Hanks reflects on ‘There’s no crying in baseball’

Jimmy Dugan's line still resonates

April 7th, 2020

There have been a lot of famous lines from baseball movies, from “If you build it, he will come” in “Field of Dreams” to Bob Uecker saying, “Juuuust a bit outside” in “Major League.” But there has never been one more famous than this one from the great Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own”:

“There’s no crying in baseball.”

The movie was directed by the late Penny Marshall and was about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Jimmy Dugan, Hanks’ character, is the manager of the Rockford Peaches. In what became the most memorable scene in the movie, Bitty Schram’s character -- Evelyn Gardner -- has just thrown to the wrong base and cost the Peaches the lead.

Dugan is waiting for her when the inning ends and proceeds to light into her. As he walks back into the dugout, he turns and sees Evelyn crying. First, he asks a couple of times, in disbelief, if she really is crying. And then Tom Hanks, well, proceeds to knock the ball out of the park and out of sight.

As the world knows by now, Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson both contracted the coronavirus in Australia in March. But even from quarantine, Hanks sent out a tweet telling people, “Remember ... there is no crying in baseball.” They are both now safe and recovering at their home in California.

I first met Hanks when he was starring in “Big” for Penny Marshall, and I asked him the other day if he had any sense how iconic the scene, and his line, would be when they were all first reading through the script, how it would eventually take on a life of its own on big screens in ballparks all across America.

“‘No crying in baseball’ never scored much in the read-throughs of the screenplay,” Hanks said, “but then the read-throughs had so many other questions for Penny to sift through that the lines were just lines, the jokes were just jokes, and everyone on the Peaches [was] looking to score a laugh, a beat, a moment, anything.

“When we shot it, Bitty Schram dissolving into tears and humiliation gave me the go ahead to be DEFCON 5 with outrage -- and just keep going. That Penny used it all was the wonder of it. The actual dialogue has some jokes in it that didn’t matter, as it was Jimmy’s boiling rage at the idea of crying in baseball that carried the day and the scene, making it worthy of Jumbotron clip packages at ballgames.

“The sublime laugh comes later in the movie when Bitty makes another mistake and Jimmy goes into a paroxysm making sure he doesn’t scream at her again. Penny loved that stuff.”

Hanks, in addition to having won two Academy Awards for Best Actor also had a New York Times Best Seller a few years ago for a fine short fiction collection called “Uncommon Type.” He has more than one way to tell a good story. He then remembered what it was like when Penny Marshall first began to shoot some scenes for the movie at Wrigley Field.

“We sat in Penny’s Chicago hotel room before we started shooting, watching ‘When It Was a Game,’ Penny with tears in her eyes,” Hanks said. “Those were weeks when we had Wrigley all to ourselves for the tryout sequence. I was not in that stuff but had to be there for rain cover. My son Colin was there with me, and we spent the mornings at the ballpark, playing catch on the field between shots and exploring all the corners of those cozy confines. Highlight: Crawling up into the scoreboard and hanging out [with] some of those numbers. Heaven.”

And then one Chicago story touches off another for Tom Hanks from the summer of 1985.

“I was filming ‘Nothing in Common’ in Chicago, [and I’d] never been there before,” Hanks said. “Saw the A’s play the [White] Sox at old Comiskey Park. Cold, grey, not many fans. Dave Kingman hit a memorable blast and we could hear gravel grinding as he stomped the bases. But that’s not the story.

“A Sunday game at Wrigley. No lights then. Pete Rose and the Reds in town: Him chasing down Ty Cobb’s [all-time hit] record, so a full house. He ties the record that day. Ties it! But then, as though Ty Cobb himself said ‘---- you!’ a monster storm came up. Lightning! Buckets of rain! But that record can still be broken today.

“An hours-long delay ticks by. Those who can, stay under cover and drink beers and those that gotta go, go. About 150 minutes later, the tarp is off the field and the ballgame continues. Ah, but those shadows! No lights in late September. Not sure how many half-innings were played, or how many batters, but at the top of the next inning, the light is softer than it was all day. A Reds batter gets to the plate, and who is on deck? Rose! He’s gonna break the record in Chicago, and we are going to see it! The ump is talking to everyone around the plate. We can read Rose’s lips: ‘I can see,’ he says. ‘I can see fine.’ [Rose then struck out with the game tied at 5-5.] Then the game got called after that on account of darkness. The next game, in Cincinnati, Rose gets the historic hit.

“What a day. What a game. What a GAME.”

Finally, I asked Hanks what he is doing to keep baseball in his life right now.

“For my ballpark needs, I’m slowly watching Ken Burns’ ‘Baseball,’ just now in the bottom of the fifth,” he said. “I think, had I been a New Yorker in those days, I’d have been a Giants fan, a Polo Grounds regular.”

It is easy to see how much he loves baseball. And he’s a part of its history.

Lot of great baseball movies. Lot of great lines. Hanks had the best one of them all.