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"
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
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
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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Harvey Frommer at:
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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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
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