At some point in everyones life we all hear about the late great baseball player, Babe Ruth, but did you know there was another athlete, a superior athlete, also nicknamed Babe? Her name was Mildred "Babe" Didrikson.
Mildred was the sixth child born in a family of seven children, four girls and three boys, named in birth order: Dora, Nancy, Ole, the twins Lillie and Louis, Mildred and Arthur. When she was four-years old the family had to move from Port Arthur, Texas because of all the flooding that area gets, to Beaumont, Texas, not that far away from Port Arthur but less prone to flooding! It was in Beaumont that she exhibited all the behaviors that got her called a tomboy, she was slim but muscular and well coordinated. She shunned all the frilly frou-frou things that her sisters liked and took to sports like a duck to water. It was when she was playing in a baseball game as a child that she was given the nickname "Babe" because she hit 5 home runs in one game. The moniker stuck all her life.
Not only could she play baseball but while going to Beaumont High School she also excelled at volleyball, tennis, basketball and swimming. Unfortunately her classmates found her more than a bit odd as she cared more for sports than she did any of their types of activities, and as for her success as a student, well.....let's say the only reason she studied was so she could continue playing school sports. And play them she did. Her favorite sport at the time was basketball which was the most popular woman's sport in that era. The Beaumont High School team never lost a game as long as Babe was playing. It was during this time that the head of an insurance company caught her play and recruited her to play basketball for his company's team, the Golden Cyclones in Dallas.
So, Babe quit high school in her junior year and became a stenographer for the Casualty Insurance Company. With Babe on the team the Golden Cyclones went on to win the 1931 National Championship. While in Dallas Babe turned her sights on baseball, softball to be exact attaining a .400 batting average in the Dallas city league. But more and more her heart turned to her first love; track and field and like most others sports Babe excelled at this one including going to the Olympics in 1932 competing in three events, specifically, the 80 meter hurdles - 11.7 seconds, the javelin throw - 143' 4" and the high jump - 5' 5". She came away with two gold medals and one silver, she set one world's record and was the co-holder of two others.
After her success at the Olympics Babe was no longer considered an amateur athlete so she turned professional in 1932 and in an effort to make a living as a professional athlete she did some vaudeville performing some athletic feats and playing her harmonica. It was on March 20, 1934 that Babe pitched one inning for the Philadelphia Athletics against the Brooklyn Dodgers allowing one walk and no hits. But the sport in which Babe really excelled was Golf.
At the urging of sportswriter Grantland Rice, Babe took lessons and continued to practice until her hands bled. It paid off. In total Babe won 82 professional and amateur golf tournaments. Babe played in the PGA against the men long before Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley, and Michelle Wie. She shot an 81 and an 84, missing the cut. During the tournament she was paired with George Zaharias whom she later married.
Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias was named "Female Athlete of the year" six times, and as "Greatest Female Athlete of the First Half of the Century". She was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Women's Golf in 1950. She received the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in 1957 for distinguished sportsmanship in golf and was one of six initial inductees into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1977.
As Grantland Rice, the sportswriter who encouraged Babe to take up golf once said, "She is beyond all belief until you see her perform...Then you finally understand that you are looking at the most flawless section of muscle harmony, of complete mental and physical coordination, the world of sport has ever seen."
*In July of 2008, she was voted Best Woman Athlete for the Millennium.