Was Babe Ruth black? More important, should we care?
Filmmaker and noted sideline sitter Spike Lee has never been one
to moderate his opinions. However, in a column for Gotham, a
glitzy new magazine for Manhattan partygoers, Lee is almost
temperate in his consideration of a question first raised some
eight decades ago (though no less intriguing for its age): Was
Babe Ruth black?
No one disputes that Ruth's maternal grandparents were German
immigrants and thus unlikely to have had any black ancestry.
However, although his father was the son of a couple considered
white by those who knew them, it's certainly possible that in
the roiling port city that was 19th-century Baltimore,
African-American blood may have nourished the roots of the Ruth
family tree. During Babe's baseball career the supposition was
surprisingly common, despite Ruth's denials. The notoriously
racist Ty Cobb once refused to share a cabin with Ruth at a
Georgia hunting lodge. "I've never bedded down with a n-----,"
said Cobb, according to a contemporary, the sportswriter Fred
Lieb, "and I'm not going to start now." The same repellent
epithet was spit at Ruth by opposing bench jockeys, who saw in
the Babe's full lips, broad nose and swarthy complexion a visual
basis for their vile insults.
But what they may also have seen, at some subliminal level, was
that this vastly superior athlete had to be, in a deeply
fundamental way, different. It's a conclusion history would
corroborate. After all, it is beyond question that the baseball
players of the last 50 years are far superior to those who
preceded them. How good could the stars of the first half of the
20th century have been if they were never tested in competition
with black athletes? By that same logic isn't it possible that
had Ruth been their lone black opponent, his very gifts would
have proved the second-class nature of all-white baseball?
May 6, 2001
In his column Lee suggests that DNA testing of disinterred bones
might ascertain the Babe's exact ancestry, but he doesn't
propose that anyone dig up the Ruthian remains. In fact, there's
no reason that anyone should. Why not simply accept the
conjecture because of its appeal? History could hand down no
sweeter judgment of the sport's contemptible practice of
official racism than this: The lords of baseball thought they
had kept their sport purely Caucasian? Well, we've got a
surprise for them--the one black man they couldn't keep out made
their puny, lily-white game his plaything. --Daniel Okrent
The First Black Pro Athletes in Four Sports
MOSES FLEETWOOD WALKER Catcher for Toledo Blue Stockings of
American Association (then a major league) in 1884, 63 years
before Jackie Robinson's debut. Batted .263 in 42 games.
CHARLES FOLLIS Halfback for Shelby Athletic Club in the Ohio
League from 1902 to '06, the first of six black pro players in
HARRY BUCKY LEW Forward with Pawtucketville (Mass.) Athletic
Club in New England Basketball League in 1902, 48 years before
Earl Lloyd broke into NBA.
JOHN SHIPPEN Assistant pro at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton,
N.Y., played in 1896 U.S. Open there, 52 years before Bill
Spiller became the first black to play in a PGA event.
KENTUCKY DERBY PREVIEW
A VERY STRONG POINT
Saturday's Kentucky Derby appears to have its deepest field since
1973. That's the year Secretariat won the 1 1/4-mile classic in
1:59 2/5, still the record time, and led a parade of quality
horses over the line--from the second-place Sham to the future
sprint champion Shecky Greene to the mighty Forego, who finished
fourth but went on to a Hall of Fame career.
No one is saying that Point Given is another Secretariat, but
the outsized chestnut has been evoking shouts and murmurs for
months, especially since he pan-fried five other 3-year-olds in
his last start, the April 7 Santa Anita Derby. After tracking
the front-running speedster, Crafty C.T., along the backstretch,
with jockey Gary Stevens standing nearly straight in the saddle,
Point Given swooped past the leader and sailed off to win by 5
1/2 lengths. It was the most dominating performance in a Derby
prep in years. Indeed, after Millennium Wind won the Blue Grass
Stakes at Keeneland a week later--another eye-popping
performance in this exceptional year--his trainer, David
Hofmans, conceded that Point Given remained the horse to beat.
"We have to come up with a strategy to beat that monster,"
That won't be easy, but if Point Given does falter, at least
four of the 17 other horses expected to start will have solid
chances: not only Millennium Wind but also Congaree, the
dazzling, if lightly raced, winner of the Wood Memorial at
Aqueduct and a stablemate of Point Given's; Balto Star, who has
won his last three starts by a combined 29 1/2 lengths and led
all of them from wire to wire; and Monarchos, the Florida Derby
winner, who wasn't pressured in finishing second in the Wood.
Even long shots Thunder Blitz and A.P. Valentine have a coterie
of followers. This year's blue plate special? Express Tour,
winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai.
Still, Point Given has it all: a 1 1/4-mile pedigree; a tested
jockey (Stevens rode Point Given's sire, Thunder Gulch, to
victory in the 1995 Kentucky Derby); sufficient tactical speed
to stay close and out of trouble; a two-time Derby-winning
trainer, Bob Baffert; and enough seasoning for any two horses.
