Today in Sports History: April 2nd

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(Gehrig, Ruth and Jackie Mitchell. Photo courtesy of Wide World Photos)

4/02/1931 - Teenage girl K's Ruth and Gehrig

In a now-historic exhibition game, the New York Yankees face off against the minor league Chattanooga Lookouts. Pitching in relief for the Lookouts is 17 year-old Jackie Mitchell, who just days earlier had become the first woman to sign a professional baseball contract. At six years old, she had claimed to have mastered the curve ball with a little help from her next door neighbor, Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance. Now she was going up against the heart of the best lineup in baseball.

Mitchell had been signed primarily as a publicity stunt, but the sideshow started turning the tables in the first inning. Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in back-to-back at-bats, with Gehrig's coming on three whiffed swings. When the Babe was called for a third strike, he threw his bat on the ground in protest and began arguing with the umpire. After walking Tony Lazzeri, Mitchell was removed from the game. Her performance, though brief, would forever label her as "the girl who struck out Babe Ruth."

However, the authenticity of Mitchell's strikeouts has long been in question. Jackie posed for pictures with Gehrig and Ruth after the game, and her appearance was actually to have taken place the day before -- on April Fools Day -- but the game had been rained out. While some suspected that the Yankee legends had staged their strikeouts, Mitchell defended her pitches to the day she died.

The next day, MLB commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis voided Mitchell's contract, claiming that baseball was "too strenuous" for women. In 1952, commissioner Ford Frick banned women from joining major league teams, a ruling that would be reversed in 1992. Mitchell continued to pitch wherever she could, even barnstorming with the baseball team of the House of David -- a religious group that refrained from sex, meat, shaving, and haircuts.

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