Virnett “Jackie” Mitchell was a female sports phenom. Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, Mitchell was encouraged by her father to get into sports. She tried everything from basketball to boxing, and excelled at every one, but her true genius was for baseball. A lefty who could launch a curveball with deadly accuracy, Mitchell became a legend at the local sandlot for striking out 9 men in a row. In 1931, at the age of seventeen, Mitchell joined a women’s baseball team in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She soon got the attention of minor-league Chattanooga Lookouts president and owner, Joe Engel. Calling himself the “P.T. Barnum of Baseball,” Joe was always looking for a publicity stunt, and he found it in Mitchell. He quickly began touting the Lookouts as the only team in baseball with a female pitcher.
On April 2, 1931, Engel arranged for the Lookouts to play an exhibition game with the New York Yankees. In the first inning Engel pulled his starting pitcher after a disastrous start, and put in Mitchell. It was her first pro game, and there she was, facing the heart of Murderers’ Row. At bat was none other than the legendary Babe Ruth. The seventeen-year-old’s first pitch was a sinker that darted low, for ball one. She followed with a sinker on the outside corner—Babe swung through and missed. Babe swung at—and missed—the next sinker, and watched as yet another sailed by him for strike three. Babe kicked the dirt, gave his bat a heave, and stormed to the dugout. Next up was Gehrig, who missed three of Mitchell’s dipping sinkers in a row, swinging early each time. The next batter was second baseman Tony Lazzeri, whom she eventually walked. After that she was pulled from the game—but the damage was done. In seven pitches, Mitchell had just struck out the two greatest hitters in the game.
Sadly, that game against the Yankees was Mitchell’s first and last in the pro league. Right after her outing, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract, saying that the sport was too strenuous for women. Although her career was over (she bowed out of sports altogether at the age of 23), her stellar performance against the Sultan of Swing and the Iron Horse earned her a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.