Eri Yoshida Update
2012 was a good year for Japan’s Knuckle Princess. Professional baseball’s only woman (at present) not only became the first woman to win professional games on two continents when she won a game in Japan’s Kansai Professional Baseball League last May, Eri Yoshida also returned to the United States later in the 2012 season and won four games for Na Koa Ikaika Maui of the independent-A North American Baseball League, the NABL franchise she pitched for also in 2011.
Eri went 4-6 with a 5.56 ERA for Na Koa Ikaika. While her ERA was high and her ratios were poor, Eri was hard to hit squarely, as she allowed fewer than one hit per inning pitched and allowed only two home runs over 45.1 innings pitched for the season as a whole.
Eri’s five career professional wins in North America move her past Ila Borders, who went 2-4 over her professional career between 1997 and 2000, as the winningest female pitcher in a male-dominated professional league since Mamie “Peanut” Johnson reportedly went 33-8 as a pitcher for the Negro American League Indianapolis Clowns between 1953 and 1955 (the Clowns actually hired several female players during this period, as the Negro Leagues were in their death throes following major league integration in 1947 — Negro League teams made most of their money barnstorming and needed whatever novelty acts they could get to draw in fans to their games).
Yoshida will be only 21 years old in 2013, so there’s still time for her to continue to work on perfecting her knuckleball. While I suspect that the level of play in the NABL’s North Division in 2012 was low even for an independent-A league, Eri appeared to make strides as a pitcher and suggested she has the potential to become more than a novelty.
One other former professional pitcher worth mentioning here is Jackie Mitchell. At roughly the age of 17 or 18, she was signed by the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League prior to the start of the 1931. In an exhibition game between the Lookouts and the New York Yankees played on April 2, 1931, Mitchell used her sinking curve to strike out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back.
A few days after this famous feat, baseball Comissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided Mitchell’s contract with the Lookouts on the grounds that professional baseball was too “strenuous” for women. Mitchell went on to pitch for five or six seasons with the House of David, a famous barnstorming team of the era. She eventually quit in 1937, tired of the side-show antics that came with playing for the House of David — for example, they once asked her to pitch in inning while riding a donkey.