Elderly Dottie Hinson (Anne Cartwright) is a former player on the nation's first women's baseball league in the 1940s. As catcher for the Rockford Peaches, she helped break gender barriers and earn nationwide respect for herself and the teams. Recently widowed, she nervously prepares to attend a reunion with her former teammates, including her younger sister Kit, also a league player, who Dottie rarely sees. She arrives in New York, and ss she stands at the gate of Doubleday Field the memories flood back.
In spring of 1943, the United States is at the height of its involvement in World War II. The draft has claimed the best talent from Major League Baseball, including Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Bob Feller. Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall), a candy bar mogul and MLB team owner, holds an owners' meeting to determine what they should do if the American and National Leagues deem it necessary to shut down. He enlists one of his marketing gurus, Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn), to come up with a solution.
Some time later, one of Harvey's talent scouts, Ernie Capadino (John Lovitz), comes to Willamette, Oregon, to a farm-based co-ed fastpitch softball league. This particular game has the home team, Lukash Dairy, down by one, with two men on and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning. A young lady, Kit Keller (Lori Petty), is on deck. Before she goes to the plate, her sister, the aforementioned Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis), points out a gap in the infield that she can hit through, to tie or possibly win the game. She also warns Kit to lay off high fastballs, a pitch Kit claims to like but Dottie knows she can't hit yet. Sure enough, Kit swings at two fastballs, then takes a changeup right down the middle to strike out, drawing sneers from the crowd.
When Dottie steps up to bat, she takes a ball inside, then swings at and hits a ball right in her wheelhouse, sending it to the outfield wall. As she stops at first, the two players on base score, and they win the game. Ernie takes note of her patience at the plate, and decides Dottie would be perfect for the league due to both her talent and her "dolly" good looks. Dottie is also married, with her husband Bob fighting overseas in the Pacific.
Kit clearly has a rivalry with Dottie, believing that their parents (and the rest of the town) see her as inferior to her older sister. Dottie attempts to deny this, but she also has a competitive streak that urges her to outdo Kit. As they are milking the cows at their parents; farm, Ernie Capadino finds them and offers Dottie a tryout for the upcoming league. Dottie initially declines, but Kit desperately wants a chance to prove her talent. Ernie rebuffs Kit as he had seen her poor batting at the game, but Dottie explains that Kit is a great pitcher and it wasn't her turn to pitch that game. Ernie strikes a deal, offering Kit a tryout if Dottie attends too. Dottie eventually gives in.
The next morning the sisters get a late start and must sprint after the moving train and jump aboard, meeting up with Ernie. En route to Chicago, the trio stops in Fort Collins, Colorado, to watch another girl, Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh), who is coached by her father, Dave (Eddie Jones). The tryout is in a gymnasium, where she hits several hard fastballs, breaking several windows, and also shows patience at the plate. She's even a switch hitter. Her father mentions that if she were a boy, he'd be talking to the Yankees. When she's done, and Ernie finally gets a look at her, he rejects her, because she is rather homely. The rejection angers both Dottie and Kit. Marla's father manages to convince Ernie to take her, claiming it's his fault she isn't "pretty" since her mother died when she was young, and he raised her alone as a tomboy.
All four make it to Harvey Field for the tryout. Ernie leaves the girls to go try out, as he has more scouting work to do. The three come upon a group of girls, including Mae Mordabito (Madonna) and Doris Murphy (Rosie O'Donnell). Mae and Doris look down on the new girls, and make an offhand claim that Dottie, Kit and Marla will be rejected. Kit takes offense to that, leading Mae to throw a ball hard at her head. Kit ducks, but before the ball gets to her, Dottie catches it barehanded, to Mae and Doris' astonishment.
As the tryout is given, a radio program is played with a debutant deriding the idea of women's baseball, calling it the "masculinization of women". Kit tries out as a pitcher, while Dottie plays her usual position of catcher, and shows incredible talent with playcalling and catching girls stealing.
Eventually girls are chosen, split into four teams of sixteen girls each. Dottie and Kit both end up on the same team, the Rockford Peaches, to play in Rockford, Illinois. Marla, Mae and Doris are also on the Peaches. Before the introductions, one girl is lingering at the board, looking helplessly at the team lists. One of the girls assigned to the Peaches, Helen Haley (Anne Ramsay), approaches the girl and gets her name, Shirley Baker (Ann Cusack). As it turns out, Shirley cannot read. Finding her name on the lists, not only has Shirley made it, she's also on the Peaches. Charlie Collins (Don S. Davis), who will manage the Racine Belles, welcomes them to the All-American Girls Baseball League. During the introduction, the girls find out that many stereotypes of women will be involved. The "uniforms" feature short skirts that will make sliding very tricky, and all the girls will have classes at charm and beauty schools, in addition to their daily lives being monitored by chaperones. Lowenstein interjects to their protests, and insists that the rules be followed.
