Late last night, I caught the repeat of a special edition of "Costas NOW," which is on HBO and features Bob Costas talking about sports. I've always like Costas and his take on sports and especially baseball, as I guess we are both considered "traditionalists" when it comes to the game.
He dedicated most of last night's show to Barry Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron's home run record, and of course, steroids. It was an interesting show, as it also featured an interview with Curt Schilling. But what got me to writing about it was a panel discussion that was midway through the show that featured Costas with Baseball Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Gary Carter, and for some inexplicable reason, comedian Chris Rock.
I guess Rock is a big baseball fan, and was there for some comedic purpose. They touched on a number of subjects about baseball, but inevitably, it turned to race in regard to Bonds' chase of the home run record. And in the middle of that, Rock came out with a real beauty, in his attempt to be outrageous.
He said that the records held by Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were "bullshit," because neither of them played against black players. (He also called all of Ruth's dingers "714 affirmative action home runs," whatever the hell that means.)
Nice of Rock to disrespect the memories of all white players who played before Jackie Robinson, and demean every one of them who played before 1947 and what they accomplished as being illegitimate.
Frankly, what Rock said was "bullshit."
Rock should take a history lesson. Babe Ruth may very well have saved Major League Baseball back in the early 1920s. Back then, because of the fallout of the Black Sox scandal of 1919, baseball's popularity was sagging to record low levels, and was in danger of fading away as the national sport. Make no mistake, it was in real trouble. But along comes Ruth, who captured the nation's imagination with his prolific home run totals in putting the New York Yankees on the map as a baseball dynasty. He simply became the most popular athlete in the country, and to this day is still the biggest star baseball has ever known, or probably will ever know. Many great superstars have followed The Babe, but he is still in a class by himself in MLB history. Players today owe The Babe a great debt, for what he meant to the sport, and for taking it to another level in the pantheon of American sports.
To call what Ruth did "bullshit" sounded simply like the rantings of a simple-minded fool who just doesn't get it. (It reminded me of those Yankee fans who yell "Boston Sucks" at Red Sox fans even when the Sox are in first place.) If Rock had made an intelligent point like, "I think the era Babe Ruth played in was inferior to the following ones because there were no black players, and his accomplishments should be judged in that light," I would have respected his point and not written this column. But instead he chose to jump in the mud and say something outrageous. (I would guess the HBO producers expected that.) Rock could have made his point (which does have validity) without defaming Ruth.
The fact that blacks didn't get the chance to play on the same MLB teams as whites before 1947 was indeed unfortunate, unfair and racist. The integration of baseball in 1947 was long overdue, and was a major turning point in 20th Century baseball (as well as history). But the accomplishments of players like Ruth, Cy Young, Lou Gehrig, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner and other early 1900s greats shouldn't be besmerched because bigoted owners wouldn't allow blacks to play alongside whites (although people like Connie Mack, John McGraw and Bill Veeck wanted to bring blacks on their teams before 1947, but they were considered too radical, and more powerful owners shot them down). It certainly wasn't the players call not to have blacks play with them, and in Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary from 1994, he pointed out that in 1939, a poll of MLB players found that 69% of them had no problem with blacks playing in the majors.
And Chris Rock better watch with his talk disrespecting Babe Ruth. He might want to have a chat with Pedro Martinez about that.
You may remember that back in 2001, Pedro was so sick and tired of all that "Curse of the Bambino" BS from sportswriters after a win over the Yankees that year he said, "Wake the Bambino. I might just drill him in the ass." Shortly after saying that, Pedro went down with a shoulder injury that more or less killed the remainder of the 2001 season for him.
Granted, Rock is not a ballplayer, but he better be careful with putting down The Babe and his legacy. I don't wish Rock any ill, but The Bambino has his ways of getting even.