Jackie Mitchell

From BR Bullpen

Virne Beatrice Mitchell Gilbert

Biographical Information[edit]

Jackie Mitchell became a national celebrity as "the girl who struck out Babe Ruth" following her performance in an exhibition game on April 2, 1931.

Born in Chattanooga, TN, she was taught baseball by her father at an early age and also received instructions from neighbor Dazzy Vance, who taught her how to throw a breaking ball. At the age of 17, she began to pitch for a local female team, the "Engelettes", put together by Chattanooga Lookouts owner and tireless promoter Joe Engel. Engel saw her pitch and signed her to a contract with the Lookouts on March 25, 1931, as a publicity stunt to boost attendance. Her first appearance with the team came in a game against the New York Yankees, who were barnstorming their way north after the end of Spring training. The game had originally been scheduled for April 1st, but delayed by a day by poor weather.

Clyde Barfoot started the game for Chattanooga but was pulled by manager Bert Niehoff after giving up a double and a single to the first two Yankee batters. Mitchell was brought in and the first two batters she faced were the heart of the Yankees' batting order, Ruth and Lou Gehrig. She struck out Ruth looking on four pitches, and Gehrig then swung through three pitches to strike out as well. She later walked Tony Lazzeri in a 14-4 loss by the Lookouts. She was only the second woman to appear for a team in Organized Baseball, after Lizzie Arlington and the game was widely covered by newspapers, gaining her national fame. However, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract a few days later, declaring women unfit to withstand the strain of playing baseball. Mitchell had to resort to playing for the House of David team as a result, serving as a gate attraction and sometimes wearing a fake beard (the House of David team was constituted of members of a religious community known for their wearing long beards). However, she soon resented her being presented as a sideshow rather than as a serious baseball player, and retired at age 23.

When the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was formed in 1943, she was approached to join the new all-women league, but declined, still unhappy at her treatment by baseball powers. The ban on women signing a professional contract was not formally lifted until 1992, after her passing in 1987 at the age of 73.

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