Houston Matters

How Marla Hooch stole the show in ‘A League of Their Own’ and changed women’s sports

Actor Megan Cavanagh, who now lives in Greater Houston, reflects on the defining role of her career and what “A League of Their Own” did for women in sports, 30 years after its release.

Megan Cavanagh as Marla Hooch in 1992’s “A League of Their Own.”

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Thirty years ago this month, the movie A League of Their Own told a fictionalized version of the very real All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was meant to satisfy the appetite for America’s pastime during World War II.

The movie starred Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O'Donnell along with Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan, the tobacco spitting manager of the Rockford Peaches, who gave moviegoers and baseball fans the iconic line: “There’s no crying in baseball.”

While there were a number of standout performances in the film, audiences fell in love with the power-hitting Marla Hooch, who didn't quite fit the sexist profile of eye candy sought by the men behind the all-girls league. But she could flat-out play.

Megan Cavanagh, the actor who player her, now lives here in Greater Houston.

In the audio above, she joins Houston Matters host Craig Cohen to reflect on the character and the film's legacy three decades later.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On the intense baseball training for the role: Late director Penny Marshall sought out actors who could actually play baseball. And the intensive training that ensued Cavanagh likened to Spring Training.

“We trained for two months prior to shooting…It was a very arduous training program,” she said. “We did five days a week, eight hours a day…It was intense. We worked on everything and [people] got concussions, we had dehydration, and somebody broke their nose. It was serious.”

That training paid dividends on screen, as the baseball scenes seem believable. In Cavanagh’s case, she already had some baseball skills, having played in theater industry softball leagues.

“Luckily I could hit…but I had to learn to bat lefthanded, and I did,” she said. “And I was doing 85 miles and hour in the cage on both sides when I did [Marla’s tryout] scene in the gym. So I did all my own hitting.”

On why audiences were sympathetic to Marla: Cavanagh said audiences identify with the awkwardness of her character because of something she herself understands.

“Every woman has issues with themselves — self esteem issues,” she said. “And I think that also her shyness and her inability of knowing her power and how good she was and then seeing that arc happen is redeeming.”

“And I think that that’s how a lot of women feel. I know I did. I had major self esteem issues. And I think that the more women see themselves on the screen the more they can relate. And to see themselves on the screen in a powerful way. This movie had so many women in it. There’s very, very few movies — maybe on one hand that you can count — that have this many female actresses — or female actors I should say — I’m just grateful that I got to be part of it.”

On her character’s signature scene: What is perhaps Marla Hooch’s defining scene had nothing to do with baseball. Cavanagh’s character finally lets loose after a few too many drinks and serenades her boyfriend in a nightclub with an off-key rendition of “It Had to Be You.”

Cavanagh said the scene was shot at a bar in a Chicago suburb very close to where she grew up.

“So it was home town girl does good…my parents got to come,” she said. “It was just an amazing time and so fun.”

On telling the real story of the AAGPBL: The movie’s enormous success brought so much attention to something in American history that was largely forgotten by the 1990s but then was the subject of a short-lived 1993 TV show by the same name (in which Cavanagh reprised her role) and will now be expanded upon in a new series coming to Amazon Prime in August.

Cavanagh said the movie and its subsequent adaptations have done a lot for women’s baseball.

“So many young women have come up to me and said, ‘This was the movie we watched on our way to the championship game,’ or ‘This is the reason I wanted to play sports.’ And I think that it really rallied a youger generation of women to play sports. And I think that’s so important.”

“We were so concerned with making the story of the real women because a lot of them were consulting on this movie with us,” Cavanagh said. “We wanted them to be proud of what we were doing. It was their story, and it had not been told. And we just wanted it to make them proud and to be the best story possible.”

Megan Cavanagh has more than 80 acting credits to her name. She’s been in films such as Robinhood: Men in Tights and For Richer or Poorer. She’s had roles in television series like The West Wing, Friends, and ER. And she’s voiced many animated characters, including Judy Neutron, Jimmy Neutron’s Mom, in the Academy Award-nominated feature Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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