What do Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig Have in Common?
They were both struck out by a GIRL!
When Jackie was sixteen years old, she played for a women’s team in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When she was seventeen, she attended a special baseball school in Atlanta, Georgia. As a result, Jackie attracted the attention of Joe Engel, the president and owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts. He offered her a contract to play for the entire 1931 season.
On March 28, 1931, Jackie signed the contract. At that moment, she became an official member of the Chattanooga Lookouts, a Class AA minor league team. At the age of 17, Jackie Mitchell, became the first woman to sign a professional baseball contract. At six years old, she had claimed to have mastered the curve ball with a little help from her next door neighbor, Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance.
Meanwhile, the New York Yankees had finished spring training in Florida and were on their way to New York. As in previous years, they would stop in Chattanooga to play the Lookouts.
The game was scheduled for April 1. Unfortunately, it rained, and the game was cancelled. By Thursday, April 2, the rains had stopped. At 2:30 that afternoon, the game began.
But Jackie was not the starting pitcher. Mitchell had been signed primarily as a publicity stunt, but the sideshow started turning the tables in the first inning.
Earle Combs, the Yankees’ lead-off batter, clobbered a double. Lyn Lary was up next. He slapped a single up the middle, scoring Combs from second. Next to bat was Babe Ruth.
At that moment, Manager Niehoff headed to the mound. He pulled the starting pitcher and waved Jackie to the mound.
Jackie’s first pitch to the Babe sailed high for a ball. But her next three pitches were strikes. In fact, her final pitch dropped across the plate for a called third strike. Mitchell struck out Babe “Sultan of Swat” Ruth and Lou “The Iron Horse” Gehrig in back-to-back at-bats, with Gehrig’s coming on three whiffed swings. When the Babe was called for a third strike, he threw his bat on the ground in protest and began arguing with the umpire. After walking Tony Lazzeri, Mitchell was removed from the game. Her performance, though brief, would forever label her as “the girl who struck out Babe Ruth.”
The crowd of 4,000 went wild.
The next day, MLB commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis voided Mitchell’s contract, claiming that baseball was “too strenuous” for women. In 1952, commissioner Ford Frick banned women from joining major league teams, a ruling that would be reversed in 1992. Mitchell continued to pitch wherever she could.