Just a Girl

Could a girl pitcher…well, a 17-year-old…strike out the best baseball hitters of the time – namely Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig?

I say yes, why not?

But a lot of folks prefer to believe that it was just a publicity hoax. Why? Well, because how could a girl strike out two men, let alone Ruth and Gehrig?

Way back in 1931, the president of the Chattanooga Lookouts Double A baseball team invited the New York Yankees to play two exhibitions games with them. A week before the games were held, he signed a female pitcher, a 17-year-old left-hander named Jackie Mitchell who specialized in a sinking curve ball.

In the first exhibition game, on April 2, 1931, the Lookout’s starting pitcher gave up hits to the first two batters. He was pulled and Jackie Mitchell was sent in to face Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. She struck them both out – Ruth caught looking and Gehrig whiffing on three straight pitches. (She walked the next batter and was pulled afterward. The Yankees would go on to win the game 14-4, by the way.)

And controversy has swirled around this event ever since – did she actually strike out Ruth and Gehrig? Or was it all a hoax cooked up for the newspapers to generate interest in the team?

The event is covered in a July 2013, Smithsonian Magazine article entitled: The Woman Who (Maybe) Struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, written by Tony Horwitz.

Note that Horvitz mentions this controversy in the title – the girl who “maybe” struck out Ruth and Gehrig. Actually both the title and the author’s adamant opinion (when approached by his young son with the facts) pretty much set the tone for his commentary.

But c’mon. It’s not like Ruth and Gehrig never struck out! Ruth’s lifetime average is .342, meaning he got a hit approximately 3 out of 10 times at bat. Gehrig’s average was .340.

And when you’re facing a new pitcher you’ve never seen before, with a sinking curveball (taught to her by “Dazzy” Vance, by the way – a strikeout master during his prime playing years), why couldn’t they strike out?

Well, because they were facing a girl, of course! Of course it had to be a hoax! A put on. A delayed April Fool’s joke. Or so everyone says now. It couldn’t just be that a girl got the upper hand on two of baseball’s greats, regardless of her amazing talent, mind you.

It would have helped if Mitchell would have been able to continue her career on the Lookouts, but that was not to be. Her contract was voided rather quickly by the baseball commissioner of the time because of the general consensus among players (Ruth a huge voice among them) that baseball was just too strenuous for women. This was the same kind of thinking that meant that girls who played basketball had to have teams of 6 players – 3 who stayed in the back court on defense and three who only played in the front court on offense, so they wouldn’t have to run up and down the court and thereby injure their “women parts” and be unable to bear children! And even up until the 1960s, women weren’t allowed to participate in marathons for the same reason…despite the fact that female athletes who defied such strictures had proven over and over again that there were no adverse medical effects! Which sort of goes without saying. Duh.

Today, boys and girls play together on Little League teams. There are female place kickers – well, a couple anyway – in college football. And with Melissa Mayeux, the seriously talented, French short stop (at 16 years old) having just been added to the MLB international registration list – it’s really just a matter of time before women are actively playing in the Major Leagues.

We’ve come a long way, baby…

Womens History

26 thoughts on “Just a Girl

  1. Considering I write a sports blog, I didn’t know this…shame on me. But I am going to look into this further I am sure there is more to this interesting story. The fact that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were involved made for interesting headlines in the day. Nice job including the link I am reading it now.

  2. Good story! Science, sports, business, academia, it’s still more of the same-old same-old. And god forbid that any woman should point this out – let the hatred, obscenities, doxxing, and death threats begin!

    Eileen Collins, first female Space Shuttle commander and veteran of four space flights, said, “I still hear young girls say, ‘I didn’t think girls could do that.'” (http://chandra.harvard.edu/blog/node/530)

    Makes me want to start slapping folks.

    • I know, I agree. My daughter had to do a series of reports for AP Chemistry last year — her topic was “women: their role in science.” The subtopic was about how there are gender biases even today. It was incredibly interesting the things she researched. Back in the day women’s work was actually stolen by their male colleagues or their names were left off research papers altogether, etc. And when they did win an award, it was trivialized, even in the media. Dorothy Hodgkin won the Nobel Prize and instead of news headlines proclaiming Nobel Prize went to deserving Chemist, the papers instead said “Nobel Prize for British Wife.” It’s ridiculous what women went through and what they still go through in some fields. There are many more opportunities available now, but it’s still not an easy road in many respects.

  3. LOL I hear that ! Just goes to show anyone is capable of great things regardless of gender (male or female) . Women have been neglated for way too long for great things long over due for recoginition.

  4. Please! Injure women parts! The bottom line males are/were scared as they know we, us ladies can do things just as well if not better! In reply to your comment regarding your daughters school report, in WW2 many woman took over jobs that were once male dominated: factory, farming, mechanics, mail people, flew planes from the factories to the military air bases (in the UK they did) etc. My great aunt was during or made just before WW2 London’s 2nd female postal van driver. She was known as ‘Cats Eyes’ during the blitz as she knew her way around that much in the blackouts! She said people use to follow her! Though as soon as the men returned, it was back to how it was before. I get slightly annoyed when females say they can’t be bothered to vote. It was only a 100 years ago women in the UK were allowed to vote. The Suffragettes fought for a right we take for granted. Honour them, even if it it’s voiding your ballot slip!

  5. I bet Babe Ruth was against her for striking him out. Sad little boys with their toys and terror of females. Don’t mentor her, crush her and then theme don’t have to be afraid anymore.

  6. Of course she struck them out, Wendy. And then all the male egos were hurt and the fairy-taling began. I love the photo of them all together. They’re Hulks beside her. And that makes it even better that they could not solve her bread-and-butter pitch. Thanks for sharing this cool tale of how women can do anything.

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