Controversy surrounding Babe Ruth’s heritage remains a hot topic. But is anyone listening?
A 2001 editorial by columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, asked the proverbial question “Could It Be True The Babe Was Black?" Babe of course is the Sultan of Swat, the Colossus of Clout known as George Herman Ruth. Page wrote the commentary in response to an editorial by the sports columnist of Gotham magazine, Spike Lee. Yep, the same Spike Lee who directed “Malcolm X," “Do The Right Thing’" and other socially-conscious films.
In his editorial Lee asked “Was Babe Ruth Black?" A small plethora of African-Americans say yes, based solely on the Yankee Clipper’s physical appearance. Stocky, with full lips, wide nose and olive complexion, they maintain this is proof Ruth’s blood line was not 100% European. But should features be the dominant factor in determining an individual’s heritage? Not according to David Bodkin, author of “Race, Genes and Other Scientific Mazes."
Bodkin maintains, physical features are not an adequate basis in establishing racial identity, and noted that other elements must be taken into account. “All of us know someone who has Caucasian features, yet insist they’re Black and vice-versa, “ he says. “With today’s technological advances, scientists rely more on genetics than features to determine who’s Black and who’s White." Does that mean the Babe’s nose was just that, big, and not an indication that he was Black? Probably. But what about those lips? What about them? Are we (African-Americans) so arrogant as to think that we have a monopoly on luscious labiums? Get real.
Further proof of Ruth’s “Blackness" is enhanced by theorists, who say his choice in women is confirmation of his heredity. They argue that the Great Bambino reportedly liked women of color. Gee, so did Southern White males in the pre Civil Rights era. But that didn’t stop them from donning KKK attire or denying Blacks their constitutional rights. Now for those who still insist the Babe was Black, how about this interesting tidbit. Babe Ruth was of IRISH-GERMAN DESCENT. Oops, I guess that squelches all those rumors, right? Maybe not.
And speaking of looking Black, have you ever saw photos of actor Humphrey Bogart? What about the NBA’s Jason Williams? With his shaved head and full lips, Williams, a point guard for the Miami Heat could easily be mistaken for a brother. And don’t forget his nickname “White Chocolate." These guys could easily pass for Black in some circles, but have you read any commentaries asking “Could it Be True Jason Williams is Black?" Oh yea, another guy with a big nose was comedian Jimmy Durante? Now you know Jimmy wasn’t a brother by any stretch of the imagination. What about that Spike, care to write a piece on Durante? If you’re looking for a title, I have one that’s perfect. How about “Durante: The Soula With The Big Mazola?"
In reading Page’s commentary, I am inclined to ask why African-Americans would want to claim Ruth as one of their own, in view of reports he allegedly hated minorities, and often used the N word in referring to Blacks. Ironically, Ruth himself was confronted with the N word by another baseball “legend," Ty Cobb. Known in baseball circles as a racist, Cobb was not afraid to share his bigoted views with anyone, not even the Babe.
The late Fred Lieb, writer and author of Baseball As I Have Known It, recalled an incident which confirmed Cobb’s disdain for Blacks. According to Lieb, Cobb was asked to share a cabin with Ruth at a Georgia hunting lodge, but he refused saying "I've never bedded down with a n----- and I'm not going to start now." Now you would think an incident of this nature, would have produced a hostile relationship between the two men. However, instead of becoming enemies, Cobb and Ruth went on to become friends, even spending time with each other following their retirement. Go figure!
Unfortunately for Ruth, his features were also a source of mockery for sports writers of that era. Paul Gallico, journalist and founder of the Golden Gloves Amateur Boxing Competition, once referred to him as “gross," and “ugly." Gallico’s statements according to many, reflected the animosity Whites felt toward Blacks in the Roaring Twenties. Does this prove beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the Behemoth of Swing had black genes surging through his veins? Not necessarily.
In summarizing this dispute, my opinion is modestly simple. With hundreds of Black athletes to choose from, I am puzzled as to why we are still debating Babe Ruth’s heritage,57 years after his death. The bottom line is, why waste time writing about a man who may have looked Black on the outside, but for all intent and purpose was a Caucasian who detested all things African –American. There, I Rest My Case.
Baseball As I Have Known It (1977) Fred Lieb- Hardcover/ 0848815491
IMPORTANT PLEASE READ: Because of the controversial nature of the article above, I received a scathing response from a reader who alluded that I was racist, and lacked the credentials normally associated with a writer. My response is, the commentary stems from a 2001 article by Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune. For those of you who are not familiar with Mr. Page, he is African-American, as am I.
As for the editorial, I presented a reputable source, the late Fred Lieb, writer and author of Baseball As I Have Known It, who wrote that Ruth detested Blacks, and disliked any notion that he was of African heritage. Hence, I have presented the facts fairly, and leave it to the discretion of the reader to determine if this commentary is based on facts and unbiased observations, or is this the work of an individual who dislikes Caucasians, as the reader fervently implied.
In 17 years as a freelance writer, I have always made a conscious decision to base my editorials/commentaries on facts, not the race of the person (s) involved.