One of these beauty school classes for the Peaches is shown, especially Marla's difficulties going through it. During a grading of their style, several girls are given stern suggestions to change their look. Dottie and Kit do not need such suggestions. The recommendation for Marla: "a lot of night games".
Meanwhile, Walter Harvey is back at his mansion, doing business with former MLB player Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks). He asks the former player if he is still an alcoholic, but he implies he is when he can afford it. Harvey complains, since Dugan's playing career ended because of an alcohol-induced incident that left him with a blown-out knee. Harvey offers Dugan a manager position in the new girls baseball league, to give the league a name to cheer for while the girls play.
In the clubhouse for their first game, the Peaches are getting ready, and eagerly awaiting the arrival of their famous manager. One of the girls, Betty Horn (Tracy Reiner), has her husband's baseball card of Dugan, hoping to get it autographed. Dugan arrives drunk, walks through the clubhouse to the bathroom, and proceeds to urinate right in front of the ladies. He takes so long, Mae actually starts timing him. When he's done, he leaves the clubhouse, ripping up Betty's baseball card along the way, leaving her in tears. The other girls are worried about not having a lineup. When Dottie stands and suggests making a lineup shouldn't be so hard, Mae and Doris challenge her to make the lineup herself. Dottie immediately names Mae the leadoff hitter, playing centerfield, to Mae's satisfaction.
When they come out for the game's introductions, the guys in the stands catcall them mercilessly. The Peaches determine to suck it up and prove their mettle on the field in their first game, against the South Bend Blue Sox. During the introductions, a guy jumps up on top of one of the dugouts and makes fun of the players. The shortstop, Ellen Sue Gotlander (Freddie Simpson), throws the ball at his head, knocking him silly. The game goes on, and in the bottom of the ninth inning, Dottie hits a 3-0 pitch for a three-run home run to win the game for the Peaches. After the game, Lowenstein chastizes Jimmy for napping during the entire game.
A second newsreel plays, exhibiting the new women's baseball league, and profiling several of the players for the Peaches. The end fades back to color as another game ends with Marla, Ellen Sue and Helen turning a 4-6-3 double play to lock up another win for the Peaches. After the game, another of the players, Evelyn Gardner (Bitty Schram), asks Jimmy if she can take her son, Stilwell, on the team's road trips.
Cut to a scene of the road trip, with Stilwell (Justin Scheller) running up and down the aisle of their bus and distracting the bus driver, running him off the road. He stops the bus, quits, and storms off. The team chaperone, Miss Cuthbert (Pauline Brailsford), chases him, trying to convince him to stay, but to no avail. As she's away, some of the girls reveal a scheme to Dottie to sneak off to a roadhouse during their road trip. Mae plans to give Miss Cuthbert food poisoning to get away with it. Miss Cuthbert returns, and wakes up Jimmy (who was napping) to drive the bus. In a drunken haze, he blindly grabs and kisses Miss Cuthbert, but screams when he realizes who he's kissing.
Sure enough, that night, Miss Cuthbert is ill, and as a doctor makes a house call, Mae, Doris, Kit, Marla and most of the team sneak to the road house, dancing all night. Eventually Dottie makes her way to the roadhouse to warn them that Lowenstein is on his way to find them. Marla lags behind--she had gotten drunk, and ended up falling in love with a patron named Nelson (Alan Wilder). It's clear the attraction is mutual, and Nelson offers to take Marla home himself.
The next morning, the girls go to church. Mae went to confession and told the preacher "everything", leaving the man of the cloth stunned. That night, Jimmy takes batting practice alone with a pitching machine, drunkenly complaining to himself about his job.
The next game is against the Racine Belles. Jimmy is reading a paper instead of watching the game, so Dottie is taking it upon herself to manage the team. Mae gets a hit to left-center, and stretches it into a triple. Jimmy sees Dottie giving signals to Marla, who is next to bat. Dottie is suggesting a squeeze play. Jimmy would prefer that Marla, their best hitter, swing away at the ball, and sends Marla his own signals. After a brief war of signals, Jimmy tells Dottie to stop, that he's the manager. Dottie retorts he should start acting like one. Jimmy takes over, and with his play, Marla gets a run-scoring hit. Jimmy is impressed, but still doesn't think the girls are "real" ballplayers.
