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The Other Babe ( Mildred Didrikson Zaharias) Was Simply Awesome 

In the current Broadway revival of "Annie Get Your Gun," with that old show-stopper "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" is still bringing down the house. The Irving Berlin classic could have easily been the theme song of Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias.

The Associated Press just selected her along with George Herman "Babe" Ruth as the top female and male athlete of the century. Some may question the choice of Ruth, but there is no argument over the other "Babe."

As a teenager growing up in Texas, she declared her life's ambition, "to become the greatest athlete who ever lived." She wound up not far from that goal. The pert Texan never met a sport or game she didn't like or couldn't excel in.

Basketball, track, golf, baseball, tennis, swimming diving, boxing, handball, bowling, billiards, skating and cycling were all sports she could compete in and excel in.

Someone asked her if there was anything she didn't play, and her quick quip was "Yeah, dolls."

There are those who claim that Babe Didrikson once put in 99 points in a high school basketball game. There are those who claim that she shot 91 the first day she swung a golf club. There are those who claim that she bowled a 193 after just five minutes of instruction.  All of those claims are, of course, untrue. But they underscore the mystique and legend of this incredibly gifted athlete who shunned convention and was as tough a competitor as American sport has ever produced.

Growing up as a Texas tomboy in the 1920's, she fought hard to make her mark in the male dominated world of athletics. As a young woman, she didn't wear jewelry or makeup. She didn't own a pair of stockings or a girdle. She ignored feminine conventions and sometimes had to pay the price. Famed (and by today's standards sexist) sportswriter Paul Gallico once wondered out loud if "Babe should be addressed as Miss, Mrs., Mr., or It."

Arriving at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, "the Texas Tornado" stirred things up by announcing that she would beat everyone in sight. For good measure, she added, "I can do anything." That she could.

The Babe qualified for five of the six scheduled women's events, but a strange ruling by the Olympic Committee restricted competition by women to only three events. She won a gold medal in the javelin, setting an Olympic record. She won a gold medal in the 80-meter hurdles, shattering the world record. In the high jump competition, she jumped higher than everyone else but had to settle for a silver medal. The judges, in their wisdom, decided that her headfirst, Western roll style did not quite conform to tradition.

There were many things that Didrikson did which did not quite conform to tradition. But, after all, she was a great female athlete battling to succeed in a male dominated sports universe.

Attempting to capitalize on her Olympic fame, she took part in a bizarre vaudeville act, all decked out in a red, white, and blue track suit. She ran a treadmill, smacked plastic golf balls out into the audience, and played the harmonica. She also took part in a barnstorming season with the House of David, an all-Jewish traveling baseball team

The first American Olympic heroine, this daughter of Norwegian immigrants once remarked, "I'd break all the records if they'd only let me." "The Other Babe" may not have broken all the records, but she remains the only athlete to excel as a professional in five different sports.

She had Game!

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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