Thursday, April 1, 2021

 A Teenager from Chattanooga strikes out the Babe

(excerpted from a forthcoming blog post)

Coming out of Spring Training, like most teams, the Yankees had a small barnstorming tour through the south on their way to the Bronx. One of these stops was in Chattanooga, where the Bombers played an exhibition game against the home team Chattanooga Lookouts.

Joe Engel, owner of the team, which played their home games in the eponymous Engel Stadium, realized that while the New York Yankees were going to be a big draw, he needed an angle of his own to create that much more of a buzz.

Jackie Mitchell, a left-handed throwing high school student was signed by Engel before the contest, and Engel slated Mitchell, a seventeen-year-old to pitch against ‘Murderer’s Row’.

Mitchell was taught to pitch by a neighbor, Dazzy Vance, who was a star for the Brooklyn Dodgers years before and would eventually become inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

April 2, 1931.

Mitchell stared down the legendary Babe Ruth. The first pitch was outside. The Babe swung and missed at the next two pitches.

The third pitch, Babe pulled back on, thinking it was inside, but was called strike three by the umpire. Babe threw his bat down in anger, said a few vaguely unseemly words to the umpire, and sloughed back towards the Yankees dugout, demonstrably mumbling and grumbling all the way.

Next to dig in was Lou Gehrig.

While not as demonstrative as the Babe was, Gehrig also struck out on three pitches.

Tony Lazzeri was the next man up, and he promptly walked on the next four pitches, and Jackie was removed from the game

Incredibly, these two legends were struck out on six pitches by a teen-ager named Jackie Mitchell.

Even more incredible, was that Jackie Mitchell was a seventeen-year-old girl.

Headlines screamed around the nation of this teenage girl striking out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, garnering tons publicity for those involved.

However, there are some that say that the whole stunt was just that…a stunt. In “The League of Outsider Baseball”, author Gary Cierdakowski writes that baseball researcher Scott Simkus’ research led him to believe that it was a publicity gimmick, shown by Jackie’s underwhelming pitching record in the semi-pro ranks.

However, an article in Smithsonian magazine states that Mitchell insisted that the only instructions the Yankee hitter were given was to try not to hit the ball directly at her.

Regardless if it was a set-up or not, it does make for a fun story.

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