If you’re reading this article, I’d wager you’ve heard of a couple of ballplayers by the names of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. They are two of the most famous (and best) baseball players of all time, and played on the same team for a bit over a decade.
Although they have plenty of things in common, there’s one unusual bit of baseball history you may have missed. Both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were struck out, consecutively, by Jackie Mitchell – one of the first female pitchers in professional baseball history.
You see, in 1931 there was a Class-AA minor league team by the name of the Chattanooga Lookouts, with a new president by the name of Joe Engel. Engel was, according to this article at the Smithsonian, was something of a showman and/or a promoter – he once traded a player for a turkey, so uh, take from that what you will.
Anyway, for one of his promotions, he booked the New York Yankees to play against the Lookouts in a series of exhibition games. A few days prior to the games, however, Engel also signed Jackie Mitchell to a contract – believed to be one of the first professional baseball contracts given to a woman.
So the day of the first matchup comes and, with plenty of media hype and a 4,000 member audience, 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell was sitting on the bench – but it wouldn’t be long before she got into the game. After the starting pitcher gave up consecutive hits to the first two batters, the Lookout’s manager pulled him from the game and sent Mitchell to the mound … to face the heart of Murder’s Row – Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig – in their prime … with two runners on … as a 17-year-old girl. Yeah.
Here’s how the two at bats played out:
Mitchell v. Ruth:
- Pitch One: Ball (1-0)
- Pitch Two: Swing and a miss (1-1)
- Pitch Three: Swing and a miss (1-2)
- Pitch Four: Called strike three (1-3)
Mitchell v. Gehrig:
- Pitch Two: Swing and a miss (0-1)
- Pitch Two: Swing and a miss (0-2)
- Pitch Three: Swing and a miss (0-3)
And there it is, Mitchell provided Ruth with a backwards K and struck out Lou Gehrig (who went on to slash .341/.446/.662 that season) on three straight pitches. Mitchell then walked the next batter and was pulled from the game, but not before she cemented herself into baseball lore.
There were rumors, after the fact, that the entire thing was a publicity stunt or that Ruth and Gehrig were just “doing their part,” but I refuse to believe it. Instead, I think there may have been a day where a 17 year old Jackie Mitchell struck out two of the greatest hitters of all time.