Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth

Yesterday, I wrote about Jackie Mitchell the young woman who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in a single exhibition game in 1931. Sheis one of the players stories included in The 10 Commandments of Baseball by J.D. Thorne published by Sporting Chance Press. Sadly, Jackie Mitchell was unable to continue her career in professional baseball. Today, I talked to Jean Patrick, the author of the children's book entitled The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth (depicted above). Jean has written several children's books and travels to schools making presentation on her books and writing. Information on her presentations can be found at Jean's web site.

Jean did a lot of research on Jackie, but Jackie married late in life and did not have children. There is not a lot of information on Jackie. Most of it comes from newspaper stories. As far as Jean knows, Jackie died in relative obscurity. While her childhood was happy and inspiring, we know little of her adult life. Most of the newspaper articles that appeared on Jackie in later years were rehashes of older stories.

On a positive note, at least Jackie's early story continues to inspire kids through Jean's presentations to young school children.

The 10 Commandments of Baseball can be purchased at Sporting Chance Press.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jackie Mitchell: The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth

Jackie Mitchell was a sports celebrity in the 1930s. She grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and according to Jean Patrick, who wrote a children's book about her, Mitchell learned to play baseball from her father at a very early age. She was also tutored by Dazzy Vance, a young minor league player at the time who would go on to become a Hall of Fame pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Vance taught her his "drop pitch." At the age of 17, she impressed Joe Engel, the owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts Minor League team. Engel signed her and she became one of the first women to play professional baseball in the United States. There were three women who played in the professional negro leagues.

It was 1931 and major league teams would sometimes play minor league teams in exhibitions. The Lookouts played the Yankees after spring training and before the start of the major league season. Jackie was put in to pitch just as Babe Ruth stepped up to bat.

In front of a crowd of 4000, she struck Ruth out and then Yankee slugger, Lou Gehrig. No one knows for sure whether the sluggers struck out as part of a stunt, but Mitchell's performance made news across the country.

My favorite baseball picture of all time is one of her just completing a pitch with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth looking on. Gehrig has a modest smile on his face, while Ruth is looking on like someone has just torn up his contract. But, it's Mitchell's face that is priceless. She has this Ellen Degeneres kind of mischievous look on her face--a sort of "looky there boys ain't that a humdinger" kind of sweetness about her. The photo probably appears in many places, but if you search hard enough you can see it on the AP photo site. It is beautifully reproduced as a two page spread in the large baseball photo book, called Baseball A Celebration -- a book I have and love. I will check with AP and see if I can obtain a license for it and perhaps put it on my site.

Unfortunately, baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis didn't like the idea of women playing professional baseball and saw that Mitchell was removed from the Lookouts.

She moved on and played with the House of David, a odd, but long lasting team of long-haired men from a Michigan religious community who barnstormed across the county. While the look of the House of David players was a curiosity with the baseball public, they played fairly good quality ball.

Jackie quit baseball at 23 years old and could not be persuaded to play when the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was formed in the 1940s.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fighting a Slump

One of my favorite parts of The 10 Commandments of Baseball is a very brief section on "running 'em out" in which fighting off a slump is discussed. There is nothing more frustrating for an athlete than a slump. Suddenly, a good hitter just can't "buy a hit" or a good pitcher seems to have "lost his or her stuff." It seems the harder the player tries, the worse it gets. A slump can make the news and be a sore subject with a coach who is asked daily about when so and so is going to "come out of it."

How do you get out of a slump and regain your confidence? You don't put a lot of pressure on yourself to somehow get more hits or pitch better. You work on the basics. Are you practicing good mechanics? How's your footwork? Are you swinging level? You go back and practice the basics, over and over again until you are sure you have them right. Once you have confidence that your fundamentals are in order, your game comes back.

I think it's one of those sports lessons that can also help us in other pursuits as well. If things aren't working well, maybe its time to look at the basics rather than focus on improving at what we are doing. We can break things down and work on the fundamentals and go from there. It's not rocket science, but it's one of those good sense ideas that can help us be more successful.

The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) is available from Sporting Chance Press.
Library of Congress Bain Collection, image of Walter Allen Blair of the NY Highlanders in 1909 working on his fundamentals.