Her story has been told for over 80 years but not everyone knows the whole story. There are bits and pieces that have been passed down and meshed into the story you think you know.
He curves were too much for them is based on the true story of Jackie Mitchell, the 18 year-old woman that signed a professional baseball contract in 1931. Her first and only appearance on the mound for the Chattanooga Lookouts was against the feared New York Yankees. On April 2nd, 1931 (the game was scheduled for April Fools Day) Jackie and the Lookouts went to battle again the Yankees in Engel Stadium. Jackie went in during the first inning. The first batter she faced was the Mighty Babe Ruth.
Jackie went on to not only strike out Babe Ruth but also Lou Gehrig. A story quickly spread that baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis got word about this unbelievable feat and voided Jackie’s contract immediately and banned all women from organized baseball. The truth is, it simply did not happen.
Landis knew all about Jackie before April 2nd and women weren’t banned from baseball until many years later.
April 2nd, 1931 wasn’t the end of Jackie’s story, nor was it the beginning. What did happen that led up to this extraordinary and historic baseball event? Was it all a gimmick orchestrated by Lookouts president and the “P.T. Barnum of the Bush Leagues” Joe Engel?
A pitcher for the New York Highlanders (now known as the Yankees) and the Cincinnati Reds over a 5-year career would be all but forgotten if his legacy depended solely on his baseball skills. The nickname “Slow” doesn’t conger up thoughts of a Hall of Fame ball player.
But Slow Joe does hold a place in the hall of the baseball card Hall of Fame, if and when such a place is ever established. You see, the American Lithograph company got their Doyles mixed-up. Slow Joe had a cross-town rival by the name of Larry Doyle, Larry played for the New York Giants (now located somewhere west of the Mississippi.)
The lithograph boys saw a photo that was tagged “Doyle” and assumed that the image had to belong to Larry Doyle since they probably never heard of Joe. So, the card of Joe was captioned: “Doyle, NY Nat’L.”
Seeing how American Lithograph was located in Manhattan, some quick-witted baseball fan (probably a fan of the Highlanders) noticed the mistake and the league designation was removed from the card caption. Since a lithography stone was already cut, it was easier and cheaper to simply remove the league and not replace it with the proper “Amer.” league designation as that would require the cutting of a new printing stone.
But, like all great baseball card mysteries, a hand-full of the error cards got out. The card did not become widely known until the early 1980s when dealer Larry Fritch advertised to buy any examples of this card.
The card today is one of the rarest cards in our hobby commanding 6-figure prices when one of the approximately 7 known does go to auction.
The rest, as they say, is history. But there is a pre-history to this error. This wasn’t the first time this same error had happened. The T206 Doyle error can only be found with a Piedmont 350 back. That means it was in the second series of cards. That would mean it was released in late 1909-early 1910. The American Lithograph would have been working on card designs in 1909.
In 1908, the Rose Company began issuing postcards featuring baseball players. Known as the PC760 set of 1908-09, the cards feature Horner Studio photographs inside a circle upon a baseball diamond. One of the more striking cards features Honus Wagner with the same photo used for his T206 card. There is also a card of Eddie Plank that uses his T206 photo.
It is assumed that when the Rose Company began compiling their checklist, the Doyle they would use was to be that of Larry and not of Joe. They apparently received the Horner Studio photo of Joe, the same photo that would be used to create his now famous T206 card. It could even be possible that the Horner Studio had the photo tagged wrong, causing all the confusion for the less knowledgeable person.
Whatever the reason, the Rose postcard featuring the photo of Slow Joe Doyle is captioned: “DOYLE New York N. L.”
There is not another Rose postcard in the set picturing Larry Doyle.