Point Given is the horse right here. --William Nack
Playoff beards were once as hallowed a hockey tradition as the
gap-toothed grin. In a show of esprit de corps, players set aside
their razors from the beginning of the first round until their
clubs were eliminated. For the last few years, though, fans have
been more likely to see the Lightning drink from the Stanley Cup
than glimpse a shift of scruffy skaters.
Some players blame the influx of baby-faced Europeans for the
decline of the bushy look, while others attribute it to younger
rosters. For some guys, however, maintaining a beard isn't worth
the effort--or the fashion cost--anymore. "It's not me," says
Devils center Scott Gomez, who shaved his mug after his team won
its first-round series. "If we were allowed to wear shorts, a
T-shirt and sandals, I'd keep it. But wearing a suit every day,
it just didn't go."
What's next in the world of playoff pilosity? Several clubs have
been cultivating a new tradition, bleached-blond dye jobs,
notably last season's Blues and the Senators this year. We're
betting the peroxide look won't catch on: Both teams were bounced
in the first round.
SYNOPSIS In an ad designed to show the multimedia power of
Sony's VAIO computers, a high school hoopster from Chugiak,
Alaska, records his games on digital video and mails the footage
to Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
BACKGROUND Although the spirit of the heart-tugging spot rang
true to Krzyzewski--who says he often gets unsolicited videos
from high schoolers in remote spots--the player in the ad,
identified as Joe Senungutuk, is fictional. Senungutuk is played
by Branden Goulet, 18, a Chugiak High guard who was chosen
through auditions at the school and who has no plans to play
college ball. The ad was shot in Hope, Alaska (pop. 200), which
was picked for its small-town feel. To enhance its rustic charm,
producers dumped 42 truckloads of fake snow on Hope's Main
Street, scratched paint off a newly painted building and brought
in an old Jeep with moose antlers on its roof. "We wanted a kid
and a place that would be on the fringe of consideration," says
John Doyle, executive creative director at Young & Rubicam
Advertising, which produced the spot. "We were trying to speak
to the far-flung hopes of kids across the country who are off
the beaten track."
BOTTOM LINE Given Duke's title run, Sony's timing was
fortuitous. Originally, the ad was to debut in late spring, but
once the Blue Devils reached the Final Four, Y&R accelerated
production and got the spot on air right before the Duke-Arizona
tip-off. A bonus: The Blue Devils' Carlos Boozer, a Juneau
native, had a double double (12 points, 12 rebounds) in the game.
Word for Word
Scrambling to assemble a press packet on surprise third-round
draft pick Sean Brewer (88, below), a tight end from San Jose
State, Bengals media relations staffers drafted a release culled
from material on nflmedia.com, but they failed to remove this
rather candid paragraph.
Negatives...Poorly-conditioned athlete who needs better eating
habits and more dedication to improving his overall condition
(body too mis-proportioned, containing over 19% body fat)...Has
a "tough guy" attitude that has gotten him into confrontations
with the coaching staff...Off-field habits almost as bad as his
eating habits (spoiled kid with a "gangsta" mentality who has to
give up his pack a day cigarette habit)...Lack of conditioning
prevents him from getting sudden movement off the snap...Has the
power moves to escape press coverage, but needs to develop a
more consistent hand punch to release better off the line...Does
not seem to have the crisp cutting ability when running
patterns...Will make the difficult catch, but then will come
back and just as quickly drop the easy passes...Shows aggression
going up for the ball, but will generally lose in this
battle...Lack of deep speed prevents him from consistently
getting to the second level and is a marginal downfield blocker,
lacking quickness to mirror the linebackers' moves.
Cincinnati's coaches downplayed the notes, saying they shouldn't
have been distributed. Brewer says that "there's not one factual
thing in that report" and attributes the comments to a San Jose
State strength coach with whom he had a run-in.
--Nepalese mountaineer Babu Chhiri Sherpa, 35, after he fell
into a crevasse at 20,400 feet on Mount Everest. Babu had
summited Everest 10 times, in 1999 spending a record 21 hours
atop the world's highest peak, where he made crank radio calls
to other camps to stay awake. Last year he completed the fastest
ascent ever, racing from base camp at 17,160 feet to the
29,035-foot summit in 15 hours, 56 minutes.
--Seminars for U.S. Olympic hopefuls on postvictory etiquette.
The USOC wants to prevent displays like the U.S. men's 4x100
relay team's antics in Sydney last year.
--Russell Otis, former basketball coach at Dominguez High in
Compton, Calif., on charges that he sexually assaulted a former
player (SI, Feb. 26).
--Marv Smalley, as director of security for the Salt Lake Winter
Olympics. Security for the 2002 Games will be overseen by
managing director of events Doug Arnot, who in January spent 10
days in jail for punching a pedestrian during a traffic dispute.
--Anthony Lemar Taylor, 30, to 200 years to life in prison for
using phony credit cards bearing Tiger Woods's name to steal
$17,000 in goods, including a 70-inch TV and a used car. Taylor
had 20 previous convictions and was subject to California's
harsh repeat-offender laws.
--Atlanta radio show host Jimmy Baron's rib, by a penalty kick
from soccer star Cindy Parlow of the WUSA's Atlanta Beat. Baron
had bet Parlow he could block one of five of her shots; he
succeeded, to his regret.
