Babe Didrikson

The day a woman pitched for the Gashouse Gang

On March 22, 1934, less than seven months before they won the World Series, the Cardinals sent female Olympian Babe Didrickson to the mound to face the Boston Red Sox.

Two years earlier, Didrickson had qualified for five Olympic events, but rules at the time allowed female athletes to compete in just three events. At the Games, she won gold in the 80-meter hurdles and javelin (setting world records in both events) and won silver in the high jump. In qualifying, she also set a women’s record in the baseball throw.[1]

In the wake of her Olympic success, Didrikson toured with a basketball team called Babe Didrikson’s All-Americans. She then turned to baseball, training with Cardinals pitcher Burleigh Grimes in Hot Springs, Arkansas. There, she learned to throw a curveball, then traveled to Florida to pitch in the first inning at a couple of spring training games.

In promoting Didrikson’s appearance, Grimes declared that if she were a boy, she would be one of baseball’s top prospects. Instead, as a female athlete, Didrikson was the wonder of the athletic world.[2]

On March 20, Didrikson threw a scoreless inning in a spring training contest with the help of a triple play. Pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics against the Brooklyn Dodgers, she opened the inning by walking Danny Taylor on a full-count pitch, then hitting Johnny Frederick. Didrikson got out of the jam when she threw a curveball to Joe Stripp and he lined the ball to shortstop Dib Williams. Williams threw to second to double up Taylor and second baseman Rabbit Warstler threw to first base to catch Frederick off the bag.[3]

Two days later, Didrikson was on the mound for the Cardinals. This time, she wasn’t as successful, allowing three runs on four hits. Nonetheless, news accounts of the day pointed to a questionable call by the home-plate umpire that may have extended the inning.

“The Babe pitched only one round and deserved a better fate than she received as a hit followed what could have been a called third strike and the third out,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.[4]

“But for a questionable decision by the umpire, (Didrikson) would have escaped with a shutout,” the St. Louis Star and Times added.[5]

After recording the first out of the game, Didrikson allowed consecutive singles to Bill Cissell and Ed Morgan. Roy Johnson then grounded into a force-out at second, and Didrikson appeared primed to complete a scoreless inning. However, a curveball that appeared to be the third strike was instead called a ball. Taking advantage of the extra opportunity, Red Sox outfielder Moose Solters hit a two-run double, then scored on an RBI single by Rick Ferrell.[6]

If Didrikson was concerned about taking her first career loss, she didn’t have to worry long, as the Cardinals tied the score in the bottom of the first as Ripper Collins drew a bases-loaded walk and catcher Virgil Davis followed with a two-run single. An inning later, Joe Medwick hit a two-run single and Collins singled to drive another run home and give St. Louis a 6-3 lead.[7]

After the Cardinals scored another run in the fourth on Davis’s RBI single, the Red Sox rallied for four runs in the fifth inning to tie the score. The Cardinals answered in the sixth, however, when Red Sox outfielder Dusty Cooke misplayed a fly ball and allowed two runs to score.[8]

Dizzy Dean threw the final four innings to earn the win for the Cardinals, striking out four batters without allowing a hit.[9]

Led by Dean and his younger brother Paul Dean, the Cardinals went on to win the World Series that year, earning the moniker the “Gashouse Gang” for their colorful personalities and their no-holds-barred playing style. As if to prove how adventurous baseball could be in those days, this was the last paragraph of the Globe-Democrat’s story regarding Didrikson’s spring training game:

Scout Charley Barrett returned today from Havana, where he signed up three Cuban players and narrowly escaped with his life. Soldiers engaged in a little target practice while he was walking down the street last Monday night. The veteran ivory hunter dropped to the street while the shooting was going on. Two persons were killed during the fusillade.[10]

Didrikson’s athletic exploits soon took her to golf, where she drew her greatest fame. In 1938, she played in the Professional Golfers’ Association Los Angeles Open against men. In the 1940s, she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur and British Ladies Amateur tournaments and dominated both the Women’s Professional Golf Association and the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), which she helped found. Between her amateur and professional victories, she won a total of 82 tournaments over her golfing career. She was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame in its inaugural class and the Associated Press named her its female athlete of the first half of the 20th century in 1950. Forty-nine years later, it followed up and named her the female athlete of the entire 20th century in 1999.

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[1] Larry Schwartz, “Didrikson was a woman ahead of her time,” ESPN,

[2] “Grimes Believes Babe One Wonder Of Sports World,” Waco News-Tribune, March 15, 1934.

[3] “Didrikson Baffles Dodgers For Inning,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 21, 1934.

[4] “Cardinals Corral 13 Hits and Hand Red Sox 9-to-7 Walloping,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 23, 1934.

[5] “Frisch Plans To Extend Hurlers In Future Games,” St. Louis Star and Times, March 23, 1934.

[6] “Cardinals Corral 13 Hits and Hand Red Sox 9-to-7 Walloping,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 23, 1934.

[7] “Cardinals Corral 13 Hits and Hand Red Sox 9-to-7 Walloping,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 23, 1934.

[8] “Cardinals Corral 13 Hits and Hand Red Sox 9-to-7 Walloping,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 23, 1934.

[9] “Cardinals Corral 13 Hits and Hand Red Sox 9-to-7 Walloping,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 23, 1934.

[10] “Cardinals Corral 13 Hits and Hand Red Sox 9-to-7 Walloping,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 23, 1934.