When Maybelle Blair joined the women’s baseball league that inspired the film and TV series A League of Their Own, she wondered if she’d be the only gay woman there. It didn’t take long for her to learn she’d truly found a league of her own.
“Out of 650, I bet you 400 was gay” in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, Blair said at a recent screening of the Amazon Studios series at the Frameline San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival. Blair, who was a pitcher for the league’s Peoria Redwings in 1948 and later played pro softball, came out publicly when the series premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival days before the Frameline screening.
Blair recounted that when she fell in love with a girl in high school, “I thought we were the only two in the world that were gay.” They had to be careful, she noted, and when she went off to play pro baseball, “I thought, Oh, my God, I’m gonna be the only one here,” she said.
“But it took me about 24 hours to find out I like somebody,” recalled Blair, who was nicknamed “All the Way Mae” for her prowess on the diamond. “But it was wonderful. … So many of the girls came in from the farms and they came in from all over the United States. And a lot of them thought they were alone too. And we had quite a time. There were so many gays in the league. It was amazing. Oh, but you know, you let’s face it, we’re good athletes,” she told the packed crowd at Frameline’s opening night.
While the women still had to be careful, being in the league was like a party, Blair said. “On our days off, we found the gay bars, and we danced, and we had one heck of a party that wouldn’t end,” she said.
She praised the LGBTQ-inclusive nature of the new series, created by Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham. Graham, executive producer and writer Desta Tedros Reff, executive producer and director Jamie Babbit, and writer Michelle Badillo appeared at Frameline with her for a Q&A moderated by The Advocate’s Tracy E. Gilchrist. “They have captured, these people up here on the stage, what Penny Marshall would love to have done [in the 1992 film, which Marshall directed], but it was way too early for anybody to accept anything, including myself,” Blair said.
Desta Tedros Reff, Michelle Badillo, Tracy E. Gilchrist, Will Graham, Maybelle Blair, and Jamie Babbit at Frameline’s opening night in June
Some of the romances formed in the league endured, Blair recalled. One of her best friends was Terry Donahue, a Redwings teammate whose 65-year relationship with Pat Henschel was chronicled in the Netflix documentary A Secret Love. Donahue died in 2019, and Blair estimated there are only about 48 players still living from the league, which operated from 1943 to 1954.
Blair is now 95. At the Frameline event, she said she had a little trepidation about how her loved ones, especially her nephews, would take her coming-out. “You know, when you’ve been sitting on your foot for 50 years or oh, my goodness, it’s really 85 years, and it went to sleep and you haven’t stood on it for a while and all of a sudden you decide to get up and stand on it, you’re gonna fall flat on your face,” she said. “When I woke up to get off the floor, I said, ‘Oh, my God, Maybelle, what did you do? You came out and told people you were gay.’”
Recalling the homophobia that was so common for much of her life, she said she worried about the reaction of her nephews after her Tribeca announcement. So she called her oldest nephew.
“And my nephew says, Aunt Maybelle, don’t worry about it, we love you because of you,” she recounted. “And we don’t care what you do or whatever as long as you’re happy. And we all love you.” He assured her the rest of the family felt the same way.
“Apparently, they knew it,” she said. “Of course, I always brought a girl home for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and I never thought anything about that. But anyway, here I am, and I’m out.”
A League of Their Own premieres on Amazon Prime August 12.
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