In 1931, the New York Yankees were on their way back to New York after Spring Training when they stopped in Chattanooga, Tenn., for a couple of exhibition games against the Lookouts. The first game was scheduled for April 1, but got postponed to the next day due to rain. Joe Engel, the owner of the Lookouts, announced shortly before the game that he had signed a 17-year-old pitcher to a contract who would pitch against the Yankees. That pitcher was named Jackie Mitchell.
Jackie was a girl.
She had been trained by her neighbor, future Hall Of Famer Dazzy Vance. The signing made newspaper headlines all over the nation with remarks ranging from, “The curves won’t be all on the ball” when “pretty” Jackie Mitchell takes the mound, to “she has a swell change of pace and swings a mean lipstick.” She even played up the act by powdering her nose during warmups.
Four thousand fans were in attendance when the Lookouts and Yankees took the field in the first of two games. After the first two Yankees reached base, the Lookouts’ starter was removed from the game, and Jackie was brought in.
Her first challenge was Babe Ruth, who “politely tipped his cap to the young lady on the mound and assumed an easy batting stance.” Tony Horwitz of Smithsonian magazine took it from there.
Mitchell went into her motion, winding her left arm “as if she were turning a coffee grinder.” Then, with a side-armed delivery, she threw her trademark sinker (a pitch known then as “the drop”). Ruth let it pass for a ball. At Mitchell’s second offering, Ruth “swung and missed the ball by a foot.” He missed the next one, too, and asked the umpire to inspect the ball. Then, with the count 1-2, Ruth watched as Mitchell’s pitch caught the outside corner for a called strike three. Flinging his bat down in disgust, he retreated to the dugout.
Next to the plate was Gehrig, who would bat .341 in 1931 and tie Ruth for the league lead in homers. He swung at and missed three straight pitches. But Mitchell walked the next batter, Tony Lazzeri, and the Lookouts’ manager pulled her from the game, which the Yankees went on to win, 14-4.
“Girl Pitcher Fans Ruth and Gehrig,” read the headline in the next day’s sports page of the New York Times, beside a photograph of Mitchell in uniform. In an editorial, the paper added: “The prospect grows gloomier for misogynists.” Ruth, however, was quoted as saying that women “will never make good” in baseball because “they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.”
As good as the story is, one has to keep their mind open to the possibility of Ruth and Gehrig striking out on purpose to draw more fans to come to the ballpark. Ruth and Gehrig never admitted to intentionally striking out, and Mitchell said right to her death that she struck them out fairly. The reaction of Ruth after he struck out seems to point to the fact that it was not a fix, as he looks genuinely angry, as seen in this video shot by a local news team:
Adam Doster of The Daily Beast has his own thoughts on the event, saying, “Mitchell insisted the strikeouts were legit, until she passed away in 1987. So did Lazzeri, who claims he went to the plate looking to hack. Gehrig, for what it’s worth, was not a man who could be easily bought or persuaded to embarrass himself and the Yankee organization, to which he was supremely loyal. ‘Gehrig thought the rules had to be strictly obeyed; a man was not entitled to breathe too freely,’ wrote Ray Robinson in the 1990 biography Iron Horse. ‘He adhered to a moral code loftier, certainly, than the Babe’s.'”
Mitchell later played for the House of David barnstorming team, but eventually quit baseball to work at her father’s optometry clinic.
With the recent storylines on Mo’ne Davis and Ghazaleh Sailors, one has to ask whether a girl will ever play Major League Baseball, similar to Throw Like A Woman, a book by Susan Petrone where a woman pitches for the Cleveland Indians. It is certainly possible for it to happen, and would certainly be well covered by the media.