5.02.2010

Jackie Played Hardball, Too.

As the mother of two wonderful daughters, Dinged Corners has long been interested in the place that women hold in baseball history. But there's so much to know. For instance, last month, the kindhearted and reliable gentleman Steve, who runs the White Sox card blog, emailed this photo to us:
On March 28, 1931, 17-year-old Jackie signed with the Chattanooga Lookouts, a Double-A team. Yes, that's Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth watching her warm up. (The fellow looking over her left soldier is priceless, isn't he?)

For a while we didn't realize the significance of this Obak card, but now we do:
In terms of educating me, dear card blog people, it takes a village.

Why are Ruth and Gehrig posing with Jackie?

On April 2, 1931 Jackie Mitchell entered baseball history by striking out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game in front of 4,000 fans. Yes, a 17-year-old girl struck out The Colossus of Clout and and The Iron Horse. Now, Babe Ruth claimed in later years that he “let” Jackie strike him out, but this does not explain why he is said to have displayed genuine frustration when he left the batter’s box.

In any event, striking out Ruth and Gehrig did not work in Jackie’s favor; a few days after the game, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided Mitchell's contract, claiming that baseball was "too strenuous" for women.

This all happened in 1931--you know, waaaaaay back when girls did not play professional baseball. Oh wait! Girls still do not play professional baseball.

Until 1937, Jackie barnstormed with male and female teams and pitched for a while with the House of David team that traveled the nation. Jackie stopped in 1937 at the age of 23, and surprisingly did not even come out of retirement for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. She went to work in her father's optometry office and played now and again with local teams.

She lived in the Chattanooga area for the rest of her life, and threw out the first pitch at a Lookouts' game in 1982. Jackie passed away in 1987 at the age of 73, and will always be known as the girl who struck out two legendary baseball players.

An interesting sidenote is that Jackie was taught to pitch by her father and by one-time neighbor Dazzy Vance, the Brooklyn Dodger.
Lineup for Yesterday
V is for Vance,
The Dodgers' own Dazzy;
None of his rivals
Could throw as fast as he.
Ogden Nash
Dazzy didn't mind giving Jackie pitching pointers when she was eight years old. Perhaps his influence helped Mitchell develop her odd, well-controlled, tough-to-hit side-armed delivery.
 
The Chattanooga Lookouts (named after Lookout Mountain) are still a minor league team that plays in the Southern League and is a Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Our local Isotopes are the Triple-A affiliate). Other notable Lookouts: Harmon Killebrew, Ferguson Jenkins, Alvin Davis, Austin Kearns, Trevor Hoffman, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, and Edwin Encarnacion.

If you have kids who may be interested in Jackie's story, another good place to start is Jean Patrick's site, which includes a wealth of history and background.

And hey. Perhaps Topps should do one of its Heritage sets about Title IX, passed by Congress in the summer of 1972, paving the way for expanded opportunities for women in fields such as higher education and sports. Specifically, Title IX banned sex discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding. And the number of women participating in intercollegiate athletics has more than quadrupled, while the percentage of girls engaging in athletics in general has vastly increased.

Perhaps Jackie would be pleased.

7 comments:

White Sox Cards said...

Great post! I love diving into history.

Rod said...

Here is a link to a review of a book about why American Women don't play baseball

http://www.readerman.net/200909_1466/

Also here is a link to the American Womens Baseball Federation

http://www.awbf.org/

There has even been a Womens World Baseball cup for the past decade or so

dodgerbobble said...

Very interesting. I like the small Dodger connection too.

Wrigley Wax said...

Great post! The story "Mighty Jackie: The Strike Out Queen" is in the fourth grade reading book I teach with. The kids love the story and it gives me the chance to bring in some baseball cards. All the kids in my class know who Jackie Mitchell, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig are. We even watched Lou's speech. Great lessons!

The Wax Wombat said...

That is one tiny soldier..

dayf said...

Yet another reason Kenesaw Mountain Landis was a fink.

mikepelfreyshouse said...

great story, a very interesting read. Well I am also extremly happy that women are now notable in sports, as I am a huge fan of womens soccer, I personally think its better than mens soccer! Thay can play too! And I would like to see a womens baseball league, or a softball league get big and have Tv games and such!