Craig: Jackie Mitchell: beyond Babe Ruth

From Mary Craig at Beyond the Box Score on July 26, 2017:

The year was 1933, and all the world had gathered in Chicago. Vast displays of science and technology filled the city’s World Fair Century of Progress Exhibition. In a country years separated from social and economic progress, people flocked to Chicago, intent on witnessing spectacles providing hope for the future. As an added bonus, Major League Baseball gathered its brightest stars on the same field for the first time, offering its fans a true extravaganza. But due to the country’s harsh economic conditions, millions of people could not afford to travel great distances, and so as those fortunate few returned to their homes and the eager ears of their neighbors, various pieces of the exhibit began to tour the country. And so 700 miles and a lifetime away, in Reading, Pennsylvania, Jackie Mitchell sat in the world’s largest high chair, still too small to reach her dreams.

Growing up, Jackie had always dreamed of being a professional baseball player. From a young age, she received lessons from her neighbor, future Hall of Famer Charles Arthur “Dazzy” Vance. At the age of 16, she joined a women’s team in her hometown Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Engelettes. By this time — over 35 years since the creation of the Boston Bloomer Girls, and over 70 since that of the all-black women’s team the Philadelphia Dolly Vardens — women had carved out a position for themselves in baseball, demonstrating that in addition to the formation of girls’ teams, they were able to compete among boys and men at the amateur and semi-pro level. But beyond these relatively scarce opportunities, there was nothing. Since Lizzie Arlington’s appearance with the minor league Reading Coal Heavers in 1898, it was understood that women must have no place in professional baseball.

Then the Great Depression hit. Teams became desperate to create business, and there it was: opportunity. Joe Engel, owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts and master of publicity stunts, approached Jackie at a tryout, immediately signing her to a contract and promising her an appearance in the coming exhibition game against the New York Yankees.

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Originally published: July 27, 2017. Last Updated: July 27, 2017.