A League of Their Own: The Mysterious Identity of the Black Woman Who Throws Back the Ball

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·8 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The post A League of Their Own: The Mysterious Identity of the Black Woman Who Throws Back the Ball appeared first on Consequence.

UPDATED: This is the story of a mystery. Unlike a good Agatha Christie page-turner, it’s not that dramatic. But it is a sad one — though maybe, just maybe, the ending hasn’t been written yet.

Thirty years ago, one of the greatest sports movies ever made was released in theaters. Based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, founded during World War II when most able-bodied men (including ball players) were fighting overseas, A League of Their Own featured two fictional sisters (Geena Davis and Lori Petty) battling over their own issues during the inaugural season of women’s professional baseball.

The film became a modern classic for so many reasons: the powerful direction by Penny Marshall, an all-star cast that also includes Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, Jon Lovitz, and David Strathairn, and iconic catchphrases like “There’s no crying in baseball!”, which endure in the public consciousness today. As a period film, set nearly 50 years before its making, the details on screen are remarkably on point — though there’s one scene that highlights one of the least pleasant aspects of its era.

The main cast of the film is all white, a reflection of the fact that like men’s baseball of the early 1940s, the AAGPBL was segregated. However, there is a scene that acknowledges the injustice of excluding women of color from the league: Midway through the film, during a montage highlighting the Rockford Peaches’ growing success as a team, a wild ball lands to the sidelines of the field, and Dottie (Davis) calls for one of the Black women standing nearby to throw it back.

The woman does so, but instead of throwing it to Dottie near first base, she whips it to the further-away Ellen Sue (Freddie Simpson), a throw so hard that it leaves Ellen Sue’s hand stinging. You can watch the scene below for yourself — it might be only 15 seconds of screen time, but it packs an emotional wallop.

When BuzzFeed writer Alanna Bennett wrote about the scene for its 25th anniversary, screenwriter Lowell Ganz told her via email that, “It did bother us that in order to be historically accurate [about the AAGPBL], we could not have a diverse cast. We came upon that scene as a way to make the point… A lot of people have commented on it over the years, and I’m very glad we included it in the film.”

Part of the moment’s power is its lack of dialogue: The woman doesn’t need to say anything to the players on the field to make it clear just how bullshit it is, that she’s not allowed to play with them. All she needs to do is offer up one silent, strong nod, and the point is made.

Unfortunately, that’s what has left her anonymous.

Because the woman in question doesn’t have any dialogue, she falls into the category of what is officially known as a “background actor,” more commonly known as an “extra.” While some productions will include extras in the credits, it’s not something SAG-AFTRA, the labor union which represents actors in Hollywood, requires of productions.

Without the film’s actual credits to rely upon (even including IMDB’s listings of uncredited performers, none of whom seem to fit the bill), it became a question of finding out if anyone who was involved with the original production might remember this woman’s name. And thus, the emailing and phone calls began.

League Of Their Own Mystery Woman
League Of Their Own Mystery Woman

A League of Their Own (Columbia Pictures)

The biggest obstacle to the investigation, I want to believe, is not just time, but the fact that Penny Marshall passed away in 2018. If Marshall were still alive today, some optimistic part of me hopes, she’d remember the name of the woman she so skillfully directed into cinema history.

With Marshall sadly no longer with us, I instead reached out to every producer listed on IMDB Pro with working contact information, and attempts were also made to contact star Geena Davis, casting directors Ellen Lewis and Amanda Mackey, Kim Wilson and Kelly Candaele (who have “story by” credits on the film), as well as Ganz and his co-writer Babaloo Mandel. I also reached out to a contact at Sony Pictures Entertainment, which owns production studio Columbia Pictures, to see if there was someone involved with the Columbia archives who might have some information.

There were a lot of strikeouts, but I did manage to connect with co-producer Ronnie D. Clemmer via phone, though from our first email contact, he was clear about the difficulty of this task. “A needle in a haystack,” he says, to be specific. “I can’t imagine there are records that you’re going to find that would I.D. that person, which is kind of sad. It’s almost a reinforcement of the sadness of the fact that black women didn’t get those opportunities.”

A League of Their Own was Clemmer’s first major production, which came about after optioning the rights to the story of the AAGPBL. “It was a really great learning lab for us as newcomers to Hollywood,” he says of the experience, reflecting on how Tom Hanks was “just as nice as you might ever hope he might be,” and how Madonna was “one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met in my life.”

(Adds Clemmer, “You know why Madonna’s Madonna? Because she is absolutely concentrated on being the best at anything she does. That girl was there to play. I mean, dirt in the skirt.”)

League Of Their Own Mystery Woman
League Of Their Own Mystery Woman

A League of Their Own (Columbia Pictures)

Clemmer also shares my belief that Marshall would have known the answer, or that, at least, “she would’ve opened the doors to people who would help you find it. You’d get an answer one way or the other.”

The only other hit I got during my many times at bat was from Lewis, one of the two casting directors on the project — through a representative via email, she said she was not able to identify the woman.

It’s not a coincidence that while I’ve been assembling notes and doing my research on this question for a long time, I became fully dedicated to attempting to answer this question the morning of Friday, June 24th, as the vast majority of Americans who believe in a woman’s right to choose grappled with the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

In that insane moment, what made sense to me was putting some effort into trying to correct a decades-long injustice, albeit a totally unrelated one. Maybe I couldn’t fix a broken system that had just stripped me of my constitutional right to bodily autonomy. But I could try to see if anyone still living knew this woman’s name.

While she currently remains lost in the past, there is something to look forward to in the future. The upcoming Prime Video series adaptation of A League of Their Own, created by Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson, features actress Chanté Adams as Max, a Black woman seeking the same opportunities as a white female ballplayer.

While full details of Max’s story are not available at this time, Jacobson told THR in 2020 that “we are really leaning into the fact that Black women weren’t allowed to even try out. Our version is very much about inclusion of women in professional baseball, but it’s also about the inclusion of white women and white-passing women in professional baseball… This is a big American story that also very much happens to be about queer women and Black women. It’ll be exciting for folks to get a window into what these women’s lives were like.”

A League of Their Own premieres on August 12th, 2022, and Adams’s name is right there in the credits. As for this thirty-year mystery, consider it unsolved… for now. While this article is being published without an answer to the question, there are still other avenues to potentially pursue, and I’d be lying if I said that part of me hopes that by simply putting the question out there right now, someone who knows the answer might see it and speak out. She may no longer be alive, after 30 years. But she still deserves to be remembered.

So, batter up. Hear the call. The time has come, for one and all…

UPDATE: As it does so often, the internet provides. Following our initial publication, we now believe that the woman’s name is DeLisa Chinn-Tyler of Indiana, who local news outlet WNIN wrote about in June 2021. Thank you so much to everyone who wrote in to help track down the answer.

A League of Their Own: The Mysterious Identity of the Black Woman Who Throws Back the Ball
Liz Shannon Miller

Popular Posts

Subscribe to Consequence’s email digest and get the latest breaking news in music, film, and television, tour updates, access to exclusive giveaways, and more straight to your inbox.