August 29, 1913|
|Died: January 7, 1987
Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia
|Southern Association: April 2, 1931 for the Chattanooga Lookouts|
|Last professional appearance|
Virne Beatrice "Jackie" Mitchell Gilbert (August 29, 1913 – January 7, 1987) was one of the first female pitchers in professional baseball history. Pitching for the Chattanooga Lookouts Class AA minor league baseball team in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession.
Mitchell was born August 29, 1913 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. to Virne Wall Mitchell and Dr. Joseph Mitchell. When she learned how to walk, her father took her to the baseball diamond and taught her the basics of the game. Her next door neighbor, Dazzy Vance, taught her to pitch and showed her his "drop ball", a type of breaking ball. Vance was a major league picture and would eventually be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
When Mitchell was 17, she played for a women's team in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and attended a special baseball school in Atlanta, Georgia. There, she attracted the attention of Joe Engel, the president and owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts, who offered her a contract to play for the 1931 season. On March 28, Mitchell signed the contract and became an official member of the Lookouts, a Class AA minor league team.
Against the New York Yankees
The New York Yankees and the Chattanooga Lookouts were scheduled to play an exhibition game in Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 1, 1931. Due to rain the game was postponed until the next day. Seventeen-year-old Jackie Mitchell, brought in to pitch in the first inning after the starting pitcher had given up a double and a single, faced Babe Ruth. After taking a ball, Ruth swung and missed at the next two pitches. Mitchell's fourth pitch to Ruth was a called third strike. Babe Ruth glared and verbally abused the umpire before being led away by his teammates to sit to wait for another batting turn. The crowd roared for Jackie. Babe Ruth was quoted in a Chattanooga newspaper as having said:
Next up was the Iron Horse Lou Gehrig, who swung through the first three pitches to strike out. Jackie Mitchell became famous for striking out two of the greatest baseball players in history.
A few days after Mitchell struck out Ruth and Gehrig, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract and declared women unfit to play baseball as the game was "too strenuous." Mitchell continued to play professionally, barnstorming with the House of David, a men's team famous for their very long hair and long beards. While travelling with the House of David team, she would sometimes wear a fake beard for publicity. She retired in 1937 at the age of 23 after becoming furious since her story about playing baseball was being used something of a side show – once being asked to pitch while riding a donkey. She refused to come out of retirement when the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League formed in 1943. Major League Baseball would formally ban the signing of women to contracts on June 21, 1952. The ban lasted until 1992 when Carey Schueler was "drafted" by the Chicago White Sox for the 1993 season.
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