Jackie Mitchell: the 17-year-old girl who struck out Babe Ruth

Historical stories, no matter how accepting of them the world is, are just as – if not more – susceptible to the elements of ‘bending of the truth’.

Jackie Mitchell is often referred to as the first female to play in an official organised baseball game. However, Lizzie Arlington, some 33 years prior to Mitchell’s appearance against the New York Yankees in 1931, was the first female to pitch in a baseball minor league match.

But that’s not to suggest that Mitchell’s appearance on April 2nd, against the iconic baseball Hall of Famers, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, doesn’t deserve its place in sporting history.

Jackie Mitchell Baseball


When you realise that, almost nine decades on from Mitchell’s famous moment, newspaper coverage has not developed or grown too much when it comes to sexism, it’s pathetic. Coverage included: “The curves won’t be all on the ball”, “pretty Jackie Mitchell takes the mound” and “has a swell change of pace and swings a mean lipstick” descriptions and generalisations that are still ever present in today’s media.

4,000 fans poured in to watch Jackie Mitchell make her bow against Babe Ruth, and after her first three balls – two swings and a miss for Ruth, plus one foul ball from Mitchell – baseball’s favourite son asked the umpire to inspect the ball; he clearly took this well.

The fourth ball came in, and that was that; “pretty” 17-year-old Mitchell had felled one of the America’s most famous sporting stars.

“(women) will never make good (in baseball) – they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.”

Babe Ruth

Next up was Lou Gehrig, which would be like being asked to fight Mike Tyson in his peak, having just managed to survive 12 rounds with an in form Muhammad Ali.

The rest writes itself like a Hollywood movie script; three balls flew past the sportsman who would end up playing 17 seasons as a professional in the MLB.

Never be surprised by the pathetic delicateness with which a male’s pride can be hurt, as after Jackie Mitchell had taken the names of baseball’s finest duo, Baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis – sounds like a bottle of water you’d pay £4.50 for at some snooty upper-class establishment – banned women from the sport.

Mitchell’s career was not over, though; an era where ignorance was ripe (blacks were barred from playing baseball, too), the 17-year-old joined a travelling baseball group, that consisted of people who were ranging from suffering with disabilities, overweight or banned from partaking in baseball due to ignorance; people who just loved America’s finest game.

Mitchell’s time with the players, who according to media reports, were more of a circus act at times, with sleight-of-hand tricks, fake beards and playing whilst riding on donkeys, ended in 1937, when she called time on her career.

Jackie Mitchell, the 17-year-old who offended men, just for being talented.

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