Babe Didrikson: American Legend
Babe Didrikson was an American athlete who excelled in track and field as well as basketball, baseball, and golf. During the 1932 Summer Olympic Games, she won two track and field gold medals. Didrikson became a professional golfer and won 10 PGA major championships. She holds the world record for the farthest baseball ever thrown by a woman.
The Early Years of Babe Didrikson
On June 26, 1911, Mildred Ella Didrikson Zaharias was born in Port Arthur, Texas. Her father's name was Ole Didriksen and her mother's name was Hannah. They were both immigrants from Norway. When she was the age of four, her family moved to Beaumont Texas. Didrikson said that she once hit five home runs during a childhood baseball game. Her fellow players then gave her the nickname of “Babe” after Babe Ruth.
Didrikson had many talents including sewing. She enjoyed making most of her clothes. In 1931, she won a sewing championship at a Texas State Fair in Dallas. Didrikson attended Beaumont High School. She was not a good student. Didrikson had to repeat the eighth grade and was a year older than the other students in her class. She dropped out of high school and then moved to Dallas to play basketball.
During this time, she was recognized for her musical talent. Didrikson could sing and play the harmonica. She recorded many songs for the Mercury Record label. Her most popular record had the song "I Felt a Little Teardrop" on one side and on the flip side was the song “Detour.”
Her first job after leaving high school was with the Employers' Casualty Insurance Company of Dallas. She was a secretary. The reality of the situation was that Didrikson's was being paid to play basketball for the company's industrial team called the Golden Cyclones. The team was part of a league governed by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Didrikson led the team to an AAU Basketball Championship.
The next year she represented the company in AAU track and field championships. Didrikson competed in eight events. She tied for first in three of the events. Didrikson won five of the events outright. Didrikson won the team championship, despite the fact she was the only member of the team.
During the 1932 Summer Olympics, Didrikson set four world records. She won two gold medals as well as a silver medal in track and field events. In her opening heat, she tied the world record. In the final heat, she broke the record and won the gold medal. She won a gold medal in the javelin event setting a new record for her throw.
She set a new world record in the high jump and won the silver medal. Didrikson is the only track and field athlete to be awarded individual Olympic medals in jumping, running, and throwing events.
After the Olympics
During the years after her success in the Olympic Games, Didrikson performed on the vaudeville circuit. She traveled with teams like the Bearded House of David team as well as Babe Didrikson's All-American basketball team. Didrikson also became a competitive pocket billiard player. She lost a straight pool match that lasted for several days in New York. Didrikson played against the well-known pool champion Ruth McGinnis.
Didrikson pitched one inning during a major league baseball exhibition game on March 20, 1934. She played for the Philadelphia Athletics and pitched against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Didrikson only gave up one walk and no hits. On March 22, 1934, She pitched in another major league baseball exhibition game for the St. Louis Cardinals. They were playing the Boston Red Sox. Three runs were scored against her. On March 25, 1934, Didrikson was pitching against the Cleveland Indians as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. She pitched two scoreless innings.
Didrikson began playing golf in 1935. She was denied amateur status. In 1938, Didrikson played in the Los Angeles Open. This was a PGA (Professional Golfers' Association) tournament. No other women were able to compete against the men. Her team member was George Zaharias.
On December 23, 1938, Babe Didrikson married George Zaharias. He was a professional wrestler. This is when she started calling herself Babe Didrikson Zaharias. The couple had no children. They were refused by authorities when they tried to adopt.
During the 1940s and early 1950s, Didrikson became the first female golf celebrity in the United States. In 1946, she won the Women's Amateur golf tournament and the 1947 British Ladies Amateur tournament. She became a dominating force in the Women's Professional Golf Association (WPGA). Didrikson attempted to be the first woman to qualify for the U.S. Open in 1948. The United States Golf Association (USGA) rejected her application. The organization stated it was an event designed to be open only to men.
In 1950, Didrikson became a founding member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). She eventually won 17 straight women's amateur golf victories. This is an accomplishment that has never been equaled. By the time 1950 came around, she had won every possible golf title. When the number of her professional and amateur victories is combined, Didrikson won 82 golf tournaments during her career.
Didrikson was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1953. In 1954, she underwent surgery and made a brief comeback. Didrikson won the Vare Trophy for having the lowest scoring average. She also won her 10th and last victory with the U.S. Women's Open Championship. Didrikson did this only a month after having surgery. While playing in the tournament, she wore a colostomy bag. This victory makes her the second oldest woman in golf to win a major LPGA championship.
Didrikson became a public advocate for cancer awareness during her final years. This was a time when many people in the United States refused to get a diagnosis or treatment when they suspected they had cancer. She used her fame to be a successful spokesperson for the American Cancer Society.
In 1955, Didrikson's colon cancer returned. She had a limited golfing schedule that year. Didrikson still won her last two competitive golf tournaments. Didrikson continued to be ranked as the top female golfer in the world. She died on September 27, 1956, of colon cancer. She was at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, Texas. Didrikson was forty-five years old. She was buried in her hometown of Beaumont, Texas at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
- ESPN named Didrikson the 10th Greatest North American Athlete of the 20th century.
- Associated Press voted her as the 9th Greatest Athlete of the 20th century.
- In 1951, she was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame.
- In 1957, she was posthumously given the Bob Jones Award. This is the highest award given by the United States Golf Association.
- In 1973, Didrikson was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame.
- In 1976 Didrikson was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
- In 1977, Didrikson was one of the six initial inductees of the LPGA Hall of Fame.
- There is a museum dedicated to Didrikson located in Beaumont, Texas.
- In 1981, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating Didrikson.
- In 2008, Didrikson was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame.
- In 2016, Didrikson was inducted into the Texas Track and Field Coaches Hall of Fame.
© 2020 Readmikenow
Readmikenow (author) on December 01, 2020:
MG, thanks. She was one of the best to ever play the game of golf.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 01, 2020:
Very interesting Mike, and well presented. I am so glad she loved Golf as that is also my love.