When Consequence asked the question, “Who plays the Black woman who throws the baseball back in A League of Their Own?” earlier this month, we suspected that doing so might help the answer emerge. We maybe didn’t expect it to happen so fast. Within two hours of publication, thanks to social media and Evansville, Indiana station WEHT, a name emerged: DeLisa Chinn-Tyler.
Thus, days after being told that searching for her would be a “needle in a haystack,” Consequence was able to speak directly with Chinn-Tyler via phone about her life, her experience making the film, and the sport which brought her to on-screen immortality.
Chinn-Tyler’s journey to the screen begins with her seeing an ad in an Evansville paper about tryouts for the film. “I was just ecstatic, and I called up a bunch of girls that I grew up playing softball with,” she tells us. “I said, ‘Hey, they’re going to shoot a movie, and they’re having tryouts.'”
The other women told her that “they don’t want Black women. You’ll be wasting your time.” But she went to the tryouts anyway because, she had decided, “They’re going to have to tell me that they don’t want any Black women.”
Chinn-Tyler was 32 when A League of Their Own came out in 1992, and 31 when filming took place. (She’ll turn 62 this August.) She played softball competitively starting in 1971, at the age of 11, even playing on the Little League boys baseball team across the street from her childhood home for a few years: “They would always have boys baseball, but nothing for the girls,” she says, but she and another girl she knew from softball “were pretty tough. So we joined that team.”
As a softball player, she got to travel and compete all around the US, including Nashville, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Milwaukee, because “Women’s softball was kind of big at that time, and we got invited to tournaments and we just traveled on the weekends.”
Chinn-Tyler clearly had skills. However, at the A League of Their Own tryouts, she was in fact informed that Black women wouldn’t be cast as members of the teams, as during the time period in which the film was set, the league wasn’t integrated. But director Penny Marshall was present for the auditions, and saw Chinn-Tyler play.
“With my athletic ability in softball, I was really outshining the rest,” she says. “So she asked me if she could talk to me, and she was telling me that she was impressed with my arm and my abilities. And she said that she had discussed with some of the other people that were helping her direct the movie, and she had decided to rewrite a part and wanted to know if I was interested — she told me it would be me picking up a passed ball and throwing it to Geena Davis.”
Chinn-Tyler says that to film the shot, she was on set for five days, though given the nature of film production, “I sat around a lot, off to the side where I wasn’t being picked up by the camera.” At one point, someone with the production, who wasn’t aware of Chinn-Tyler’s specific role, saw her sitting off camera. “She said, ‘Don’t you want to be in the movie?’ Because I was sitting to the side. I said, ‘Yes, I want to be in the movie.’ She said, ‘Well, you need to get out there.’ And I said, ‘Well, Penny Marshall had told me that I couldn’t be seen in the crowd scenes, because of the part that I had.'”
In terms of the wardrobe, Chinn-Tyler recalls, “I remember that dress like it was yesterday because it was an old-fashioned dress. But I said to them, ‘I kind of like this dress, because it makes me look like my waist is very, very tiny.'”
As for the hat, she says, it didn’t give her too much trouble. “I’ve never been a hat person and it was kind of a funny-looking hat, but it was part of it so I wore it. It was kind of like a fitted hat — the band of it fit pretty tight on my head, and the brim part of it kind of flopped over that. It almost gave you the impression of a tam almost.”
The real troublemakers were the shoes. “The shoes had a chunky heel and on one of my throws, the heel broke,” she says. “Not the back of the heel, but in the front of the heel. The glue had come apart, but it didn’t come completely off, so when I film you can kind of feel it give in a little bit.”
When it came time to film her scene, they had to do multiple takes. “It wasn’t because I couldn’t throw and get it there because I was getting it there,” she says. “But other things were going on. I think one take, I think an airplane came over. But it was covered all in that one particular day.”
She says she met Rosie O’Donnell and shook her hand, and she also left with a few one-of-a-kind souvenirs. “Geena Davis, she told me that she was impressed with my throw and she wrote on the ball, ‘Good throw.’ And Penny Marshall signed that same ball with Geena Davis. And then Tom Hanks came up to me and he said, ‘Nice throw, young lady.’ And he handed me a ball with his signature. And then Penny Marshall signed my ball glove.”
As for the famous pop star in the cast, “They asked me if I wanted to meet Madonna. And I said, ‘Not really.’ I don’t know, she was kind of a piece of cake and then she bashed Evansville so bad. I just wasn’t really impressed with her.” (Madonna really pissed off Evansville in 1991, when she spoke unfavorably about the town after her time there.)
For her five days on set, Chinn-Tyler was paid $750 and the promise that her name would be included in the credits “when it showed the gratuity part.” This didn’t happen, she says. “I went out to the premiere, when they had it at Showplace [Cinemas]. And I sat there and sat there and sat there all through the credits and didn’t see my name. I was a little disappointed, but then I just went on my way.”
Afterwards, she says, “I didn’t pursue it. A lot of people were saying, ‘You should call,’ and a couple of times I tried to reach Penny on Facebook and I didn’t know exactly how to go about doing it. So I just gave up on it.”
Chinn-Tyler still has the signed balls and glove, but she can no longer find her check stub or contract, which she likely shredded along with other documents a few years ago. Today, she’s a team leader at the Evansville-area Toyota factory, a job she says she’s enjoyed for the last 24 years. Prior to Toyota, she worked at FedEx for 14 and a half years, including during the time she was filming A League of Their Own.
Chinn-Tyler retired from softball at 52 after tearing her ACL a few years prior and having additional knee problems. “When I was playing with the team, when I was 52, they wanted me to play the outfield. And I told them, I said, ‘Do you realize I am 52 years old? I’m not… There’s girls way younger than me. Put them out there, let me catch or play first base. I’m getting too old to do all that running.’ But I always had a really strong arm and they always liked me playing the field.”
As local PBS station WNIN documented in 2021, she did throw out the first pitch at an Evansville Otters game as part of last year’s Juneteenth celebration (which was how we initially confirmed her name, when reports came in last Friday as to her identity).
And Chinn-Tyler still speaks fondly of the sport. “I always loved sports, and I always looked at softball as a way to express yourself,” she says. “Sometimes, when you would be upset or angry about something, being able to hit the ball… It was just a relief.”