The Controversy That Won’t Die: Were The Three Greatest Homerun Hitters of All Time African-Americans?

By Roland Rogers, CEO and
Updated: May 8, 2006

Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron

Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron

NEW YORK –If ever the expression “been there, done that” applies to anyone, it applies to Art Rust, Jr.

On the cusp of breaking Babe Ruth’s 714 Homeruns, BASN went back into it’s archives to a controversy that just won’t die.

I had the honor of meeting my hero, by chance, in a super market on the upper Westside of Manhattan. I was reluctant to introduce myself, because Art is considered an icon in sports journalism.

I nervously approached him and explained how for years I had revered and lionized him as one of my inspirations for creating I shared my perceived opinion about the lack of integrity in how major media report about Black athletes. He gave me an opportunity to explain that even though there are more Black journalists working for major media outlets, it still seems that editors are abusing their talents.

Art was and always will be a cut above the rest, controversial, but fair. He elevated reporting to new heights. Art is a respected Black sports journalist. He has covered everyone from DiMaggio to Darryl Strawberry.

Anyway … He was intrigued by my comments. Although retired, I asked him to consider joining the Board of Advisors. I explained how we had assembled a group of African American sports journalists to write sports from a Black perspective. I shared how we want to close the huge gap, where previously sports reporting was an exclusive right of the White bastion of bais reporting.

One weekend, Art invited my colleagues and me over to his palatial home with a panoramic view of the Hudson river to talk sports, but more importantly to learn how Black athletes, like the rest of Black society, have always been segregated and continue to reflect American society, while still recognizing the greatness of Black legends over the decades. One of the most startling comments he made was to say, George Herman “Babe” Ruth was in fact BLACK!

At first I thought it was the adage that if a person had one ounce of Black blood, he was considered to be Black. But Art went on to explain how Ty Cobb, who was a devout racist and card carrying member of the Klu Klux Klan, would never eat at the same table with a nigger, including Ruth.

Art’s father had a close friend of Babe’s who lived on 136th Street between 5th Avenue and Lenox. Ruth was always visiting good-looking Black women. Harlem was in vogue in the late twenties. Ruth was always spotted uptown and was rumored to have a Black daughter. In 1954 Art’s good friend, Dan Daniel, a writer who covered the New York Highlanders (before being the Yankees) told him that in 1952, at a boxing writers dinner, Ruth gave every indication of his Black blood.

Art also spoke of his relationship with Jolt Tin Joe DiMaggio and Roy Campanella. Tears came to his eyes as he spoke of the infamous night he was with Campy, before his car slid off a Glen Cove Highway paralyzing him. He talked about hanging out with good friends Miles Davis, Zoot Simms and Gerry Mulligan. Art opened a restaurant in 1972, and everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Walt Frazier were frequent customers. We discussed the impact Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis had on the Black community and society as a whole.

Art has written 10 books over his career. His greatest work “Recollections of a Baseball Junkie” talks about a player named Terry Moore, which in his opinion was rated a better center fielder than Willie Mays and how Josh Gibson was the first player to hit a baseball out of Yankee Stadium. He talked how after going to the 64 World Series, he was asked how he and his father got tickets (being niggers and all) and his first broadcaster job with NBC in 1967.

I told Art that was conducting research about who should be considered the 100 greatest Black athletes of the millennium. Without skipping a beat he said, ” Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Paul Roberson Jackie Robinson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, O J Simpson, Curt Flood and Tiger Woods.” He said without question, “Those athletes have represented a definitive perspective on sports and life in America.”

Art Rust, Jr … a time machine who would intimidate even Jules Verne.