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On this day: Jackie Mitchell strikes out Ruth, Gehrig


Major League Baseball is back, making it a great time to remember Jackie Mitchell, who in 1931 struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession. (The stars are seen above watching Mitchell pitch.)

The backdrop: the New York Yankees were passing through Chattanooga, Tennessee as part of an exhibition tour to play the Chattanooga Lookouts.

  • The Yankees, at the time, were the best team in baseball, and would go on to set the Major League record for runs scored in a season that year.
  • Joe Engel, the president and owner of the Lookouts, had signed 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell to his squad as part of a publicity stunt after seeing her pitch at a baseball camp.
  • Mitchell’s neighbor growing up was Dazzy Vance, a Hall of Fame pitcher who taught the promising leftie how to throw a wicked sinker.

The game: Mitchell was called into action on April 2nd after the Lookouts’ first pitcher gave up back-to-back hits. The first batter she faced was “The Sultan of Swat.”

  • Babe Ruth took a ball, then swung and missed on two of Mitchell’s sinkers. Her fourth pitch was called a third strike, leading Ruth to verbally abuse the umpire before his teammates pulled him away.
  • Lou Gehrig was up next, swinging and missing on his first three pitches. Mitchell had officially struck out two of the greatest players in the history of the sport.

The aftermath: it wasn’t great!

  • Babe Ruth told the local paper that women were “too delicate” to play baseball everyday.
  • Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis also voided Mitchell’s contract while declaring baseball was “too strenuous” for women.
  • Mitchell continued to play professionally, however, barnstorming the country with other men’s teams. She ultimately retired at age 23 after growing tired of being treated like a sideshow.

Mitchell died in 1987, but not before delivering an incredible quote about her 1931 performance.

  • “Hell, better hitters than them couldn’t hit me. Why should they be any different?”

Go deeper: listen to a Legendary Bites episode covering Mitchell’s exploits.