The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth

The Story of Jackie Mitchell

Jackie Mitchell with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
Library of Congress

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Have you heard the story of “The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth”? Read on for the charming tale.

It was only an exhibition game, and there are those who still maintain that it was a publicity stunt. But a little known chapter in baseball history was written in Chattanooga, Tennessee, just before the start of the 1931 season, when the fabulous New York Yankees played the Chattanooga Lookouts, a team that included 17-year-old pitcher Virnie Beatrice “Jackie” Mitchell.

Mitchell was a left-handed fastball pitcher from Fall River, Massachusetts, whose lifetime ambition was to strike out the great Babe Ruth. Promoter Joe Engel, who owned the Lookouts, had signed her up just for that confrontation. He had a hunch that sending out a girl to face the Yankees would be a surefire way to fill his stadium.

The ploy worked, and a packed house was present when Mitchell took the mound midway through the first inning, with Babe Ruth coming to bat. Ruth tipped his cap to the pretty teenager when he stepped into the batter’s box. She responded by winding up and throwing the baseball as hard as she possibly could. Ruth took a mighty swing! The crowd went wild as he missed the ball by a foot.

Jackie Mitchell pitches while Lou Gehrig (far left) and Babe Ruth (middle left) look on. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Jackie Mitchell pitches while Lou Gehrig (far left) and Babe Ruth (middle left) look on. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Babe stepped out of the batter’s box and looked out at Mitchell. He shook his head as if perplexed, moved back in, and carefully positioned himself for her next pitch. It was wide, as was the third pitch, and his bat never left his shoulder. Ruth requested a new ball from the umpire. Mitchell wound up, the ball came blazing in over the plate, Ruth swung—and missed again. But on her final toss he never moved the bat off his shoulder as the umpire yelled, “Strike three—you’re out!” Ruth merely walked back to the Yankee bench, shaking his head. The crowd loved every minute of it.

Next in the batting order was Lou Gehrig. He looked as if he really meant business and wasted no time at bat. Gehrig swung at Mitchell’s first three pitches, missed them all, and quietly walked back to the dugout to sit next to Ruth.

Engel stood up in the Lookouts dugout and motioned for Mitchell to come in off the mound. The applause lasted for 10 minutes.

This escapade was essentially the beginning and the end of Mitchell’s professional baseball career, although Engel kept her around for a while to pitch in a number of other exhibition games for his Lookouts. She was always headlined as “The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth.”

Later, both Ruth and Gehrig averred that the strikeouts were strictly on the level. And each would go on to hit 46 home runs that year, with Ruth batting .373 and Gehrig, .341—proving that there was nothing wrong with their hitting.  

Author: 

Robert W. Pelton

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