The Babe’s First Major League Trip to the Plate Ended in a Whiff

Mississippian made marks with two firsts

HUMANITIES, Spring 2018, Volume 39, Number 2

This glove belonged to William “Willie” Mitchell, the first professional Major League Baseball player to hail from Mississippi. In July 1914, Mitchell, a southpaw for the Cleveland Naps, hurled the first pitches that the soon-to-be legendary Babe Ruth saw in the big leagues as a nineteen-year-old rookie for the Boston Red Sox. The mighty Ruth—who was also Boston’s starting pitcher that day—struck out. Ruth got the win, though, as Boston edged Cleveland 4–3.

Mitchell, who was born near the little town of Sardis in 1889, was also the first American League player to enter the Army, missing nearly all of the 1918 season. During World War I, he served in France as a machine gunner. His final Major League appearance came with the Detroit Tigers in May 1919.

Whether Mitchell wore this glove the day he pitched to the Babe in his first at-bat is not known. A fielder’s glove from 1900 to 1909 often had a full web between the thumb and forefinger. Mitchell’s has two strips for webbing, making it neither the full web generally in use until 1909 nor the single strip, one-inch webbing widely in use from 1910 to 1915. What argues for an earlier date is the absence of lacing at the bottom of the glove, first introduced in 1915, enabling players to adjust the padding.

Mitchell died in 1973, and the following year his wife donated his glove to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The glove is now on exhibit in the “Bridging Hardship” gallery at the recently opened Museum of Mississippi History in Jackson.