Which ‘Babe’ was the greatest?

BABE DIDRICKSON, arguably the greatest athlete in history (Wikipedia).

Much attention is focused these days on Shohei Ohtani, the two-way star for the Los Angeles Angels (for the time-being, anyway) who excels at the highest levels of major league baseball as a hitter and pitcher. He’s also a pretty fair baserunner as well.

Folks marvel at the anomaly of someone who can do two seemingly different things so very well. He’s been compared to Babe Ruth, and rightly so.

But neither Shohei nor the baseball Babe can compare to the “other” Babe, who can arguably be called the greatest athlete of all time.

Born Mildred Didrickson, she took on the nickname “Babe” in part because of her prowess in sports at a young age.

She excelled at every sport in which she competed, which was most of them. She played basketball, baseball, hockey and even boxed. Babe was a star of the 1932 Olympics, winning gold medals in the javelin throw and 80-meter hurdles (both world records) and a silver in the high jump.

Babe likely would have won a couple of more medals, except that the rules at the time limited women to just three Olympic events.

She is best-remembered for her prowess in women’s golf. She won a reported 82 tournaments, including 14 in a row at one time. Not content to dominate at the amateur level, she and fellow golfer Patty Berg founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

In addition to being – arguably – the most outstanding  athlete of her time, she was – in the words of biographer Dr. Susan Cayleff – a “character.” She sometimes clowned for the camera and preceded Muhammed Ali by calling herself “The Greatest.”

In a matter that echoed current controversies about trans athletes, some sports writers speculated that she was a man dressed as a woman, or perhaps something more exotic.

“What bathroom should she use?” wrote one scribe. “Mister, miss or it?” 

She would marry a professional wrestler named George Zacharias and become Babe Didrickson Zacharias, the bane of headline writers.

Her legend was too short; she was diagnosed with cancer in 1953 and died three years later. By the modern generation she is forgotten, but her name and deeds need to be recalled in any discussion of superstars with dazzling versatility.

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