Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Ghost of Jackie Mitchell Smiles

Eri Yoshida has been drafted to play professional baseball.

A 16-year-old schoolgirl with a mean knuckleball has been selected as the first woman ever to play alongside the men in Japanese professional baseball.

Eri Yoshida was drafted for a new independent league that will launch in April, drawing attention for a side-armed knuckler that her future manager Yoshihiro Nakata said was a marvel.
This could not happen here because there is a rule banning women from American professional baseball.

The rule followed the success of Jackie Mitchell. Mitchell grew up in Memphis where she lived next to future Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance who noticed the young girl's talent. At five years old, he taught her mechanics and how to throw a breaking ball. She grew up playing in women's leagues, but at 16 her talent earned her an offer from the AA Chattenooga Lookouts. She played for them during the 1931 season.

It was the preseason, however, that carved Jackie's name in baseball history. On their way back north from spring training, the New York Yankees scheduled a tune up scrimage game against the Lookouts. The Lookout's starting pitcher came in and quickly gave up two hits and a run, so the manager yanked him and put in Mitchell. The number three slot in the 1931 Yankees' line-up, of course, belonged to Babe Ruth. Mitchell's first pitch was high, well out of the strike zone, but the next two were both called strikes. For her fourth pitch, she threw Vance's drop pitch and struck out the Sultan of Swat.

As he threw down his bat amidst ribbing from his teammates for being struck out by a girl, the number four batter stepped up, Lou Gehrig. On three pitches, she sent the Iron horse back to the dugout. Back to back, Mitchell struck out two of the greatest hitters to ever hold a bat.

Days later, the league made it an official policy that women could not play professional baseball and Mitchell's contract was nullfied. This discriminatory rule remains in american baseball to this day. But now, Japan has put Jackie Mitchell's dream back into the realm of the possible.