White people don't care about Babe Ruth.
Really, we don't. I swear.
Obviously there is a heck of a lot of white people out there, so speaking for all of them is, by definition, impossible. But I feel compelled to try because every time a discussion involving Barry Bonds turns to color, I keep hearing about Babe Ruth, his whiteness and how, apparently, White America is threatened by Bonds' imminent passing of Ruth on the career home run list.
I've heard it from Bonds, from social scholars, from radio hosts, from columnists I respect. The latest came in USA Today where LSU professor Leonard Moore claimed:
"White America doesn't want (Bonds) to (pass) Babe Ruth and is doing everything they can to stop him. America hasn't had a white hope since the retirement of Larry Bird, and once Bonds passes Ruth, there's nothing that will make (Ruth) unique, and they're scared."
In any discussion of race, it is always good to listen to the different arguments because, even if you don't agree, there is usually something to learn or some new point to consider. Too often, the stuff whites can't remember are the things blacks can't forget.
So while I wholeheartedly reject the notion that racial enlightenment is defined by membership in the Bonds fan club – reasonable people can disagree on the issue and it's not like whites, at least whites who aren't St. Louis Cardinals fans/lemmings, support Mark McGwire – I am not dismissing everything being said.
The fact is, some whites do hate Bonds because he is black. That's the reality of America, which has improved in terms of race relations but sure hasn't improved enough. Anytime I write about Bonds, a handful of the anonymous (and occasionally signed) emails that follow contain ugly, hateful, racist stuff. I have no doubt Bonds receives that kind of feedback 50-fold.
So this isn't to be flippant or dismissive of a serious issue. I am not going to defend all white people here. But I am going to defend almost all white people concerning our supposed Ruth obsession, which has been repeated so many times it has almost become fact. But it isn't fact. I just don't see it, hear it, know it or acknowledge it.
White people – at least a vast percentage of white people under the age of, say, 70 – do not care one single bit about Babe Ruth. Or at least, no more than any other player. Certainly, we don't care that he was white. And even more certainly, we take no racial pride in him. None.
(It is worth noting that Spike Lee, among others, has contended, and once researched without conclusion, that Ruth was at least partially African-American. If so, then this gets even more ridiculous. But for this column we'll stick to the theory that Ruth was white.)
Back in the early 1970s, when Henry Aaron was on the verge of breaking Ruth's home run record, the Bambino's skin pigmentation surely fueled some of the racist reaction. But that was then. This is 2006.
The aura of Ruth is diminished, if not extinct. I am in my 30s and in my entire life I never ever heard a white person talk about how racially important or meaningful Babe Ruth was. He is best known for that contrived Boston Red Sox curse, not as some great white hero of yesterday.
I've heard the rare comment of racial pride about Larry Bird, Eminem – heck, even Rocky Balboa – but never Ruth. To people of my generation, he is just another dead old ball player. He retired in 1935, after all, before either of my parents were born.
In an admittedly unscientific way, I spent the last month asking whites about this, trying to be proven wrong. I batted it around with colleagues. I opened up the topic on talk radio. I sent emails to friends.
Not only did I fail to find one white person who cared one bit about Ruth's race, but I also failed to find one who knew of any white people who did. Most just laughed at the question, realizing the absurdity of it all.
Maybe someone will write in and inform me there is this undercurrent of Ruth-inspired racial pride out there, people wringing their hands about the downfall of our race because the Babe only clubbed 714, or that there is actually a grand plan to stop Bonds for the sake of God, country and vanilla ice cream. But I doubt it.
The people who used to hold Ruth up as a symbol of White America, an icon to hold onto as the black athlete began to dominate, are mostly dead. Besides, contrary to Professor Moore's contention, Bonds passing Ruth would do nothing to affect the Babe's legacy.
What's the difference between No. 2 and No. 3? Is Willie Mays any less of a player because Bonds is ahead of him? How about Frank Robinson? Ted Williams? Roberto Clemente? Mickey Mantle? Aaron won't lose his place as a true American sports hero if Bonds passes him.
Not that Bonds beating Aaron wouldn't be unfortunate. It would be just as unfortunate as the pathetic McGwire, pumped up on Lord knows what, breaking the dutiful Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998. The memory of McGwire preening about and pretending he and Maris were equals all while Maris' poor family watched can turn your stomach.
And that's the real problem, at least for the overwhelming majority of fans. The lying. The cheating. The false pride. The fake glory. The fact that all the great power numbers we grew up memorizing have been lost forever by these selfish, silly clowns and a commissioner who enabled them.
So sure, there are some sickos out there who hate Bonds because he is black. But I doubt there is anyone who hates Bonds because Babe Ruth was white.
No matter what they keep saying.