Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Babe Ruth: Champion of the oppressed?

Dec. 22 marked the 70 anniversary of an advertisement than ran in The New York Times and several other
newspapers calling on men and women of German ancestry to join in a campaign denouncing the Nazi regime.

The advertisement, which was sponsored by the World Jewish Congress, began
At this season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, we Americans of German descent raise out voices in denunciation of the Hitler policy of cold-blooded extermination of the Jews of Europe and against the barbarities committed by the Nazis against all other innocent people under their sway.
The ad was signed by 50 German Americans, mostly scholars and business professionals. But as this story provided by declares, the most prominent name of all was George Herman Ruth.

The piece, written by Dr. Rafael Medoff,  founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington DC, would have us believe that
By participating in this German-American protest against the Holocaust, Ruth used his powerful name to help attract public attention to the Jews’ plight. Timing is everything, both on the baseball field and beyond, and the timing of Ruth’s protest was crucial: precisely at the moment when U.S. officials were hoping to brush the Jewish refugee problem aside, Babe Ruth helped keep it front and center.
Of course, Ruth had been retired from the game for several years at that point, gone as an active player in 1935, and a brief stint as a Brooklyn Dodgers coach in 1938. Yes, he was still a prominent name in the sports and entertainment field; so many stories about the Bambino seem to indicate he was an agreeable sort that I have no trouble believing someone asked his agent if they could include his name and received an affirmative response.

But I wonder how much credibility he really lent to this project.  The names are listed alphabetically, so unless you’re really looking, it would not jump out at you that Ruth was involved. Were there any stories featuring Ruth’s participation written at the time? If so, Medoff does not mention them.

I’m not questioning Ruth’s motives, and applaud his participation, but sorry, and with all due respect, but I think Medoff gives the ex-ballplayer too much credit here. Was his name prominent? Of course, but in context with the other community leaders, scholars, etc? Perhaps not so much as Medoff believes.

The end of his article announces a forthcoming documentary about Ruth that considers his role as an ambassador of the national pastime and it does feature Ruth’s participation in the World Jewish Congress campaign. What it does not include — as it does for every other person interviewed — is an ID for the “talking head” discussing the ad (at about the 2:42 mark), who, by coincidence, turns out to be the author of the JNS article, a fact Medoff does not mention in the article.

Just sayin.’

I have been tentatively invited to a screening of the documentary. Perhaps there’s more to this (such as Medoff’s bona fides elsewhere in the film that just happened to be omitted in the trailer), which I will be happy to update in another entry.

Check out other great articles at Ron Kaplan's Baseball Bookshelf.
Post a Comment