When A 17-Year-Old Girl Struck Out Two Baseball Legends

“After all, there’s only one answer to be made to the young fellow who is asking constantly for advice as to how to hit. The answer is: ‘Pick out a good one and sock it!’ ” —Babe Ruth

In A Nutshell

Jackie Mitchell loved sports. This 17-year-old leftie was especially fond of baseball. So when she was offered a chance to play for the Chattanooga Lookouts—and thus become the second woman to play professional baseball—she jumped at the chance. And in her first game, Mitchell found herself pitching against two legends: Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. And she got ’em both.

The Whole Bushel

Her name was Jackie Mitchell, and she was the second woman to play professional baseball. Sure, that’s an impressive feat, but that’s nothing compared to what happened when Jackie stepped onto the field. In 1931, this 17-year-old southpaw went up against two of the greatest hitters in baseball history: Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Growing up in Memphis, one of Jackie’s neighbors was Dazzy Vance, a future Hall of Famer who taught the girl how to throw a mean sinker. During her teen years, Jackie played basketball in winter and women’s baseball in spring, and that’s when she caught the attention of Joe Engel, president of the Chattanooga Lookouts, a men’s minor league team. Known as the “P.T. Barnum of Baseball,” Engel loved a good gimmick. It was the Great Depression after all, and you had to fill those seats somehow.

A woman playing alongside the guys was a guaranteed draw, especially if she pitched in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees.

When Engel offered Jackie a contract, she didn’t hesitate, even though she only had a few days to practice for the big game. Finally, on April 2, Mitchell stepped into a stadium packed with 4,000 people and was introduced to the dynamic duo, Ruth and Gehrig. After Jackie took a few publicity photos with the Great Bambino and the Iron Horse, the game got underway.

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When Ruth stepped up to the plate, the Lookouts replaced their starting pitcher with Jackie. The 17-year-old made her way to the mound, ready to face baseball’s most legendary hitter . . . and she struck him out. Her first two pitches were curves that baffled the Sultan of Swat, and her third was a fastball straight down the middle. Babe was so upset that he tossed his bat in frustration.

Gehrig also went down in three. She’d destroyed the greatest batters on the planet in just six pitches.

Jackie walked the next batter, probably because her arm hurt (remember, she only had a few days to warm up) so the Lookouts replaced her. When she stepped off the field, everybody in the stadium cheered in admiration. But while she struck out Ruth and Gehrig, her career with the Lookouts didn’t last. Some say baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis canceled her contract although there’s no proof of that. Whatever happened, Jackie eventually left baseball and ended up in her father’s optometry business.

Sure, there are doubters, people who think the whole thing was a hoax. But up until the day she died in 1987, Jackie Mitchell swore she’d really struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, back to back, a feat most male pitchers only dreamed of.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo via Wikipedia
Baseball Hall of Fame: Dazzy Vance
VICE: The Woman Who Struck Out Babe Ruth And Lou Gehrig
The Daily Beast: The Myth of Jackie Mitchell, the Girl Who Struck Out Ruth and Gehrig
Smithsonian: The Woman Who (Maybe) Struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig

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