Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Not all baseball, but enough to warrant her inclusion.
Babe Didrikson may have been the finest all-around athlete of the 20th century. Her achievements would land her in the LPGA, PGA, National Track and Field and International Women’s Sports Hall of Fames. She was also inducted into the Helms Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame for basketball and various home state galleries. Among her awards, Babe was an All-American in basketball and was named six times as the Associated Press’ Female Athlete of the Year.
Young Mildred was the terror of her neighborhood, competing in any form of athletic competition, preferably against males. She even sparred, and won, with the boys if they said something she didn’t like. Soon, her athletic exploits gained her fame throughout her home state, Texas. By the end of 1932, the entire nation would know her name.
At the National AAU Championships that year, a tryout for the Olympics, she entered eight of the ten events. She won six of them and set four world records. The competition was set up as a team tournament. Babe, as a team by herself, accrued 30 points. The next closest group amassed only 22. A legend was born.
At the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles Babe entered three events and won two gold and one silver medal, setting two world records along the way. Specifically, she set world records with an 11.7-second 80-meter hurdle and a 143’4” javelin toss. In the high jump she tied fellow American Jean Shiley at 5’ 5.25” to set a world record. However, a committee ruled that her style was illegal and disallowed her gold medal.
After gaining Olympic glory, Babe displayed her talents in numerous exhibitions in an array of fields to earn a buck. For one, she began pitching with barnstorming male teams. In New Orleans Didrikson pitched a spring training game for the Philadelphia Athletics against the Cleveland Indians in 1934. She also pitched other exhibition games with the Indians and St. Louis Cardinals and toured with the House of David barnstormers.
Her traveling Babe Didrikson All American basketball squad at one time suited up against the Harlem Globetrotters.
Ultimately, Babe gravitated to golf since little else offered a payday for women. With her business manager she co-founded the LPGA. The following were her golf highlights:
- Won 31 LPGA tournaments
- Won 82 tournaments, amateur and professional, in an 18-year career
- Won 13 tournaments in a row, 16 of 17 in 1946-47
- Won 12 majors
3 Titleholders, 4 Western Opens, 3 U.S. Opens, a British & U.S. Amateur
- Money leader first two years of LPGA tour, 1950-51.
In 1945 she became the last woman of the century to play on the PGA Tour when she teed it up at the Los Angeles Open.
The will of her character and drive to excel can best be described in her battle with cancer. After having cancer surgery and wearing a colostomy bag in 1953, Babe recovered to win 7 tournaments. She died September 27, 1956 at age 45.
Muhammad Ali, among others would echo her flair for the spotlight and zealous self-promotion.