This article, “does Max make it to the Negro Leagues,” contains spoilers regarding the Amazon original series A League of Their Own (2022) season 1.
One of the most prominent plot points of A League of Their Own is if Maxine Chapman makes it to play professional baseball. She has loved the game since she was a child. Max played catch with her father, and he took her to games. She is strong-willed, has a wicked fastball, and her dream is to play in one of the Negro baseball leagues. However, Maxine is a woman and African American. This intersectionality plays a role in the odds decreasing of accomplishing her dreams.
A League of Their Own season 1 – does Max make it to the Negro Leagues?
Max wants to play professional baseball, so she tries out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). She is denied a tryout because of her skin color despite being able to throw the ball from deep centerfield and past the first base dugout. When that fails, she attempts to land a spot on the Rockford Screws, the baseball team run by a local tool and parts factory. Why? Because Negro league baseball scouts frequent this team and often will sign players.
Max must be an employee, but her mother wants her to take over the family business. However, the coach still will not allow it once she does land a job there. (Which was difficult because hiring managers actively ignored the Roosevelt rule). Max then challenges the coach to give her a shot, and if she fails, she hands over two weeks of paychecks. She chokes and leaves, heartbroken. Max pursues Carson to help her pitch but does not need it. She has the yips or lacks confidence in big moments.
Max has a fling with a woman, Esther, who she does not realize is a Negro League pitcher for Red Wright’s All-Stars. This was a team that some may equate to the Harlem Globe Trotters, where Red Wright gathered talented players that traveled across the country to play exhibition games. More accurately, this was a practice of something called “Barnstorming,” typical for Negro baseball leagues at the time. After explaining that Max never got a shot, Esther pretends to be injured during the game. They allow Max to pitch, and she throws a perfect game against the team that denied her a chance, the Rockford Screws.
Red Wright signs Max and the season ends with her on a road trip in Minnesota.
How common were women playing major or minor Negro League baseball?
Per the National Baseball Hall of Fame (2022), Toni Stone was the first female pitcher in professional baseball, for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1950. She played semi-professional baseball. Ms. Stone played in the Twin Cities, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Through some Google searches, these semi-pro teams loosely put together barnstorming teams. These were the “minor-league” network of teams for Negro league baseball.
Barnstorming was common for professional players as the Negro leagues ended, with Indianapolis having the last team, a traveling team that relayed on gimmicks. The team Max, while paid, was most likely part of the semi-pro circuit. These leagues had their golden age in the 1920s and became immensely popular during World War 2. However, after integration, the leagues slowly disappeared.