As soon as “Jackie” Mitchell learned to walk, she started accompanying her father to the baseball diamond. She learned the sandlot basics from him, and learned to pitch from her next-door neighbor, a minor leaguer named Dazzy Vance.Dazzy (who would later play for the Brooklyn Dodgers) taught her how to throw his… “drop pitch” which would come in chest high . . . then drop, right before it reached the plate.
When Jackie was sixteen years old, she played for a women’s team in Chattanooga and her strong left arm attracted the attention of Joe Engel, the president and owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts. Engel was the “Barnum of Baseball,” who was known for his zany promotional stunts. He once traded his shortstop for a 25-pound turkey, and then invited sportswriters to his house to eat the turkey for dinner. He offered Jackie a contract to play for the Lookouts.
On March 28, 1931, Jackie signed the contract. At that moment, she became an official member of the Chattanooga Lookouts, a Class AA minor league team.
Meanwhile, the New York Yankees had finished spring training in Florida and were on their way north. As in previous years, they stopped in Chattanooga to play the Lookouts. An exhibition game was scheduled for April Fool’s Day, but rain delayed the game until April 2.
The veteran right-hander Clyde Barfoot started the game for the Lookouts, but surrendered hits to the Yankees’ first two batters. Engel called for his seventeen year-old lefty lady, Jackie Mitchell, to face the heart of “Murderers’ Row,” Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Babe Ruth smirked as he faced the young lady, and her first sinker darted low for ball one. Jackie followed with another sinker on the outside corner, and this time the Babe swung and missed. Grinning, the “Sultan of Swat” ripped at the next offering and missed again – strike two! The next pitch was another sinker on the corner of the plate, which Ruth placidly watched sail by for a called strike three. At that point the Babe “kicked the dirt”, “gave his bat a wild heave” and stormed unhappily to the dugout.
“After I threw the second strike, I settled down a little. I figured then that it wasn’t going to be so hard for me to get the ball over the plate,” Mitchell said later in an interview.
Next up was the “Iron Horse”, Lou Gehrig, who promptly missed three straight drop pitches, swinging early each time.
On seven pitches, Mitchell had succeeded in striking out two of baseball’s greatest sluggers. The Chattanooga crowd responded with a standing ovation. The next day, the local newspaper speculated that “maybe her curves were too much for them.”
Unfortunately for Jackie Mitchell, her game against the Yankees turned out to be her last game with the Lookouts. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract shortly thereafter and declared that baseball was too strenuous for women.