The 1940s Sports: Headline Makers
The 1940s Sports: Headline MakersEddie Arcaro
Patricia "Patty" Berg
Felix "Doc" Blanchard
Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias
Eddie Arcaro (1916–1997) Fourteen-year-old Eddie Arcaro quit school to ride racehorses. He went on to become one of horse racing's most successful jockeys, winning the Triple Crown twice, and winning over four thousand victories by 1958. In 1941, he rode Whirlaway to victory in the Kentucky Derby and went on to win the Triple Crown. In 1946, he collected more than $1 million in winnings, the most money ever won by a single jockey in a year. Yet Arcaro always praised his horses. "You seldom hear of a jockey getting into a slump riding good horses," he said.
Patricia "Patty" Berg (1918–) A childhood athlete, Patricia "Patty" Berg was one of the leading woman golfers from the 1940s to the 1960s. She began playing tournaments while a student at the University of Minnesota in the late 1930s. She won forty amateur titles before signing a sponsorship deal with Wilson Sporting Goods Company of Chicago in 1940. In the 1940s, she won the Women's Western Open title three times, and the first U.S. Women's National Open in 1946. By 1981, when she stopped competing, she had eighty-three pro tournament victories to her name.
Felix "Doc" Blanchard (1924–) Between 1944 and 1946, Felix "Doc" Blanchard and his fellow running back Glenn Davis (1925–) led the Army football team to twenty-seven victories, including national titles in 1944 and 1945. Together, Blanchard and Davis brought brute strength and blinding speed to the team's backfield. In 1945, Blanchard became the first junior to win the Heisman Trophy, which is annually awarded to the nation's best football player. He was the first football player to win the James Sullivan Award as the best amateur athlete, and the first person to win both awards. He remained in the Army Air Corps as a pilot for the next twenty-five years.
Joe DiMaggio (1914–1999) Joe DiMaggio is one of the most revered figures in American sport. Playing for the New York Yankees, he won three Most Valuable Player awards, while his 1941 hitting streak of fifty-six games fascinated the nation. With a career batting average of .325 and a total of 361 home runs, DiMaggio was a superb athlete. The son of Italian immigrants, six-foot-two-inch "Joltin' Joe" was the American League's first $100,000-a-year player. He retired in 1952, turning down another $100,000 contract, saying: "When baseball is no longer fun, it's no longer a game." DiMaggio entered baseball's Hall of Fame in 1955.
Joe Louis (1914–1981) On June 22, 1937, Joe Louis knocked out heavyweight James J. Braddock (1905–1974) to become the youngest heavyweight boxing champion in history. Louis was the first black champ in more than twenty years. He successfully defended his title a record twenty-five consecutive times, retiring unbeaten in 1938. During that time, radio broadcasts of his contests attracted fifty million listeners. When he died, Louis lay in state at Caesar's Palace Sports Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. His body was flown aboard Air Force One to Washington, D.C., where he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Larry MacPhail (1890–1975) As a baseball team owner, Larry MacPhail thought he should attract paying fans and put on a show for them. Between 1934 and 1937, he made a financial and sporting success of the struggling Cincinnati Reds. After buying the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938, he promoted every game as a grudge match to attract fans. After the war, he moved on to the New York Yankees. After the Yankees won the World Series in 1947, MacPhail punched a sportswriter and promptly sold his interest in the team. He attributed his long life to leaving baseball before the excitement killed him.
Jackie Robinson (1919–1972) A remarkable all-around athlete, Jackie Robinson is famous for being the first black player in major league baseball. Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey (1881–1965) deliberately hired him to end segregation in baseball. Robinson was told that Rickey wanted a black player who had the guts not to respond to racist taunts. At times, Robinson and his wife feared for their lives. In 1949, his third season with the Dodgers, he won the league's Most Valuable Player award. Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, the first year he was eligible.
Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias (1911–1956) Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias is generally thought to be the greatest female athlete who ever lived. One sportswriter said that short of winning the Kentucky Derby, there was nothing she couldn't do. She could hit home runs and score baskets, and she was a record-breaking javelin thrower and hurdler. She was amateur and professional champion in many sports, including golf, and was named American Woman Athlete of the year in 1932. She died of cancer at the age of fifty-four.