JoJo D'Angelo, Real-life Inspiration for 'A League of Their Own,' Dies at 88

JoJo D'Angelo, Real-life Inspiration for 'A League of Their Own,' Dies at 88
Sunnivie Brydum

Josephine D'Angelo was one of the 60 women who made up the inaugural All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, famously chronicled in the 1992 film A League of Their Own. D'Angelo was a (quietly) out lesbian, who said her time in the fledgling women's professional league was cut short by a short haircut, according to the Chicago Sun-Times

D'Angelo, who later went on to become a gym teacher and school counselor, died on August 18 in Park Ridge, Ill. She was 88, according to the Sun

D'Angelo played for the South Bend Blue Socks in 1943 and 1944, alongside Dorothy Schroeder, who is often said to be the inspiration for Geena Davis' character of Dottie Hinson in A League. Raised by a single father who'd immigrated from Sicily, D'Angelo had a hardscrabble upbringing, but sports provided some respite from her too-grown-up life, according to a comprehensive profile in the Sun. D'Angelo played on several youth teams in her adolescence, attracting the attention of local talent scouts. After graduating high school in the 1940s, D'Angelo worked early morning shifts at a steel mill so she could play ball in the evenings, and was known to run with a group of "gay girls" or lesbians, according to the Sun's profile, which reviews a book from Susan K. Cahn called Coming On Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Women's Sport.

After a successful tryout at Wrigley Field — a scene immortalized in Penny Marshall's A League — D'Angelo made the cut to join the team, and reveled in the competition and travel. Although she had reportedly begun to identify as a lesbian, D'Angelo kept strict accordance to the AAGPBL's ban on "freaks" and "Amazons," which apparently translated to "lesbians." The Sun reports that D'Angelo avoided the league's "gay crowd," and wore feminine attire. (Because clearly that means she's not a lesbian, right, fellow femmes?)

But at the end of her second season in the league, D'Angelo was unceremoniously cut from the team after getting a short haircut. 

A team official "approached her in the hotel lobby and told her she had been released," the Sun quotes from Cahn's book. "The reason? D'Angelo had gotten a severe, or, in her own words, 'butchy' haircut."

The rejection stung, especially since D'Angelo told Cahn she didn't even really want the haircut. Her hairdresser reportedly convinced her it would be a good look for her. A friend told the Sun that D'Angelo never saw the 1992 film she helped inspire. 

Instead, D'Angelo rallied and returned to Chicago, where she earned a degree in physical education from DePaul University, according to the Sun. She later got her master's in counseling, and spent the bulk of her career working at Chicago-area high schools. 

Ultimately, D'Angelo reflected positively on her time in the nation's first all-female baseball league. "I had a good time and used the money for my college tuition," she told baseball site The Diamond Angle. 

At the out athlete's funeral, guests received a picture from JoJo's ball-playing days made to look like a baseball card, in lieu of a prayer card with a saint on it. 

Read the Sun's full profile here

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