Tuesday, April 2

Aw, Ya Throw Like a Girl!

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By Grant Davies

On this day in 1931, two fairly well-known baseball players were struck out, back to back, by a fairly unknown pitcher, in a game hardly anyone cared about. So why on earth would anyone care about it today?

Well, the players who struck out were none other than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. And the pitcher, Jackie Mitchell, who took only seven pitches to send the two of them back to the dugout in embarrassment, was a virtual unknown who was playing the first (and only) game of a very short professional career.

The game was a preseason contest between the NY Yankees and the Chattanooga Lookouts, their AA minor league affiliate. Jackie had been signed to a contract just a few days before and had yet to appear in a game.

The pitcher had basically one pitch, but it was a doozy. A "drop ball", basically known as a sinker nowadays. Ruth and Gehrig probably struck out back to back dozens of times (at least) over the years. So what the heck is so interesting about this?

It may have something to do with who Jackie Mitchell actually was... a seventeen year old girl. Yep, that's right. Her name was Virne Beatrice "Jackie" Mitchell, and she was the first female to ever be signed to a professional baseball contract.

And the strikeouts were no fluke. She came into the game in the first inning as a reliever after the starter, Clyde Barfoot, gave up a double and a single to the first two batters. The next two hitters were Ruth and Gehrig and it didn't look like Clyde was up to the task, so in came Jackie and out went the fearsome duo.

Ruth took ball one low, but swung and missed the next two and watched the last one catch the corner for a called third strike before throwing his bat in disgust. Some say he cursed the ump and kicked the dirt in what might be called a "hissy fit" today. So much for the "Sultan of Not."

As for the next batter up, Lou Gehrig outright whiffed on three straight sinkers and Jackie got a standing ovation from the crowd. She walked the next batter and was pulled for a new pitcher by the manager, who obviously had a sense of the historical value of the moment.

But no good deed goes unpunished. A few days later the commissioner of baseball,  Kenesaw Mountain Landis, voided her contract. He claimed that the sport was "too strenuous for women."  As for the Babe, he whined to the press: "I don't know what's going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day."

But not on that day, Babe, not on that day.

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