Thursday, April 2, 2015

April 2: 17-Year-Old Girl Strikes out Babe Ruth

On this date in History ..... April 2, 1931:  

17-year-old Jackie Mitchell, the second woman to play baseball in the all-male minor leagues, pitches an exhibition game against the N.Y. Yankees and strikes out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Her appearance on the mound “…became a Depression Era sensation.”  

Growing up in Memphis, Mitchell had been coached by minor league pitcher Charles “Dazzy” Vance, who later went on to lead the National League in strikeouts for seven years in a row.  Her family later moved to Chattanooga where she joined a high school affiliated with the city’s Class-AA Minor League team, whose president loved doing exhibitions to attract the crowd.  Mitchell was about to be one of those crowd-attracting exhibitions.  He signed up Mitchell with what was possibly the first professional baseball contract to a female.  

He invited the Yankees to play his team against the 17-year old girl pitcher.

After the regular pitcher walked the first two batters, Mitchell was put on the mound to face what was called “Murderers’ Row”.  First up was the Sultan of Swat himself, Babe Ruth.  Figuring an easy hit, it is reported that Ruth took a relaxed stance and took the first pitch as a ball.  On the second pitch, Ruth swung and “missed it by a foot”.  When Mitchell struck out the home run king, Ruth threw his bat down and retreated to the dugout.  

Next to bat was Lou Gehrig, who would tie Ruth in 1931 for the lead in homers. He swung and missed three consecutive pitches.  17-year old Mitchell walked the next batter and was then pulled from the game.  

The newspaper stories the next day included a quote from Babe Ruth, who said, “women will never make good” in baseball because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.”  

The day after she struck out Ruth and Gehrig, the Baseball Commissioner voided her contract, claiming baseball was too strenuous for women. The ban was not overturned until 1992.


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