The Indians Got the Babe in 1934 Spring Training
Vince Guerrieri | On 29, Mar 2017
In spring training 1934, the Indians got the Babe in the lineup – and even on the pitching mound.
No, not that one.
Babe Didrikson, the Texas native two years removed from a pair of Olympic track gold medals, was looking for her next world to conquer. She was going to tour that summer with the House of David barnstorming team, and was trying to round into playing shape.
After getting some pointers from Burleigh Grimes, holding on for what turned out to be his last season in the majors, she was ready to make the rounds of major league spring training camps. And were it not for the weather, her first appearance would have been for the Indians.
Didrikson was scheduled to pitch for the Indians on March 18 in spring training in New Orleans, but a downpour dulled the large crowd expected. Instead, she would pitch the following Sunday for the Tribe.
In the meantime, she made her debut March 20, 1934, pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics against the Dodgers. She only had one inning of work, but she made the most of it, inducing Brooklyn to hit into a triple play.
Finally, on March 25, she pitched for the Indians in a split-squad game against the minor league New Orleans Pelicans. The other half of the team played against the Kansas City Blues. Didrikson “looked as if she had been playing baseball in fast company all her life,” Gordon Cobbledick wrote in the next day’s Plain Dealer, throwing two scoreless innings and slicing a line drive for a hit.
Didrikson got almost as much attention as the Indians pitcher who took the loss against the Blues, “a broken-down from Maryland.” It was Walter Johnson, whose playing career ended in 1927, but was in his second season as Indians manager.
The next day, Didrikson pitched for the Cardinals in Bradenton, Florida., who figured her out. Leadoff hitter Max Bishop told his teammates, “She doesn’t pitch as fast as she runs.” The Red Sox tagged her for three runs on six hits, prompting Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch to say, “A woman’s place is in or around the home. I’m glad to give this dame a lift, but there’s such a thing as carrying a thing too far.” Frisch, of course, went on to broadcasting, where he told stories of how players were better in his day, and devalued the Veterans Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame by getting his former teammates inducted regardless of qualifications.
Didrikson’s place, as it turned out, was on the golf course. She had played the game in high school in Texas, and returned to the game in 1933. Two years later, she won the Texas Women’s Amateur, but was denied amateur status – then more valued than being a pro (the men’s Grand Slam at the time was the U.S. and British opens and the U.S. and British amateurs) – because she had competed professionally in other sports. Undaunted, she entered the Los Angeles Open in 1938, becoming the last woman to compete against men in a golf tournament for more than 60 years.
She dominated the women’s golf circuit and was instrumental in the founding of the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association. In 1950, she was named the female athlete of the half-century (in 1999, she was named the woman athlete of the century). In 1956, three years after being diagnosed, she died of cancer.
Photo: Times Wide World Photo