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