Girls and Women in Sports Day should be every day, so throughout the year, we’ll try to highlight women who have made or are currently making baseball more enjoyable for everyone. Because baseball is for everyone. You can also hear Amanda talk about Jackie Mitchell on the Half Street High Heat podcast here, at the 48:55 mark.
Imagine. It’s April 2, 1931 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The legendary New York Yankees have come to town for an exhibition against the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor league club. It had rained the day before, but 4,000 people still showed up to watch; it wasn’t every day you got see the Yankees Murders’ Row in Tennessee after all.
17-year-old lefty pitcher Jackie Mitchell had been signed to the Lookouts just eight days prior, after starring for an all-women’s team in Chattanooga. She’d been taught how to pitch as a youngster by future Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance, but the newspapers didn’t take her seriously. Headlines were made about her gender and her looks. Jokes were made at her expense.
The Lookouts starting pitcher, Clyde Barfoot, immediately gave up a double and a single to the Yankees’ first two batters. Barfoot got the quick hook as the manager brought in the confident young teenager with the ferocious curveball. Jackie Mitchell was making her professional debut in front of thousands as living legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig loomed on deck and in the hole.
It took Jackie Mitchell just 7 pitches to send them back to the dugout. Babe Ruth was caught looking on the fourth pitch of the at-bat. Lou Gehrig at least went down swinging; seeing three pitches without hitting any of them. She walked the next batter, Tony Lazzari, before being replaced once more by the original starting pitcher, Clyde Barfoot.
4000 people witnessed this incredible event and newspapers around the country printed the news. And yet, skepticism and disbelief ran rampant. In researching this article, 90 years after the event, several headlines had titles like “Jackie Mitchell, the woman who supposedly struck out Babe Ruth”. A few days after the Yankees game, her contract was voided by the MLB Commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and women were essentially banned from playing professional baseball (The official ban came in 1952).
Jackie Mitchell continued playing baseball for women’s teams and exhibitions for six more years before retiring at 23. She never played again. The ban outlawing women from playing professional baseball was lifted by MLB in 1992, but Jackie Mitchell wasn’t alive to see it. She had died in 1987, at the age of 73.
When you think of Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig, remember that those two giants of the game were brought to their knees by an equally legendary woman named Jackie Mitchell. Thanks for making baseball better, Jackie.
For more on Jackie Mitchell, you can read these articles from the Smithsonian, the New York Times, and MLB.com. You can watch this video on Jackie from YouTube. Our next featured Woman in Baseball will be Alyssa Nakken, a current coach for the San Francisco Giants.