It was 1931 and in the professional baseball world, there was upcoming pitching marvel who had signed with the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Class AA team of the New York Yankees.
There were a few things about Jackie that made this person a VERY special baseball player. The first exceptional thing was that Jackie was not a HE but a SHE!!! She was one of the first professional FEMALE baseball players and she was only 17 years old! At one point during the season she actually struck out 9 players in a row.
Her real “claim to fame” was when the major league New York Yankees came to town to play the Lookouts in an exhibition game. It was during that game that Virnett Beatrice “Jackie” Mitchell became a legend. The starting pitcher had faced only two batters in the first inning before he was taken out and Jackie was called in for relief. She only had one, a nasty sinker, which she learned from a neighbor of hers…Hall of Famer and strikeout king…Dizzy Dean.
When the little lefty was put into the game, she climbed the mound dressed in a homemade, baggy uniform and faced her first batter, the mighty Babe Ruth. After the first pitch she threw was a ball, the Babe swung and missed the next two pitches then struck out on a called third strike in the last pitch. Ruth complained and cussed at the umpire all the way back to the dugout. The next batter the 130 pound pitcher faced was the legendary Lou Gehrig and she struck him out on three consecutive pitches! The next batter, another Hall of Famer, Tony Lazzari walked which Jackie was then taken out of the game. The Yankees went on to win the game 14-4. After the contest, Ruth told the reporters “Ruth stated, “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.”
She instantly became a national star and was the talk of the country. Newspapers from around the country wrote stories about her achievement and her story was featured in Newsreels in movie houses across the land.
Well, it didn’t take professional baseball long to react to all the attention that this young lady was receiving. Within a few days, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, annulled her contract stating that playing professional baseball would be too strenuous to be played by a woman, and banned her from baseball.
Jackie Mitchell was heartbroken and crushed. She went on to play on some other ladies teams and barnstorming games…especially with the famous barnstorming team, the “House of David’s team” who were famous for sporting beards at their games. Occasionally, Jackie would even wear a fake beard herself! After a couple of years of “being a sideshow” and becoming frustrated with people using her for publicity stunts, and not seeing her for the decent lefty pitcher that she actually was, retired in 1937 at the ripe age of 23 and went to work with her father in his optometry business.
While Jackie Mitchell’s professional baseball career only lasted two-thirds of an inning, she showed great courage and strength to go against all conventional wisdom and odds and become one of the first pioneers of women participating in professional sports.