Ninety years ago, the baseball world was stunned as an 18-year female pitcher named Virne Beatrice “Jackie” Mitchell of Chattanooga signed a minor league contract with the hometown Lookouts. Several days later, Ms. Mitchell took to the mound for an April 2 preseason game against the New York Yankees, striking out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. With her exploits reported the next day in newspapers across the United States, Jackie Mitchell became a household name.
Ms. Mitchell’s story is detailed in a new book by women’s baseball historian John Kovach, Jackie Mitchell: The Girl Who Loved Baseball. It is the most complete look at the life and career of Ms. Mitchell. The book is published by Waldenhouse Publishing of Signal Mountain.
Review for Jackie Mitchell: The Girl Who Loved Baseball:
As a young girl, Jackie and her family lived in Memphis. The family reportedly lived close to then minor league Memphis Chicks pitcher (and future Baseball Hall of Famer) Arthur Charles “Dazzy” Vance. It was Vance who taught a young Jackie to throw a baseball.
While previous books about Ms. Mitchell center around her appearance against the Yankees, readers will learn a number of new things about Ms. Mitchell, both on and off the baseball field. Some of those things include:
Playing for her first organized team, the Engelettes in 1930
Pitching for or against teams from eight different minor leagues
The only female pitcher to hold two major league teams scoreless
A first-ever, year-by-year record of Jackie’s pitching career
Jackie’s challenge to Babe Didrikson to pitch against her
Career saw her pitch in 14 different states
According to popular culture, the possibility that she would soon be a starting member of the Lookouts pitching staff was dashed when Baseball Commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis reportedly banned females from playing professional baseball after her appearance. There is no written evidence of a ban by Mr. Landis according to Mr. Kovach. Following the game in Chattanooga, many of the teams she would play for would state that her contract was “on loan” to their club from the Lookouts.
As a female athlete in the 1930s, Ms. Mitchell played both baseball and basketball. Through her basketball playing, Ms. Mitchell encountered the legendary Mildred “Babe” Didrikson, playing on her “All American’s Basketball Team” as well as the “Stars of The World”, managed by Grover Cleveland Alexander.
Mr. Kovach creates a unique chapter from interviews with Ms. Mitchell between 1931-33. Readers will again hear her in her own words tell what it was like to face Ruth and Gehrig; her love of baseball as well as what it was like to play on the bearded House of David team.
The book also touches upon the post-athletic life of Ms. Mitchell until her death in 1987. Readers will learn about the deaths of her mother, father and younger sister as well as her brief marriage to Eugene A Gilbert.
Author John Kovach, a former resident of Memphis, has spent more than 30 years as a history professional and is currently the executive director for the St. Lawrence County Historical Association in Canton, N.Y. He has served as a curator, education director and executive director of three museums. Mr. Kovach spent 20 years as the archivist at Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, In. and during that time he was the county historian for St. Joseph County, Indiana for a record 16 years.
In 2007, he curated a major traveling museum exhibition titled: Linedrives and Lipstick: The Story of Girls and Women In Baseball. This exhibit travelled for nearly eight years and was hosted by museums, historical societies and other venues from all across the United States. Mr. Kovach continues to create numerous exhibitions on the history of girls and women in baseball as well as giving presentations both nationally and internationally on the subject. He has authored four baseball books, including: From Goosepasture To Greenstockings, Benders! Tales of South Bend Baseball Past, Baseball In South Bend (IN) and Women’s Baseball.
Mr. Kovach is also an activist, helping to create more on the field participation for girls and women who want to play and coach baseball. He helped co-author “The Differences between Baseball and Softball Position Paper” for the Women's Sports Foundation and is consulted on a regular basis by parents, players and attorneys on this subject.
He has been a recipient of numerous awards for his advocacy including the Eastern Women’s Baseball Conferences', #10 Award. He is the National Women’s Baseball Hall of Fames’ only three-time Manager of the Year selection. Mr. Kovach has also been a baseball coach for over 45 years, leading teams from youth through collegiate to elite level.
All three of his daughters played baseball for him. For 20 of those years (1996-2015), he served as organizer and manager of the Blue Sox women's baseball team. Mr. Kovach is a member of the Society For American Baseball Research and former chairperson of its Women In Baseball Committee; the American Baseball Coaches Association and the National Women’s Baseball Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is also a member of the Small Museum Association. Mr. Kovach has also served as an At-Large Board Member for the US National Committee For UN Women’s Chicago Chapter.