The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth


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Buried in the history of every era you will find herstory, the stories of remarkable women who achieved amazing things against impossible odds. Such is the story of Jackie Miller.

Jackie Mitchell was a young pitching phenom when she was signed in the spring of 1931 by Joe Engel, the owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts, a double-A minor league team in the Southern Association. Baseball had still not come very far from the day in 1911 when the Reach Official American League Guide had excoriated Barnard College for establishing a women's baseball club: "We hold, and we know," said the guide, "that base ball is not a game for any woman, not even the most masculine of the sex". This was the face of baseball when Jackie Miller signed on in 1931.

One fine spring day the New York Yankees stopped on their way home from spring training to play the Lookouts in an exhibition game in Chattanooga. The Lookouts started a pitcher named Clyde Barfoot against the Great Yankee Machine, and Clyde promptly gave up a double and a single. It got worse: Babe Ruth stepped to the plate. Lou Gehrig was on deck. Things didn't look so good for Chattanooga. Manager Bert Nehoff looked at his bench. He gave the sign for Jackie Miller to take the mound.

Jackie Mitchell

Jackie gamely took the mound before a crowd of 4000 cheering fans, dozens of reporters, reps from the major wire services of the day, and even a newsreel camera. She made her minor league debut pitching against two of the greatest hitters of all time with two men on base. A game situation that would righteously strike terror into the heart of any pitcher, at any time. She was 17 years old.

Jackie was a southpaw, like Ruth, with a wicked dropping curve ball. Ruth took ball one from her, and then swung on - and missed -- her next two pitches. Jackie was up 1 and 2. She came to the plate with the curve. The pitch caught the corner. The ump called strike three. The crowd exploded. Ruth swore at the ump and heaved his bat. Jackie Miller stood on the mound. She had struck out Babe Ruth.

But this was the Yankees, and they were not done. Lou Gehrig stepped to the plate. Jackie threw him a sinker. He swung and missed. Strike one.

The two ballplayers stared each other down. She entered her windup and threw him her curve. He swung and hit - nothing but air. Strike two.

Jackie had the count again. The Iron Man was down nothing and two. She reached back and fired. Gehrig swung. Gehrig missed. Strike three.

The standing ovation for Virnie Beatrice Jackie Miller lasted several minutes. The kid with the great curves had struck out two of the greatest hitters of all time.

Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball, promptly voided Jackie Mitchell's Double -A contract, on the grounds that baseball was too strenuous a game for women. If Jackie Miller had been judged on her merits, maybe we would not have needed Title IX. But for one shining moment, a woman stepped up and played the game the way it was supposed to be played, and made us all proud. Girls, go out there and play.

©Adrienne Larkin