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Have You Ever Heard of Jackie Mitchell?

Updated on March 11, 2020

Who's Jackie Mitchell?

I remember the first time i asked that question. I had just launched a near-perfect curve ball and one of my buddies called me "Jackie". When I didn't get it they all stared at me like I was nuts.

"You've never heard of Jackie Mitchell? She struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the same game!"

Needless to say I was stunned I had never heard of her. After a little research here's what I've come up with.

At birth Jackie's given name was "Virne Beatrice Mitchell" with Jackie being a nickname. She was born August 29, 1912, although some sources list her birth year as 1913 or 1914. Her parents were Virne Wall Mitchell and Dr. Joseph Mitchell, an eye doctor int he Chattanooga area. From the time she was able to walk her father had her out on a baseball field teaching her the basics of the game and her next door neighbor, Hall of Fame Dazzy Vance, taught her his "drop ball", a type of breaking ball when she was older.

At 16 she attended a special baseball school in Atlanta Georgia and played ball for a women's team in the area. Her skills quickly got her noticed by the scouts and on March 28, 1913, at the age of 17, she signed a contract to play baseball with the Chattanooga Lookouts, a Class AA minor league baseball team. The exhibition game against the New York Yankees on April 2, 1931 would seal her claim to fame.

Jackie with Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhig before the game
Jackie with Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhig before the game | Source

The Game

Originally inteded to be played on April 1st, the echibition game betweent he Lookouts and the Yankees was postponed until the2nd due to rain. Although not the starting pitcher, Jackie was brough in to pitch during the 1st inning after the starting pitcher gave up a double and a single. Her first set of pitches was to Babe Ruth. The first pitch flew high for a ball but the next 3 were called strikes Afer the final pitch the Babe slammed his bat to the ground and stormed off declaring that he would never bat against a woman again. Afte the game Ruth told a Chattagnooga paper that women would never make it good in baseball "Because they're too delicte. It would kill them to play ball every day."

After the Babe stormed off it was Lou Gerhig's turn at the plate. He swung through the first 3 pitches to strike out.

A few days after the game baseball commisioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis voided Jackie's contract and declared that women were "unfit to play baseball" because the game was "too strenous".

The rest of the story

Despite commissioner Landis' declaration Jackie continued to play baseball professionally until 1937, touring predominantly with the House of David, a men's team known for their long hair and beards. Jackie would occasionally wear a fake beard for publicity.

After her retirement in 1937 Jackie remained in Chattanooga to work for her father at his eye care practice. Although she loved baseball she refused to come out of retirement in 1943 when the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was formed. Major league baseball would eventually formally ban the signing of women's contracts on June 21, 1952, despite any protests. This ban lasted until 1992 when Carey Schuler was "drafted" by the Chicago White Sox for their 1993 season

Her last "professional" pitch was in 1981 when she was invited to throw the ceremonial opening pitch for the Chattanooga Lookout's 181 season opener.

Jackie died in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia using the name name of Jackie Mitchell Gilbert (her married name) and now rests in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Chattanooga Tennessee.

On August 7, 2009 Jackie was forever immortalized when it was announced that "2009 TRISTAR Obak, a new set of baseball cards from the official manufacturer of Minor League Baseball trading cards, will include, at long last, Mitchell’s premiere baseball card. The set celebrates the 100th anniversary of the original 1909 Obak minor league set that featured Pacific League players from California."


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