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The 17 Year Old Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth & Lou Gehrig

In 1931, Joe Engel booked the New York Yankees for two exhibition games against the Lookouts as the major leaguers traveled north from spring training. A week before their arrival, he announced the signing of Jackie Mitchell, which was one of the first professional baseball contracts ever given to a woman.

The prospect of a 17-year-old girl facing the mighty Yankees generated considerable media coverage, most of it condescending.

The first game against the Yankees, before a crowd of 4,000 fans and journalists, began with the Lookouts’ starting pitcher surrendering hits to the first two batters. The Lookouts’ manager then pulled his starter and sent Mitchell to the mound to face the heart of a fearsome lineup that had become known in the 1920s as “Murderers’ Row.”

First up was Ruth, who tipped his hat at the girl on the mound. Mitchell went into her motion, winding her left arm “as if she were turning a coffee grinder.” Then, with a side-armed delivery, she threw her trademark sinker (a pitch known then as “the drop”). Ruth let it pass for a ball. At Mitchell’s second offering, Ruth “swung and missed the ball by a foot.” He missed the next one, too, and asked the umpire to inspect the ball. Then, with the count 1-2, Ruth watched as Mitchell’s pitch caught the outside corner for a called strike three.

Flinging his bat down in disgust, Ruth retreated to the dugout.

Next to the plate was Gehrig, who batted .341 in 1931 and tied the Babe for the league lead in homers. He swung at and missed three straight pitches. Mitchell walked the next batter, Tony Lazzeri, and the Lookouts’ manager pulled her from the game, which the Yankees went on to win, 14-4.

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