woman trying to work her way through a white, male-dominated field." Through her research, she learned about trailblazing Black women ballplayers including Toni Stone, Connie Morgan and Mamie Johnson – the latter of whom attempted to try out for the AAGPBL in 1951, but was "told to go home because she was Black."

"I had no idea who they were," Adams says. "Even when I initially auditioned, I thought (Graham and Jacobson) were just adding in the Black storyline because we're in 2022 – you need people of color in your show. But when they sat me down, they were like, 'No, this is about a generation of women playing baseball and Black women were there.' To bring those stories to light has been such an honor."

Discovering the true history was similarly eye-opening for Jacobson, 38, who grew up watching the "League" movie but says she never clocked its "queer undertones" until much later. ("I didn't come into my queerness until very late in life, so that tracks there," quips Jacobson, who came out publicly in 2018.)

As depicted in the show, the AAGPBL imposed strict rules on its athletes to ensure ladylike decorum: Women were required to wear lipstick and skirts on the baseball field; they were not allowed to smoke or drink in public; and they were accompanied by chaperones if they went on dates with men. On top of that, Illinois didn't decriminalize homosexuality until the early 1960s, meaning queer people were largely forced to keep their relationships behind closed doors.

Carson (Abbi Jacobson, right) becomes the Peaches' de facto leader over the course of the season.
Carson (Abbi Jacobson, right) becomes the Peaches' de facto leader over the course of the season.

Early in the season, the closeted Carson attempts to suppress her feelings for her beguiling and flirtatious teammate Greta (D'Arcy Carden), who freely sleeps around with both women and men, but soon finds herself falling for Carson.

"Even though Greta has had relationships before, this is new for her. She doesn't let people in and she would split before she shed a tear," Carden says. "Now, Carson has made her reexamine everything."

Jacobson previously explored queerness on screen in last year's animated "The Mitchells vs. the Machines," as well as the fifth and final season of "Broad City," as her character – an aspiring artist also named Abbi – found unexpected romance with a doctor (Clea DuVall).

Jodi Balfour, left, and fiancée Abbi Jacobson walk the red carpet at the Los Angeles premiere of "A League of Their Own" earlier this month.
Jodi Balfour, left, and fiancée Abbi Jacobson walk the red carpet at the Los Angeles premiere of "A League of Their Own" earlier this month.

"All I have is my own experience," says Jacobson, who's newly engaged to "For All Mankind" star Jodi Balfour. "Obviously, I do as much research as I can, but my main thing is drawing from my own life."

Writing "League," the actress/producer says she "really related" to Carson, despite their "very different" experiences. Through the character, she hopes to show that "everyone is on their own timeline" and "it's never too late" to live authentically.

"The more you know yourself, the more power and confidence you have to infuse into whatever it is you love. For Carson, that's baseball," Jacobson says. "And I feel that in my own life: The more you own yourself and are honest about who you are, you're going to flourish in whatever it is you're passionate about."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'League of Their Own' TV series: Why it's not the 'remake' you expect