The two Babes ruled the century.

Larger than life in their own day, their deeds and legends enduring, Babe Ruth and his namesake, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, prevailed as the top male and female in the Associated Press 100 Athletes of the Century poll released yesterday.

Michael Jordan, Jim Thorpe, Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky and Jim Brown filled the next five spots behind Ruth.

Martina Navratilova, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Billie Jean King finished far behind Didrikson, who ranked No. 9 among all athletes.

Children of the first quarter of the century, when ballplayers didn't hit homers and little girls didn't dream of sports careers, the Babes changed the world around them as they transformed themselves into nearly mythic heroes.

George Herman "Babe" Ruth started out as an ace pitcher and finished as the Sultan of Swat, widely considered the greatest player in the history of America's pastime. Along the way he exuded all the excess of his giddy, gluttonous era, guzzling beer and stuffing his face with hot dogs one moment, hitting the ball farther than anyone else the next.

Flaunting her own bodacious style, Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson pioneered a career as a full-time professional female athlete and emerged as both a star and target in the national debate over the modern working woman. (Complete list on Scoreboard, D16)

Courts

Not What the Doctor Ordered

A woman who won a chance to catch footballs in Dr Pepper's "Pepper Punt Payoff" at last year's Big 12 championship game is suing the soda maker, alleging the balls were uncatchable.

Marlene Hoffman has filed suit in state district court in Texas asking that the Dr Pepper Company pay $1 million, because footballs she was supposed to catch as part of the contest during halftime of the Texas A&M and Kansas State game fell short of the 50-yard line.

Soccer

Matthaeus Staying Until March

The New York/New Jersey MetroStars and Bayern Munich apparently have reached an agreement allowing Lothar Matthaeus to stay with the German club until March. The defender-midfielder, 38, expected to be the MetroStars' new star for the coming season, will join the MLS team March 10. He was scheduled to arrive Feb. 20 but instead will help his injury-plagued German club in some European matches.

Boxing

Ayala Jr. Wins

In San Antonio, Tony Ayala Jr. got some needed rounds and also satisfied his fans by stopping Tony Menefee in the eighth round for his third straight victory since he was released from prison in April.

Fighting at 161 1/2 pounds, Ayala, 36, who spent 16 years in prison on a rape conviction, dominated the fight from the opening bell, but was unable to put Menefee down until just before the bell ending the seventh round.

Golf

Nicklaus, Watson Advance

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson beat Allen Doyle and Dana Quigley, 5 and 4, in the first round of the Diners Club matches in Newport Beach, Calif. Nicklaus birdied the first three holes, added another birdie on the seventh and holed a 36-foot eagle putt on the par-5 eighth on the seaside Pelican Hill course.

Swimming

Klim Breaks Own Mark

Australian Michael Klim broke his second 100-meter butterfly world record in three days in Canberra, Australia. Klim, the world champion, lowered his own mark to 52.03 seconds Friday and then beat it with 51.81 yesterday.