From Tony Horwitz at Smithsonian Magazine on July 2, 2013, with mention of SABR members John Thorn, Debra Shattuck and Justine Siegal:
One spring day my son came home from school and asked, “Do you know about the girl who struck out Babe Ruth?”
I smiled indulgently at this playground tall tale. But he insisted it was true. “I read a book about her in the library,” he said.
“Must have been fiction,” I churlishly replied, before consulting the Baseball Almanac to bludgeon my 10-year-old with bitter fact.
Instead, I discovered the astounding story of Jackie Mitchell, a 17-year-old southpaw who pitched against the New York Yankees on April 2, 1931. The first batter she faced was Ruth, followed by Lou Gehrig, the deadliest hitting duo in baseball history. Mitchell struck them both out. There was a box score to prove it and news stories proclaiming her “organized baseball’s first girl pitcher.”
For a lifelong baseball nerd, this was like learning that a hamster once played shortstop or that Druids invented our national pastime. The Sultan of Swat and the Iron Horse couldn’t hit a girl? Why had I never heard of her?
This led me, a month later, to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, where I learned that Jackie Mitchell’s story was even stranger than I’d supposed, with subplots involving donkeys, long beards and a lingering mystery about what transpired when she took the mound in 1931.
Originally published: July 2, 2013. Last Updated: July 2, 2013.