Switching sub-genre again, Hanks moved into a sports comedy – and a gloriously feminist one at that. Directed by Penny Marshall (Big), A League Of Their Own tells a fictional story based on the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The League was created in 1943 to maintain the profile of baseball as a national game while American men were shipped overseas to join World War II. In reality, the League eventually became very popular, and outlasted the global conflict. The tale told in the film, however, charts the personal struggles of those involved in one specific, fictional team in the League.
Tom Hanks plays Jimmy Dugan – the reluctant manager of the team. He is a former legendary player for the Cubs, but is now a washed-up drunk with bad knees. He initially considers his assignment to head up the team of women as a waste of time, and is simply interested in collecting his paycheck. However, as he becomes further drawn into the lives of the players, he finds he is impressed with their dedication and love of the game, and he begins to take pride in their achievements.
While we had seen Hanks play comedic roles many times before, Jimmy Dugan has a deeply bitter edge to him that, at the time, represented something new from the actor. Previously having earned laughs playing everyman heroes who find themselves in difficult situations, here he portrays the other side of that coin. Dugan is a man keenly aware that the days he considers glorious are firmly behind him. He has long held that his passion is in the playing of baseball, and when he washes out of that arena, he sees little point in anything but the bottom of a whiskey bottle.
Hanks’ character arc in A League Of Their Own is therefore one that takes him from that self-loathing, disinterested man with nothing to lose, to a sympathetic, compassionate figure who advocates for his team’s right to follow their own passion. Most importantly, he teaches us the vital lesson – that there’s no crying in baseball.