Virne Beatrice “Jackie Mitchell” was born in Memphis Tennessee sometime between the sinking of the Titanic and the outbreak of World War I. Jackie’s dad loved baseball and he had aspirations for his daughter to be the first women to make it the majors. Mr. Mitchell’s neighbor was Dazzy Vance a future hall of fame pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dazzy taught Jackie his famous drop pitch and the art of focusing and control on the mound.
Both Dazzy and her dad constantly worked with her and by the age of seven Jackie had already mastered the drop pitch and became a childhood star in the sand lot league in and around Memphis. Jackie also excelled at basketball, tennis, running, shooting and boxing.
At sixteen she played for a professional women’s team in Chattanooga and at seventeen signed a contract with the Chattanooga Lookouts a double A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Jackie had many offers from professional women’s teams but turned them down to play in the men’s league with the hope of going on to triple A and then on to “the show” as those in the minor leagues called it.
In March of that year The Chattanooga News wrote:
A capacity crowd of over 4000 filled Lookout Stadium to cheer on their local heroes and pray for a miracle. Seventeen-year-old Jackie Mitchell was brought in early in the game to face Babe Ruth with runners on the corners. Jackie struck out Ruth on four pitches and then struck out Lou Gehrig on three quick drop pitches.
Jackie became an overnight hero as word quickly spread around baseball that a teenage girl had struck out two of baseballs greatest icons.
Jackie was out of a job but wanted to keep playing ball and soon hooked up with The Israelite House of David. The Israelite House of David was a religious commune that was founded by Benjamin Purnell and his wife Mary in Benton Harbor, Michigan around the year1902. It was their belief that by gathering all the twelve lost tribes of Israel together it would hasten the return of the messiah. To be a member of the commune one must refrain from sex, haircuts, shaving, and the eating of meat.
To support his spiritual undertaking Mr. Purnell operated an amusement park, a zoo, bowling alleys, sponsored a traveling jazz band and at least three baseball teams. By 1915 he had a number teams on the road barnstorming away and playing against other semi-pro teams, minor league teams and various clubs in the Negro Leagues. Legendary pitcher Satchel Paige referred to the Israelite House of David team as “the Jesus boys.” Baseball became so popular with the House of David commune that they needed to enlist players outside of their organization and in 1932 signed the lefty female phenom Jackie Mitchell.
Jackie toured with the bearded boys for five years. On September 12th. 1933 she started an exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals where she was the winning pitcher. The next morning a sports writer for a local St. Louis paper wrote:
It was while touring with The House of David that Jackie became friends with olympic champion Babe Didrikson.
Baseball Hall of Fame researcher Amanda Pinney has studied the incident and has repeatedly said that the strikeouts were real. Ruth and Gehrig had every intention of hitting the ball. Tony Lazzeri the Yankee second baseman who was on deck while Gehrig went down swinging confirms Pinney’s conclusions.
The kindest notice I found in the press about Jackie was from the New York Times dated April 4th. 1931: