Enough Already!

By Peggy Butler
Updated: February 21, 2008

Babe RuthNEW YORK, NEW YORK — The sun looms across the terrain. Gently basking in dappled serenity, avid baseball fan Michael Keegan begins his day the same way he has done for the past 40 years — reading the Chicago Tribune. Peering through the paper, he discovers something that stops him dead in his tracks. Visibly angry, Keegan, 62, hurls the paper to the floor, but not before venting his frustration. “Why toy with the Babe’s image with this kind of speculation,” he says, pointing to the rumpled publication. “There ought to be a law against tampering with a man’s legacy, especially when he’s dead and can’t speak for himself.”

What prompted Keegan’s animosity was an editorial by columnist Clarence Page, titled “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. Yes, the same Spike Lee who directed “Malcolm X,” “Do The Right Thing,” and other socially conscious films.

In his editorial, Lee asked the proverbial question, “Was Babe Ruth Black?” Many African-Americans say, “yes”, basing their conclusion solely on the Yankee Clipper’s physical appearance. Because Ruth was stocky, with full lips, wide nose and olive complexion, they maintain that this is proof that Ruth’s bloodline was not 100% European. But should facial features be used as a factor in determining a person’s heritage? Not according to David Bodkin, author of “Race, Genes and Other Scientific Mazes.”

Bodkin maintains that physical features are not an adequate basis for establishing racial identity, and noted that other elements must be taken into account. “All of us know someone who has Caucasian features, yet insists that he or she is Black, and vice-versa,” he says. “With today’s technological advances, scientists rely more on genetics [rather] than features to determine who’s Black and who’s White.” Does that mean the Babe’s nose was just that — a big nose — 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 labia? Get real.

“Proof” of Ruth’s “Blackness” is further 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 rumors. Right? Well, maybe not.

And — speaking of looking Black — have you ever seen 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 Sacramento Kings, 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 yeah, 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?

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 that 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 in which Cobb confirmed his 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 that an incident of this nature would have produced an antagonistic relationship between the two men. However, instead of becoming bitter 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.” According to many observers, Gallico’s statements 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, I hold an opinion that is modestly simple. With hundreds of Black athletes to choose from, I am at a loss as to why, 53 years after his death, we are still debating Babe Ruth’s heritage. The bottom line is this: Why waste time writing about a man who may have looked Black on the outside, but who, for all intents and purposes, was a Caucasian who detested all things African-American?

There. I rest my case.