Jackie Mitchell

Virne Beatrice "Jackie" Mitchell Gilbert (August 29, 1913 – January 7, 1987)[1] was one of the first female pitchers in professional baseball history. She was 17 years old when she pitched for the Chattanooga Lookouts Class AA minor league baseball team in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, and struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession.[2]

Jackie Mitchell
Born: (1913-08-29)August 29, 1913
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Died: January 7, 1987(1987-01-07) (aged 73)
Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia
Threw: Left
Southern Association debut
April 2, 1931, for the Chattanooga Lookouts
Last appearance

Early lifeEdit

Jackie Mitchell was born August 29, 1913 in Chattanooga, Tennessee,[3][1] to Virne Wall Mitchell and Dr. Joseph Mitchell.[4][5] 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.[6] Vance was a major league pitcher and would eventually be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.[7]

At the age of 17, Mitchell began playing for the Engelettes, a women's team in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and went on to attend a baseball training camp in Atlanta, Georgia. In doing so she attracted the attention of Joe Engel, the president and owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts, who was known for using publicity stunts as a way to draw crowds during the Great Depression. Seeing Mitchell as an opportunity to draw attention to the Lookouts, he signed her to the team on March 25, 1931.[8][9] She appeared in her first professional game on April 2 becoming only the second woman to play organized baseball behind Lizzie Arlington who pitched for the Reading Coal Heavers against the Allentown Peanuts in a Minor league game in 1898.[10]

Against the New York YankeesEdit

The New York Yankees and the Chattanooga Lookouts were scheduled to play an exhibition game in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on April 1, 1931, however, due to rain the game was postponed until the next day. Seventeen-year-old Mitchell was brought in to pitch during the first inning by Lookouts manager Bert Niehoff after the starting pitcher, Clyde Barfoot, gave up a double and a single. The next two batters were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.[9] 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:

"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."[9][11]

Next up was "the Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig, who swung through the first three pitches to strike out, and Jackie Mitchell became famous for striking out two of the greatest baseball players in history.

Later careerEdit

A few days after Mitchell struck out Ruth and Gehrig, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract and declared that women were unfit to play baseball as the game was "too strenuous."[5][12] However, Mitchell continued to play professionally, barnstorming with the House of David, a men's team famous for their very long hair and long beards.[13] While traveling with the House of David team, she would sometimes wear a fake beard for publicity.[14]

Mitchell retired in 1937 at the age of 23 after becoming furious since her story about playing baseball was being used as something of a side show – once being asked to pitch while riding a donkey.[12] She refused to come out of retirement when the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League formed in 1943.[14] Major League Baseball would formally ban the signing of women to contracts on June 21, 1952.[12] The ban lasted until 1992 when Carey Schueler was drafted by the Chicago White Sox for the 1993 season.[citation needed]

In 1982 Mitchell was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Chattanooga Lookouts on their season opening day.[15]

Jackie Mitchell died in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, on January 7, 1987, and was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Chattanooga.[16][17]


A musical about Mitchell's life entitled Unbelievable was developed by Kevin Fogarty (lyrics), Rachel DeVore Fogarty (music), and John Robert DeVore (book). It debuted in a staged reading on March 17, 2017, at Skyline Theatre Company in Bergen County, New Jersey.[18]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Minsberg, Talya (7 November 2018). "Overlooked No More: Jackie Mitchell, Who Fanned Two of Baseball's Greats". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  2. ^ Inspirational female aþletes who won in a man's sport, Sports management degree, 2010
  3. ^ Doster, Adam (May 18, 2013). "The Myth of Jackie Mitchell, the Girl Who Struck Out Ruth and Gehrig". The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  4. ^ Broome, Andy (2009). Her Curves Were Too Much for Them. Retrieved 2009-09-26.
  5. ^ a b "Six women who beat the boys - CNN.com". CNN. 2009-05-27. Retrieved 2009-09-26.
  6. ^ Patrick, Jean L.S. (2004). "Jackie Mitchell The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth". Archived from the original on 2008-05-29. Retrieved 2008-05-18.
  7. ^ "National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum: Hall of Famer detail: Arthur Charles Vance". Archived from the original on 2007-08-20. Retrieved 2009-09-26.
  8. ^ Blattman, Elissa. "Historical Women Who Rocked: Jackie Mitchell". National Women's History Museum. National Women's History Museum. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  9. ^ a b c Cronin, Brian (2011-02-23). "Sports Legend Revealed: Did a female pitcher strike out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  10. ^ Horwitz, Tony (July 2013). "The Woman Who (Maybe) Struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig". Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  11. ^ Hellman, Neal (April 6, 2008). "Jackie Mitchell". Retrieved 2008-05-18.
  12. ^ a b c Aubrecht, Michael (2003). "Jackie Mitchell – The Pride of the Yankees". Baseball Almanac. Retrieved 2008-05-18.
  13. ^ "Mary's City of David: The Famous Israelite Baseball Team". Retrieved 2009-09-26.
  14. ^ a b Broome, Andy (2009). "Jackie Mitchell Q & A ©2009 Andy Broome". Retrieved 2009-09-26.
  15. ^ Holmes, Dan (February 15, 2007). "When Jackie Mitchell Struck OUT Ruth, Gehrig". National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Archived from the original on 2008-04-08. Retrieved 2008-05-18.
  16. ^ "Find A Grave Memorial for Jackie Mitchell". Retrieved 2008-09-28.
  17. ^ "Virne Mitchell Gilbert, woman who struck out Babe Ruth Series: obituaries". St. Petersburg Times. January 11, 1987. p. 15 B. Retrieved 2009-09-26.
  18. ^ World premiere of the musical Unbelievable @ Skyline

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit