Why 'A League of Their Own' Series Embraces AAGPBL's Untold Queer Culture (Exclusive)

'It just felt really important to show those stories,' co-creator and star Abbi Jacobson tells ET. 

Thirty years after A League of Their Own debuted in theaters, the movie has been adapted by Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham into an expanded, original TV series for Prime Video with Jacobson also starring as catcher Carson Shaw. The historical period drama will not only tell the story about the formation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), but also chronicle the authentic and diverse lives of its many players -- with season 1 largely focused on the women that made up the Rockford Peaches. 

It’s a series that will be familiar to many, while exploring new territory not previously seen on screen in this way before. “We’re not trying to retell the stories that are told in the film,” Jacobson tells ET. “We are really attempting to tell the stories that were missing from the film, and about this league in particular.” 

She adds, “The more we researched the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the more we researched queer culture at the time, the more it just felt really important to show those stories.” 

Unlike Penny Marshall’s film, there will be no censoring of the queer and racial diversity that made up the league. Of course, the film’s lack of inclusion wasn’t necessarily at the fault of the director. “Penny would have loved to have shown it [in the film] but in her day, it wasn’t accepted [then]. Even in the early 1990s,” says Maybelle Blair

The former Peoria Redwings pitcher, who later came out as queer at the age of 95, served as inspiration for the 1992 classic and also consulted on the new series. And she’s just one of many examples of the league’s largely hidden queer history. (Narratively does a great job of capturing players’ real-life experiences in a story by Britni de la Cretaz, and a 2020 Netflix documentary shows how Redwings catcher Terry Donahue had to keep her love affair with designer Pat Henschel a secret for decades.) 

“It was very hard,” Blair says of being forced to stay in the closet during a time when it was not always safe to be out. But now, she’s excited for audiences to “really see the true story of A League of Their Own,” which also features Black and Latina characters as well as women exploring their sexual and gender identity. (In addition to Jacobson, the series also stars D’Arcy Carden and Roberta Colindrez as Peaches players Greta and Lupe, respectively, and Chanté Adams as Max, a Black woman trying to carve out a place in the league.)

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In fact, Rosie O’Donnell thought that her character, Doris Murphy, was a lesbian -- even if the film never addressed it. Looking back on the scene in which Doris and some of her teammates are talking about their beaus, O’Donnell recalls how Marshall and her disagreed over her sexual identity. 

“We were doing that scene on the bus and she’d go, ‘Cut. Rosie, she’s not gay.’ And I’m like, ‘She’s not gay?’ She goes, ‘No, she’s not gay.’ And I went, ‘Well did you read the lines?’” the actress says, noting that, to this day, she always thought Doris was not straight.   

And it’s no coincidence that, among the notable stars of the film -- Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna and others -- O’Donnell is the one returning to put her stamp on the series. “We were trying not to do a lot of cameos on the show to really differentiate it from the film, but because we are telling a lot of these queer stories and Rosie is like, a huge part of queer history, of American history, it just felt so special to have her not only approve of the show but wanna be in it and really wanna play a character that’s so different from the one that she is in the film,” Jacobson says. 

Fans watching season 1 can look forward to O’Donnell appearing as Vi, an owner of a local gay bar and a fan of the Rockford Peaches, who crosses paths with Carson as well as some of her teammates. It’s a small role, but one that’s notably different from Doris in the film -- and plays into the authentic storytelling that A League of Their Own is trying to achieve in 2022. 

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“So much of what we were trying to translate onto the screen was our truths of the world and tell authentic stories,” says writer and executive producer Desta Tedros Reff. And as a result, “I think people will be able to see themselves, if not family members, in it and also learn more about other cultures,” says Saidah Ekulona, who plays an outsider named Toni Chapman. 

If nothing else, Kelly McCormack, who appears as a Peaches player named Jess, explains that A League of Their Own is an underdog story -- and people love an underdog story. “What is more underdog than women playing baseball, queer people playing baseball, nonwhite people playing baseball? It’s the ultimate sports narrative,” she says. “I’m excited for people -- not just women, but men -- to see themselves in our narrative and us playing sports, because we have been asked to see ourselves in sports narratives and all narratives in their lives.” 

A League of Their Own debuts on Prime Video on Friday, Aug. 12.