Heavyweight champ Hasim Rahman's victory parade in Baltimore was
cut short last week when the convertible carrying him and his
wife, Crystal, collided with a cab. That reminded us that sports
figures and taxis have had a long, eventful history:
1936 Baron Gottfried Von Cramm is injured in taxi accident on his
way to Wimbledon final against Fred Perry. Limping badly, Von
Cramm loses in straight sets.
1963 A hotel in which the Angels are staying catches fire at 5
a.m. As players gather in street, manager Bill Rigney says, "My
God! [Pitcher Bo] Belinsky's not here! He must be inside!" Right
then, cab pulls up and Belinsky falls out, returning from night
1977 Celtics center Dave Cowens takes job driving taxis, just
for the experience. "I took only one guy the long way," said
Cowens. "He was a Knick fan. He deserved it."
1978 Spirit of fractious Red Sox immortalized in derogatory
observation "25 guys, 25 cabs."
1981 University of Houston hoops coach Guy Lewis tells a recruit
from Nigeria he won't pick him up at airport and to catch a cab
instead. The player mistakenly tells hack to go to University of
Austin. Luckily for Lewis, driver takes Akeem Olajuwon to right
1985 Ex-New York City cabbie Danny Sullivan wins Indy 500.
1990 Suffering from flu, Mariners pitcher Randy Johnson skips
team bus to Yankee Stadium in favor of cab. En route, Johnson
vomits in back seat.
1992 On way to catch team charter to Green Bay, Steelers lineman
Carlton Haselrig crashes car and suffers head and chest injuries.
After hospital visit Haselrig takes commercial flight to Chicago
but passes out in airport and misses connection. He then takes
taxi to Green Bay. Fare for 200-mile trip: $500.
1992 Deion Sanders leaves $100,000 in jewelry in Houston cab.
Next day cabbie returns stash; Sanders gives him $1,000.
2000 New York City hack returns Olympic gold medal and WBA super
welterweight championship belt to David Reid, who had left them
in taxi on way to TV interview.
Touchy, touchy. After the New York Daily News reported that
Tiger Woods had invited Miss Universe Lara Dutta--a.k.a. Derek
Jeter's main squeeze--to last Saturday's Tiger Jam IV benefit
concert in Las Vegas, Woods's p.r. machine went into siege mode.
Initially, a publicist for the event told SI Dutta had never
been invited. Later the story changed: Dutta had been invited,
but by folks from Tiger's foundation, not by Woods himself. Then
an angry publicist abruptly limited SI's access to the event and
referred to an SI reporter as a "crack baby." Hey, at least it
was all in the name of charity...
Get out your hankies: ABC has announced a remake of its landmark
study in male bonding, Brian's Song. The mere mention of the
1971 telepic, which starred Billy Dee Williams as Bears halfback
Gale Sayers and James Caan as his doomed teammate, Brian Piccolo
(below), can reduce grown men to tears. The new version,
scheduled to air as a Wonderful World of Disney special in the
fall, will star Mekhi Phifer (Shaft) as Sayers and Sean Maher
(The Street) as Piccolo. "We're going to tell a deeper story by
fleshing out their family lives," says co-executive producer
Also in the dredging-up-an-oldie department, Universal just
finished shooting Slap Shot 2, a sequel to the 1977 Paul Newman
hockey classic. The new movie, tentatively scheduled for release
next January, stars Stephen Baldwin as the Chiefs' player-coach
and Gary Busey as the team's owner. Returning as the
bespectacled Hanson brothers are Dave Hanson and Jeff and Steve
Carlson. "This movie's going to do for Stephen Baldwin what the
original did for Paul Newman," says Jeff Carlson. "It's going to
catapult him to stardom. Not only did we teach him to skate, we
also taught him to act." Adds Hanson, "After 24 years of
rehearsing we've fine-tuned ourselves. We're going to put
Gladiator to shame. We should be talking to designers for Oscar
Slugging percentage through Monday of Cardinals reliever Gene
Stechschulte, who had a homer and a walk in two pinch-hit
Per-customer hot dog limit imposed by the Twins for their weekly
$1 wienie promotions, after a food fight broke out in the stands
at the Metrodome during an April 11 win over Detroit.
Total that Bucks coach George Karl gave to 71 assistant coaches
and team staffers after he signed a two-year, $14 million
Percentage of deaths among British professional cricket players
that are suicides, a rate 65% higher than the average for all
Amount law student Nick Cichowicz, 23, will receive from the
minor league St. Paul Saints if he spends the entire season,
from May 24 to Sept. 3, in the team's stadium, where he'll live
in a trailer parked behind the rightfield bleachers.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
To boost their sport's appeal, officials of table tennis's world
governing body said they're considering having women compete in
"This is the deepest Derby since '73, Secretariat's year."
They Said It
Cardinals coach, on the team's first-round draft pick, 6'6",
370-pound offensive lineman Leonard Davis: "He'll play in this
league a long, long time, unless he gets hit by a truck. And
it's going to have to be a big truck."