It is the first day of 2012 and all is quiet in Old Town Helena. I hope everyone is enjoying time with family and friends. Perhaps you will take a little time to reflect on 2011 and begin to plan your 2012. I thought many of you might enjoy a somewhat whimsical article.
Most of you have heard of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig – both were great Baseball players. But do you know who Jackie Whitaker is? Do you know what she has in common with Ruth and Gehrig? Here is part of her story . . .
The Woman Who Struck Out Ruth and Gehrig
At the 2003 All Star Game at Comiskey Park in Chicago, softball star Jennie Finch pitched against a gauntlet of major leaguers – Mike Piazza, Albert Pujols, Mike Cameron, Paul Lo Duca – and struck them all out with a softball thrown from 43 feet away. As impressive as her feat was, it pales in comparison with one performed by a 17-year-old girl 72 years earlier.
The girl was Jackie Mitchell, and she grew up in Memphis, next door to a future Hall of Famer, Dazzy Vance. Vance noticed her talent and taught her to throw his favorite pitch, a curveball that dropped off the table. In 1931, while attending a baseball school in Atlanta, the 17-year-old came to the attention of Joe Engel, the owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts. He offered her a contract to play for the Lookouts, which she signed on March 28.
As it happens, the New York Yankees were traveling north from spring training in Florida, and on April 2 the Bronx Bombers stopped in Chattanooga to play an exhibition game. A crowd of 4,000 showed up. Lookouts starting pitcher Clyde Barfoot gave up a double to Earle Combs and a single to Lyn Lary, at which point manager Bert Niehoff brought in the left-handed Mitchell to face none other than Babe Ruth.
Dressed in a baggy uniform custom-made for her by Spalding, Mitchell missed high with her first pitch. But Ruth swung at and missed her second pitch. And her third pitch. He let the fourth go by, but it caught the corner of the plate for strike 3. According to accounts, Ruth “kicked the dirt, called the umpire a few dirty names, gave his bat a wild heave, and stomped out to the Yanks’ dugout.”
Quite possibly, Ruth was putting on a show. But the next batter, Lou Gehrig, swung at and missed three pitches. After a standing ovation that lasted several minutes, Mitchell walked Tony Lazzeri. At that point, Niehoff replaced her with Barfoot.
A few days after Mitchell had struck out two of the greatest players of all time, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract and declared women unfit to play baseball. Mitchell continued to play for the barnstorming House of David team, but she retired from baseball altogether at the age of 23, preferring to work for her father, an eye doctor. It was kind of ironic, her helping the shortsighted.
Taken from ESPN The Mighty Book of Sports Knowledge
Edited by Steve Wulf