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"Equality" means "The state or quality of being equal."
It is a simple word. Yet this 4-syllable noun has echoed like a cannon blast through the trenches of our society since the beginning of time. In the late 1940's and 50's the word "equality" emerged as the trumpet call for the women's movement in their quest to bridge the "gender gap." Today, it is inscribed on handle of the feminists' hammer that threatens to shatter the so-called "glass-ceiling." Many still feel that the "battle of the sexes" is far from over and that for every victory - there has been defeat.
Throughout the history of sports, the roles of women have often come under fire and the true integration of both sexes on a "level" playing field is still up for debate. I personally don't consider myself to be a "sexist", but I still find it hard to believe that the majority of female athletes could compete in certain contests that require brute-physical force such as professional football. However… I have no problem envisioning a female taking charge on a baseball diamond and as anyone who knows anything about the All-American Girls' League can see - "throwing like a girl" isn't always a "bad thing". Over the past century, many women have repeatedly risen to the challenge of their male counterparts, often changing opinions and the way we (as males) look at the fairer species. One lady in particular not only dominated the male players of her time - she dominated three legends and became an inspiration both on and off the field.
In 1931, the owner of the Southern Association's AA Chattanooga Lookouts signed a talented, 17-year-old pitcher named Jackie Mitchell. Desperate for an "edge" to increase ticket sales Joe Engel opted to bill his team as the ONLY club to feature a female on the mound and the demure Mitchell fit that bill. Although she was not the first female player to sign in the minor leagues as Lizzie Arlington had broken through that barrier in 1898 while pitching a single game for Reading PA's team against neighboring Allentown, she was by far the best and would soon prove it to herself (and the world) against three of the greatest.
As was customary back in the day, major league teams often traveled the country playing against members of their minor league's farm system. This gave the locals an opportunity to see big league players in towns that did not boast big league franchises. It also kept the players in off-season shape - both in body and mind. In April of '31, the New York Yankees stopped in Chattanooga for an exhibition game, on their way home from spring training down south. Billed as a huge event due to the appearance of "Murderers Row", over 4,000 fans turned out along with scores of newspaper reporters and photographers.
Lookouts manager Bert Niehoff initially started the game with Clyde Barfoot, but after he surrendered a double and a single, the signal was sent out for Jackie Mitchell. Imagine the expressions on the Yankees' faces when the rookie southpaw (in a custom-made baggy white uniform) stepped up on to the mound to face their team. Even worse, imagine the pressure she endured, as the first batter of her baseball career was none other than the "Sultan of Swat" Babe Ruth!
Mitchell's pitching arsenal consisted of only 1 pitch - a dropping curve ball known as a "sinker" and she used it like no other ace had before (or after). A grinning Bambino took ball one, and then swung at (and missed) the next 2. Jackie's fourth pitch caught the corner of the plate for a called-strike infuriating an embarrassed Ruth who promptly threw his bat and stomped back into the Yankees' dugout.
Next up was non-other than "The Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig who followed the Babe's lead and swung at three in a row for "K" number 2. In just 7 pitches, Mitchell had sat down two of the greatest sluggers ever to don the pinstripes. After a lengthy standing ovation, Jackie walked Tony Lazzari and was pulled in favor of the returning Barfoot. Despite her historical performance on the mound, the Yankees went on to win the contest 14-4.
A few days later, Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided Mitchell's contract, claiming that baseball was "too strenuous" for a woman. It was a gross injustice and an obvious ploy to curb the embarrassment of their bruised male egos. (MLB formally banned the signing of women to contracts on June 21, 1952).
Determined to press on, Jackie began barnstorming, traveling across the country pitching in exhibition games and in 1933, she signed on with a men's team known as the House of David (for their long hair and beards). Mitchell traveled with them until 1937, but eventually became disenchanted with the recurring "circus-type" antics that she was called upon to do like playing an inning while riding a donkey. Fed up with baseball, she later retired at the tender age of 23 and took an office job with her father's company.
If not for the blatant railroading of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who knows what could have been? Would Mitchell have eventually worked her way up into the "big show" opening the door for future female aces? Would the All-American Girls' League have been simply the Major Leagues with less-men in the line-up? Maybe. Perhaps we would be watching Rogers Clemens or Randy Johnson going up against a much better-looking rival. Regardless of what could have been, Jackie Mitchell's story has become an inspiration to generations of female athletes. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll see a modern version of MISS Mitchell on the mound. I just hope that MR. Giambi and MR. Jeter can deal with a strikeout better than their forefathers from the 1931 team.
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