“Preposterous!” “Ridiculous!” “Outrageous!” These may be your knee-jerk reactions to what I’m about to hypothesize --- Babe Ruth may have had an African-American ancestry. I’ll begin by saying that my theory is based purely on speculation. I’ve done no DNA testing, no tissue or bone-marrow sampling, nor have I thoroughly researched Ruth’s genealogical background (I believe he was of Irish and German ancestry).
All I can personally offer in defense of my theory is the most basic of social sciences’ methodologies — observation. Yet I contend that “The Sultan of Swat,” “The Bambino,” the man who belted 60 home runs in 1927, and 714 overall (without the use of steroids, I might add), may have had an African-American lineage.
Now, you may ask, “On what do you base this off-the-wall premise?” My thinking is based pure and simply on a picture. More specifically, a photograph that I saw of Babe Ruth on page 15 of SI’s 2004 Commemorative World Series issue. It shows Ruth, wearing a Red Sox uniform, standing in front of what appears to be a dugout.
Well, as I looked at Ruth in that photo, my eyes were immediately drawn to his face. I was struck by his piercing brown (at least I believed they were brown) eyes and his slightly protruding ears. Yet, the part of "the Bambino's" face I was rivetted to was Ruth’s nose. Yes, his nose. More specifically, Ruth’s nasal structure. Not only is Ruth’s nose broad and large (flattened at the bridge), but it also has large nostrils. Anatomically, a nasal structure of that type is more consistent with and characteristic of a person of African-American heritage than say, a Caucasian person. I know what I am saying here is quite stereotypic. I fully admit that. And one could retort by saying: “Didn’t the Italo-American comedian Jimmy Durante have a huge proboscis?
You are likely aware that there are countless Caucasian (white) people who have Negro ancestry. In some cases, they may not even be aware of it. Case in point. There are many seemingly all-white Negro relatives of our third President: Thomas Jefferson. It has been established through DNA testing that Jefferson had relations with his prized Negro slave, Sally Hemming. And, that there was a child (or even children) produced by that relationship. Only in recent years have Jefferson’s ancestors learned that some of their kin are of African-American ancestry.
Further, Spike Lee, the film maker, was supposed to write an article in the May, 2001 edition of Gotham Magazine (I don’t believe it was ever written) alluding to the premise that Ruth was partly African-American. In the 1993 book, “Baseball Anecdotes,” by Daniel Okrent and Steve Wulf, the authors contend that Ruth did have Negro ancestry.
Further, the legendary Ty Cobb suspected that Ruth might have been of African heritage. It is reported that Cobb refused to share a Georia hunting lodge with Ruth, Cobb is reported to have said, "I've never bedded down with a n----- and I'm not going to start now." Yet, I might add that after their retirements, Cobb and Ruth went on to become good friends.
Getting back to Spike Lee, he tells the story that his father, a big baseball fan, once told him that Babe Ruth had “some of the ‘tar brush’ in him.” In reality we may never know. They’d have to exhume Ruth’s body to do DNA testing to conclusively determine Ruth’s racial heritage. A highly unlikely event. To further corroboate that point, it's reported that Hall of Famer Hank Aaron once said, “They’re not going to dig up the Babe. They don’t want that revealed, that there could have been an ounce of black blood in him.”
As I recall, Barry Bonds made a big deal of hitting his 715th career home run back in May, 2006. I believe he made some reference to moving ahead of baseball's “White Icon” (my expression) in round-trippers. Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be ironic if we and Bonds found out that Ruth wasn’t totally white, after all.