Batter up, hear that call. The time has come for Megan Reynolds and me to debate what is probably the most important question of an old millennial’s life: Did Dottie Hinson drop the ball on purpose at the end of A League of Their Own in order to let her sister shine?
Since A Leauge of Their Own, the 1992 movie about girls playing baseball that was actually just about how great Marla Hooch’s dad was, and how funny Tom Hanks can be, and how Geena Davis is better than everyone at everything, has recently come back into the news cycle it seems like a fine time to debate the final scene. Lori Petty, who played Kit Keller, lesser sister to Davis’s Dottie, recently told Vulture that at the end of the film, when Kit and Dottie collide at home plate and Dottie historically drops the ball, that the pivotal ball dropping was absolutely not on purpose. From Vulture:
I mean this from my heart — obviously, I smashed her in half and she dropped the ball. Dottie’s such a competitor she would not drop the ball on purpose. Can you imagine giving up the World Series? I don’t even understand that.
I did not know until recently that this was even a matter up for debate: Dottie absolutely dropped the ball on purpose. Some of my co-workers, however, namely one Megan Reynolds, whose judgment I generally trust implicitly, does not agree, preferring instead to have an incorrect opinion I will allow her to state here.
Megan: Unfortunately, after reviewing the tapes (a $2.99 streaming rental copy of A League of Their Own) and considering what I now know about being a competitive person and also sports, I’ve come to the conclusion that Dottie Hinson didn’t quite drop the ball on purpose, but rather that she sort of gave up, sacrificing her chance at winning the whole enchilada for her little sister’s happiness.
Consider Dottie’s whole vibe throughout the entire film—your hot and very talented-at-baseball older sister who is a great catcher, can do a split, is married to Bill Pullman, and is fond of issuing lessons via tough love. At the beginning of the movie, she yelled at Kit to not swing at the high ones, knowing that as an older sister, she knows just a little bit better than her younger sister might. Kit, a “mule,” likes the high ones. She’s always liked the high ones. It doesn’t matter if she swings at the high ones and misses every single time, that lesson is hers to learn, and hers alone. Any claptrap from her older sister, who might know a thing or two about how things work, if only because she has literally been alive for longer, is unwelcome, but Dottie’s persistence in continuing to have her sister’s back, regardless if she wants it, remains a strong running theme throughout the movie.
Kit, bless her, is a pain in the ass in the way many little sisters are! Kit also has to learn her own lessons in her own time, without the interference of Dottie. Of course, she was excellent at playing baseball all on her own, and didn’t really need her sister to help her prove anything—that was a lesson that she learned by the end of the movie, when she barreled right into her sister at home plate. But consider Kit’s nervous breakdown in the dugout, and the fact that director Penny Marshall chose to linger on Kit beating herself over the head with her baseball glove in frustration at her performance in the World Series. Dottie sees her sister in agony, and by the by-laws that dictate being a good older sister (or at least the sort that Dottie naturally is), she settles in behind the plate for Racine’s last at-bat.
When Kit comes hurtling towards home plate, the force of her sister’s body and anger for an entire lifetime of living in her shadow was probably pretty powerful, and honestly, to hold onto the ball to secure the win just wasn’t in Dottie’s cards. Her life was full! Kit’s was too, but she was too young and blinkered by anxiety to see it. When that ball falls out of Dottie’s bare hand, it wasn’t quite on purpose, but rather the sacrifice of a self-actualized big sister who is fine, for once, to step out of the spotlight.
Emily: Okay, that is a beautiful take on the film’s climax, and I am very moved by it. However, I must fall firmly into the Dottie knew what she was doing the entire time camp despite my respect for you as a person, Megan, who I know absolutely would poison Miss Cuthbert so we could go to Suds Bucket.
Dottie consciously chose to drop that ball. Think of what the film teaches us to understand about Dottie from its initial moments:
One of the first things Dottie’s character does during those opening frame scenes, in which she is an older lady going to a hall of fame event commemorating girls baseball is pull her grandsons apart underneath a basketball hoop and tell the older: “He’s littler than you, so give him a chance to shoot.”
Give the kid a chance is Dottie’s M.O. from the outset. She didn’t even want to audition for baseball, despite falling in love with the league along the way. She got on that train so Kit could have her shot. But whether she wants to play or not, the movie teaches us, Dottie can fucking play. Who can forget Dottie snatching the ball out of the air when Rosie O’Donnel throws it at her head? What were all those scenes of Dottie getting absolutely pummeled at the plate only to hold onto the ball meant to prove if not to teach us that Dottie does not drop the fucking ball. Ever.
What Dottie understands in those final moments of the film is that even though she has technically been good and sisterly to Kit, she’s also been kind of a bitch. Dottie is great at baseball and super fucking hot, but in her heart, she just wants to go home and cook for Bob while he manages the dairy. Sure, she’s gotten her sister a tryout, but just as Kit says “Why are you still here?” long after she’s done what she said she would do which was allow Kit to get herself into the league. Because on some level she does love being amazing and having everyone watch her be amazing. But being amazing will never mean as much to her as it does to her sister, whom she genuinely loves more than anything else in the world except Bob and telling Jimmy Dugan what a loser he is in a way that suggests they absolutely should bone.
So she lets her sister have it. That game and victory will never mean as much to Dottie as it does Kit so she stops fucking showboating for once in her life and lets her sister have a moment without ever letting her know that she was giving it away. Perhaps Kit suspects, but Dottie would never admit that she dropped the ball on purpose. It’s why that moment is the only good ending in all of cinema, and, tangentially related, “Avoid the clap, Jimmy Dugan” is the only good autograph.