When will a Woman Sign with a Major League Team?

You probably have never heard of a young woman named Mo’Ne Davis. If you tune into the Little League World Series beginning Thursday, August 14, she will be a central figure. Mo’Ne is a 13-year-old from Philadelphia who pitches for the Taney Dragons of Philadelphia. Mo’Ne pitched a three-hitter on Sunday, August 10, to lead Taney Youth Baseball Association Little League to an 8-0 victory over a team from Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship game. She will become only the 17th girl to play in the Little League World Series in its 68 year history. In pitching her shutout, her fastball was clocked at 70 mph and she showed a great curveball. She will be joined by Emma March of the Canadian  Champions making this the third time that two girls will play in the same Little League World Series.

Reading about Mo’Ne recalls to me the first woman who made baseball headlines. Her name was Jackie Mitchell, a left-handed 5’8”pitcher. Jackie got her training from a neighbor, Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance, who taught her how to throw a curveball at the tender age of 6. At the age of 16 while performing for an all-girls team in Chattanooga, TN, her curveball was noticed by the owner of the AA  Chattanooga Lookouts, who signed her to a contract on March 28, 1931. In an exhibition game on April 2, the Yankees faced the Lookouts and Jackie Mitchell replaced the starting pitcher. The first two batters she was to face were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In front of a crowd of about four thousand, she calmly struck out Ruth and Gehrig in succession. The fans were shocked to see both sluggers strike out, failing to connect on a single pitch. Pictures follow.

After the game Ruth said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? They are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.” A few days later in an attempt to soothe Ruth’s ego, baseball’s first commissioner Keneshaw Landis claimed the game of baseball was too strenuous for a woman and voided her contract with the Lookouts. Jackie then continued pitching for a traveling men’s team called The House of David. Jackie retired from baseball in 1937 at the age of 23. She declined playing in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, formed in 1943. In 1952, Major League Baseball formally banned the signing of a woman to a baseball contract. This ban was lifted in 1992. However, post 1992 no woman has signed with a major league team or a minor league affiliate.

Ila Borders, a female pitcher for South California College made a bid to be the first woman to sign with a major league team. At the age of 19, she was the first woman to hurl a complete game in men’s college baseball. Despite having an impressive screwball and other off-speed pitches, all 28 teams passed on her in the 1997 draft. She pitched in various independent men’s leagues. In 1999 with the independent Madison Black Wolf she finished with an ERA of 1.67. Despite her success in 1999 no major league team ever contacted her. After four years of pitching, she retired. People who saw her pitch believed she was not good enough for the majors but was good enough to pitch in A or AA ball.

Many players are signed just to fill a minor league team roster with no expectation of them ever making the majors. Would it have hurt a team to sign her for $5,000?  I am sure the attendance would have spiked every time she pitched. Clearly, a team would have profited by signing her. If baseball is serious about inclusive to all, a major league team must step up and sign a deserving woman.

Maybe someday Mo’Ne Davis will follow in the footsteps of such MLB players as Dwight Gooden, Jason Marquis, Gary Sheffield, and Jason Varitek who all appeared in both a Little League World Series and a MLB World Series.


Mo”ne Davis and her friend, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson,
who played in the Negro Leagues
Charles Fox/Staff Photographer for The Assiciated Press

Mo"ne Davis and her friend, Mamie "Peanut" Johnson


Jackie Mitchell
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics / Getty Images

Jackie Mitchell


Jackie Mitchell Shakes Hands with Babe Ruth
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics / Getty Images

Jackie Mitchell Shakes Hands with Babe RuthJackie Mitchell Shakes Hands with Babe Ruth

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