In another bus ride, their superstitious left fielder, Alice Gaspers (Renee Coleman), tells everyone to cross their fingers as they pass a cemetery. Mae is shown teaching Shirley how to read, using a romantic novel. Shirley is surprised when she realizes what she is reading. Evelyn is writing a song about the league. Doris tells Betty about her on-and-off boyfriend, Charlie, who puts her down because she plays baseball. But now that she sees how many girls can play, she no longer sees a problem with it. After that, she tears up and throw away the photograph of Charlie she was showing around.
In the next game, against South Bend, the Blue Sox finish the top of the sixth inning having tied the game. Jimmy cuts down Evelyn for throwing home instead of hitting a cut-off man on what should have been a single, allowing a runner on second and eventually letting two runs score. His yelling leaves her crying, and he ends up yelling at her a second time, telling her how "there's no crying in baseball". He relates a story about how he was once verbally abused by famous manager Rogers Hornsby, and didn't cry himself. The umpire comes over and suggests he treat his players more gently. This leads Jimmy to insult the umpire, getting himself ejected from the game.
The next game is at Racine, and barely anyone shows up. Lowenstein arrives and tells the Peaches that Life Magazine is there to do an article about the league, and Dottie is going to be their profile feature. He also reveals that the owners have threatened to shut the league down due to dismal attendance. The girls do not want to go back to their old lives. Dottie decides to do something: on a routine foul pop-up, she does a split to make the catch, impressing the crowd and getting the photographers for Life a cover picture for the issue.
A montage of scenes through the middle of the season then plays out, with various plays and several fan promotions. Slowly the games bring in more and more fans. During the montage, it is shown that Marla has married Nelson, and leaves the team for the rest of the year.
During another bus ride, Dottie and Jimmy talk about themselves, particularly her husband Bob, who is in Europe but has been out of contact for a while. A key game is played, and Kit is getting tired on the mound in the final inning. During the game, Walter Harvey has a meeting with Ira Lowenstein, revealing he intends to close the league at the end of the season. Ira challenges Walter to give him the reigns of the league and let him continue the league himself. Before facing the final batter, Jimmy and Dottie visit the mound, and Dottie decides that Kit is finished. Jimmy sends an angry Kit to the dugout and calls Ellen Sue in to finish the game.
After the game, Doris jokes to Kit that she's getting "too big" to finish her own games. This gets Kit mad, and she throws her glove at Doris, then tackles her. Jimmy has to break them up, and tosses Kit in the showers. Afterward in the clubhouse, Kit yells at Dottie, feeling like she's being held back. Kit feels like she's at home, like she's always second-best behind Dottie. That night, Lowenstein finds Dottie lingering in the clubhouse. Dottie says she is finished with baseball, not wanting to deal with Kit's jealousy. Lowenstein offers Dottie a trade instead.
That night, an irate Kit reveals she's been traded to the Racine Belles. Dottie wanted herself to be traded, but Kit figured Lowenstein would never do that, because Dottie was the star of the Peaches. The argument continues in Kit's room. Dottie remarks that the only reason she joined was to get Kit in the league in the first place. Kit asks why she's still there, then. Dottie leaves, allowing Kit to pack.
A few days later, the team is getting ready for another game, singing the song Evelyn wrote. Jimmy enters the clubhouse, revealing that he gets a bonus if they win the game and make it to the World Series. After some ribbing from Doris, a Western Union delivery man arrives with a telegram from the War Department, silencing the clubhouse. He reads the telegram stating that one of the team members' husbands has been killed in action. However, he turns to leave because the telegram isn't on his delivery list. Jimmy has to rip the telegram from the delivery boy's hands, not wanting the spectre of not knowing who lost their husband to distract them from the game. He reads the telegram, and gives it to Betty, who has to be helped out in tears.
That night, Dottie is in her room, crying because she does not know the fate of Bob. Suddenly, a knock on the door, and it opens to reveal her husband, Bob Hinson (Bill Pullman), walking with a cane. He was shot by a sniper, which was why he was out of contact. They have a tearful reunion. The next morning, as the rest of the team prepares to head to Racine to begin the World Series, Dottie decides to retire. Before she leaves with Bob, Jimmy warns her that she would regret the decision to leave so hastily.
