The Girl Who Struck Out Ruth and Gehrig
Jackie Mitchell has been interested in baseball since about the age of three years old. She went to the games with her father and he taught her how to play “America’s National Pastime”. As luck would have it, Jackie Mitchell’s next door neighbor was a minor league baseball player named Dazzy Vance. Vance would eventually go on to pitch in the majors and then would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Dazzy taught the southpaw his favorite pitch which was a kind of dropping curveball like a breaking ball. It was the only pitch that she ever used and she was very successful with it.
When she was just seventeen years old, Jackie Mitchell joined a woman’s baseball team in Chattanooga, Tennessee and even attended a baseball school in Georgia. At the school, Jackie Mitchell met a man who was the owner of a Class AA minor league baseball team in Chattanooga called the Chattanooga Lookouts. His name was Joe Engel. He hired Jackie to play for his team and on March 28, 1931, she signed a contract and became a member of the team.
The New York Yankees had finished their spring training in Florida and every year on their way back to New York, they stopped in Chattanooga to play the Lookouts in an exhibition game. The game was supposed to take place on April 1st but it was raining so the game took place the next day. When the first pitcher gave up a single and a double, Joe Engel called upon Jackie Mitchell to pitch against Babe Ruth. Her first pitch was a ball and the next two pitches were swinging strikes. The fourth pitch was not swung at but went across the corner of the plate and the umpire called it a strike. The Babe was out and he was not happy. He yelled at the umpire before going into the dugout. The crowd cheered wildly for Jackie Mitchell but she had another daunting task in front of her: Lou Gehrig.
She pitched to him three times and all three pitches he swung at and missed. This seventeen year old girl had just made history. With just seven pitches, she struck out two of the best hitters in baseball history. A few days later, the commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Landis voided Jackie Mitchell’s contract as he thought that baseball was too strenuous for women to play. Jackie Mitchell continued to play professionally though. She did some barnstorming with a team called the House of David, a team of men known for their beards and long hair. She would wear a beard often too just for the laughs. She soon tired of the sideshow life and retired from baseball at the age of twenty-three.
In 1982, she was asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the Chattanooga Lookouts opening game. Jackie Mitchell died in 1987 and will always be known as “the girl who struck out Babe Ruth.”
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