In 1931, the New York Yankees faced 17-year-old pitcher Jackie Mitchell, one of the few women with a baseball contract. She struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, leading some to wonder if it was a stunt. Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis later voided her contract and declared women unfit to play baseball.
In the late 1920s, the New York Yankees were one of baseball’s most feared teams. The first six batters in their lineup, which included Babe Ruth batting third and Lou Gehrig hitting clean-up, became known as “Murderers’ Row.” The Yankees were still a formidable force in 1931, and Ruth and Gehrig were still swinging for the fences. In April of that year, however, the sluggers apparently met their match. In an exhibition game against the minor-league Chattanooga Lookouts, Ruth faced relief pitcher Jackie Mitchell, a 17-year-old left-hander. She was one of the few women with a baseball contract. The Bambino struck out on four of Mitchell’s pitches. Gehrig whiffed, too, swinging and missing three straight pitches.
Don’t hurt yourself, little lady:
Back then, teams put on performances to draw Depression-era crowds with little money. The Lookouts were owned Joe Engel, a known showman, leading some baseball purists to wonder if the strikeouts were part of a stunt.
Of course, the crowd roared for young Jackie. Babe Ruth was later quoted as saying: “I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball,” adding that women were “too delicate” to play ball every day.
A few days after Mitchell struck out Ruth and Gehrig, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract and determined that women were unfit to play baseball. The game, he said, was “too strenuous” for them.