The Belles and the Peaches split the first six games, leading up to a Game 7 in Racine. Jimmy, concerned about his team's chances and getting constantly heckled by Stilwell, leads a rare (and somewhat irreverent) locker room prayer vigil with the team. During warmups, Jimmy tells the replacement catcher to let him know of the first sign of tiring by Ellen Sue, who has taken over full-time as pitcher. The catcher reveals herself to be Dottie. Half-way to Oregon, she realized she had to finish the season out, and returned just in time for the decisive game. Bob was in the stands for the game, cheering her on. Although Alice had been playing in her place at catcher, he allows Dottie into the game to play. Her attitude gives Jimmy a renewed confidence that they just might win the game, and the series.
The game plays out scoreless until the bottom of the eighth, when Evelyn again fails to throw a cut-off on a grounder to the outfield, allowing the Belles to score a run. Although they are now behind, 1-0, Jimmy manages to keep his cool to Evelyn, pointing out strainingly that she needs to work on her fielding before next season.
The Peaches attempt to mount a comeback in the top of the ninth, leaving it up to Kit to pitch the Belles to victory. Mae starts it off with an infield single. Doris follows that with a flyball single to center, moving Mae to second. Evelyn hits a sacrifice bunt to advance Mae and Doris, getting out one. Helen gets squeezed, and grounds out to first base for out two. Dottie comes to the plate, and hits a line drive right at Kit's head, forcing her to duck. Mae and Doris score, giving the Peaches a 2-1 lead. After getting Ellen Sue to fly out to end the inning, Kit returns to the dugout crying, but she has to compose herself, because she will need to hit if the Belles want to win now.
In the bottom of the ninth, one of the Belles' players gets a hit, giving Kit a shot to win the game for the Belles. Dottie reminds Ellen Sue to feed Kit high fastballs. Sure enough, Kit swings at the first two. But she gets a lucky shot on the third one, connecting and driving it into the rightfield gap. The Belles runner makes it home to tie thegame, but Kit decides to win the game herself, trying for an inside-the-park home run. Evelyn hits the cut-off this time, and Dottie gets the ball in time. Kit runs into Dottie, knocking the ball loose and touching home plate, winning the game for the Belles, 3-2. At the end of the game, Harvey comes up to Lowenstein, and agrees to keep the league running.
After the game, Kit is signing some autographs, reveling in her growing fame. She encounters Dottie, and apologizes for running into her. Dottie assures her it's just part of the game. Dottie is about to return to Oregon with Bob, but Kit wants to stay in Racine and get an offseason job while waiting to play next year. Dottie confirms that she is indeed retiring. Kit insists Dottie will miss being in the league, and laments that Dottie is leaving right when she wants her to stay.
When everyone prepares to leave, Jimmy finds his way to Dottie, who finally introduces him to Bob. Jimmy reveals that Harvey offered him a job managing a Triple A minor-league team in Wichita. He turned it down, deciding to remain the manager of the Peaches. Before Kit gets on her bus to leave for home, she and Dottie have one more playful shouting match, with Dottie insisting that Kit lay off the high fastballs.
The scene fades back to the present day, with Dottie again at Doubleday Field. Doris (Vera Johnson) and Mae (Eunice Anderson) are the first to recognize her, and confirm it by throwing a baseball at her, which she again catches with her bare hands, even though she's now in her seventies. She reunites warmly with her teammates. Among them, Helen (Barbara Pilavin) became a doctor, and Ellen Sue (Eugenia McLin) married a plastic surgeon. Among others, she also met with Shirley (Barbara Erwin), Betty (Betty Miller) and Alice (Shirley Burkovich). Marla (Patricia Wilson) reveals herself; Nelson had recently handed his business to their son. It's here that Dottie reveals that Bob had died the previous winter. During their reunion, another former player (real-life women's baseball player Dolores "Pickles" Lee-Dries) points Dottie out to a reporter, saying that though "she only played one year", she was still the best player the league had ever seen.
Afterward, a ceremony is held in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Prior to the ceremony for their exhibit, Dottie meets with Stilwell (Mark Holton), who notes that his mother, Evelyn, died two years before. She also finds a placard for Jimmy Dugan (who had also passed). The Women in Baseball exhibit is opened by Ira Lowenstein (Marvin Einhorn) himself, since he was the one that kept the league going as long as it did. During the opening, Dottie looks through the exhibit, and eventually finding herself before a picture of herself and Kit. It is here that she is found by Kit (Kathleen Butler), who enters with her husband, children and grandchildren. Kit quickly finds and reunites happily with Dottie.
During the credits, an "Old Timers' Game" is played at Doubleday Field. The last scene is one of the women arguing a questionable strike call with the home plate umpire.