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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reds Kitty Burke: First Female Batter In Major League Baseball


 Kitty Burke

Do you think Mo'ne Davis, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the first girl who pitched a shutout in the Little League World Series will be the first female Major League player? I'm a big fan, and I wish Mo'ne all the luck in the world. Keep an eye on this young lady and her baseball future.

But, did you know a woman in 1935 has already batted in a Major League game?

Well, sort of ...

In a night game at Crosley Field in Cincinnait on July 31, 1935, Kitty Burke, a local nightclub blues singer, began heckling the opposing players. That night the Cincinnati Reds were playing the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Night baseball was brand new. In fact, the first night game in Major League history had just occurred at Crosley two months earlier on May 25.

The field held 26,000 people, but the game on July 31 had been grossly oversold. As a result, more than 10,000 fans had been herded like cattle onto the field to watch from a roped-off area in foul territory that stretched from behind home plate and down the foul lines to the outfield fences.

Ms. Burke happened to be one of those very vocal fans standing within ten feet of home plate. The scene was described as "a carnival atmosphere." And, the story is just beginning for Kitty.

The Narrative

Kitty Burke, described as "a pretty young blonde in red" said she was so mad she couldn't see straight. Burke described her disgust, " What burned me was Ducky Wucky Medwick."

Kitty didn't like the the "brash" player. It seems that Medwick had scored to give the Cardinals a two-run lead over the Reds. Being an avid fan, Burke tells the account of her heated actions.

Kitty began to heckle Ducky.

"Yeah, Medwick, you can`t hit anything!" Burke yelled.

"Yeah, you can`t hit anything yourself," Medwick yelled back.

“Well, you can’t hit a lick!” Kitty shouted at him. “You couldn’t even hit the ball with an ironing board!”

Medwick fired back, “You couldn’t hit if you were swinging an elephant!”

The heckling continued until the bottom of the eighth.

Then, Kitty, still fuming mad over Medwick’s last retort, decided to take action. “Hey, babe!” she hollered at Babe Herman, who was in the on-deck circle, “Lend me your bat!”

“Go ahead,” Herman said.

So, wearing a dress and heels, Burke strode to the on-deck circle where she was able to grab Herman's bat. In fact, Herman recalled: "This blonde says to me, 'Babe, give me your bat.'" Babe gave it to her and she strode to the batter's box.

The crowd roared with laughter. Among the spectators was Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Neither he nor plate umpire Bill Stewart tried to stop the determined woman.

After taking a few practice swings, Kitty was ready to hit. Unsure what to do, pitcher Paul (Daffy) Dean just stood on the mound. He was reluctant to throw her a pitch until Burke yelled, “Hey, you hick. Throw me a pitch!” and asked him why he didn't go home and milk the cows.

By then, the crowd was in hysterics and shouting at Dean to throw the ball. Finally, Stewart yelled, “Play ball!”

Rather than fire a fastball, Dean lobbed the ball underhanded. Burke swung and hit a slow dribbler back to Dean. He fielded her tap and ran to first himself to tag the bag and record the out.

Kitty said later (of Dean's putout): "If he wanted me, he'd have to chase me."

Burke ran back into the cheering crowd and into baseball history.

St. Louis manager Frank Frisch then made a half-hearted argument that Cincinnati should be charged with an out. Of course, that suggestion was soon laughed away.

After the contest, which the Reds won 4-3 in ten innings, Babe Herman told reporters, “That’s the first time a broad ever pinch-hit for me.”

 (Eddie Deezen. "The Woman Who Batted During a Major League 
Baseball Game" todayifoundout. Vacca Foeda Media 2012)

(Harold Seymour. Baseball: The People's Game. 1991) 

("The Stories of Jackie and Kitty. The Ledger. April 28, 2002)
 

The Legacy

In what may have been a publicity stunt, Kitty Burke had become the first woman to bat in a Major League game. As you might suspect, the umpires did not count this as an official at bat or an out, as she was not on the Reds' roster.

Allegedly, the Reds later gave her a uniform which she used while performing her act. A team journal, Day by Day in Cincinnati Reds History, reported Kitty parlayed her at-bat into an act that she took on the Burlesque circuit, billing herself as the only woman to ever bat in an official Major League Game, let alone in high heels and a dress.


Babe Herman was getting ready to hit. He recalled: "This blonde says to me, 'Babe, give me your bat.' " Babe gave it to her and she strode to the batter's box. The umpire yelled "Play ball" but the Cardinals pitcher was reluctant until Kitty called him a "hick" and asked him why he didn't go home and milk the cows. The pitch was easy and Miss Burke hit it toward first base and she took off for 1st. The pitcher got the ball and was waiting for her on 1st. Kitty headed back to the stands saying later, "If he wanted me, he'd have to chase me." The out did not count despite a Cardinals protest and Babe took his regular at bat. - See more at: http://www.cincyshirts.com/index.php/cincyshirts/kitty-burke-vintage-shirt.html#sthash.2nqL7Gqf.dpuf
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