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The Babe and Jackie: One in the same

Legends of Ruth, Robinson tied together in Ray Negron's new book
09/04/2008 9:58 AM ET
By Jon Lane / YESNetwork.com

The Babe and Jackie take two sick children on an inspirational journey to teach them the importance of acceptance. (HarperCollins)
One is considered the greatest ballplayer that ever lived. He was larger than life and brought the home run into the mainstream. He was once the Yankees' single-season record holder for homers and the game's all-time leader in the category. Off the field, however, Babe Ruth had a reputation for reckless behavior, for he was known as a hard-core partier and womanizer.

The other broke down Major League Baseball's racial barriers, ending approximately 80 years of baseball segregation by becoming the first African-American player of the modern era in 1947. Both off and on the field, however, Jackie Robinson was a man scorned strictly due to the color of his skin, hated as much as Ruth was loved.

Both changed the game forever. And both are connected more closely than you think. Yankees senior adviser Ray Negron's new book unlocks the mystery to the unique relationship between the two legends in "The Babe and Jackie: The Greatest Story Never Told." The story, released in July, is about, to paraphrase Sammy Davis Jr., love, peace and togetherness.

"The Babe and Jackie were about the aspect of togetherness," Negron said. "People didn't see the actual heart and soul of what these two guys represented, which is the same thing, especially when it came to kids."

Much of Negron's role with the Yankees is devoted to community relations and children in need. A frequent visitor to children's hospitals and a good-will ambassador to numerous charities, Little League organizations and the Boys & Girls Club to help raise funds for their programs, Negron is off the success of his first book, "The Boy of Steel," which rose to No. 2 on the New York Times Bestseller List and is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Negron did not make a dime off "The Boy of Steel." All proceeds were distributed through the New York Yankees Foundation for cancer research and education.

A portion of what Negron makes off his second book will be donated to the DeWayne Murcer Foundation in honor of Bobby Murcer's older brother, who died of lung cancer at the age of 47. (Negron held a vigil in memory of Bobby shortly after the beloved Yankees legend lost his battle with brain cancer on July 12.) "The Babe and Jackie" will spread the word about how one man fought the aspect of being godly, and the other a crusader, when both actually just wanted to be normal.

Though Ruth's popularity soared during the 1920s and '30s, it was during times when all the country wanted to do was party, and then was mired in a depressing hangover. Robinson broke into the Majors one year before Ruth's death under the most exacting of circumstances. Opposing players spit in his face. They refused to shake his hand, to share a photograph and cussed at him under their breath, but Robinson was prohibited to fight back. Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey warned him that if he were to respond, Major League Baseball would end the experiment and it'd be years before an African-American would be given another chance.

Shunning any public perception, Ruth, fighting throat cancer, attended the Brooklyn Dodgers' Opening Day game in 1947 to welcome Robinson to the Majors.

"Unfortunately we were in a time when the world wasn't ready for the Babe's acceptance," Negron said. "They didn't want to see that. But the Babe was way ahead of his times in terms of love and peace. Remember something, they never let Jackie get close to the Babe because they thought he would make too much of a rah-rah-rah. That's why my book is called 'The Greatest Story Never Told.'"

Like in his first book, Negron's focus is the inspiring experiences of sick children. Skippy and Connor share both serious illnesses and a hospital room, and don't like each other because the other is too "different." The boys eventually receive a surprise visit from a Yankees bat boy named Ray, who takes them on a magical journey to meet The Babe. Skippy and Connor's next surprise comes when Ruth joins them on a trip to Ebbets Field to see Robinson play ball.

Along the way, The Babe and Jackie share unforgettable lessons with their young friends about baseball, friendship, and accepting others' differences. More so than baseball, Ruth loved children and often visited the Boys and Girls Clubs of East Harlem and Kipps Bay.

"That was important to him, to let kids know that we're all the same," Negron said.

Like Robinson, Ruth wanted respect. Both earned it in their own way. Yet in an ironic twist, Robinson's No. 42 is retired universally by baseball. The Babe's No. 3 is not, despite the barriers he broke without him even realizing: the home runs, the aspect of being a drawing card, opening a new stadium and the business he brought to the game.

"Babe created the aspect of all business in the sports world," Negron said. "He took it to the next level for all of these business men. That's why they had to pay him $80,000 to $90,000 a year. The endorsements. The Babe was the first Michael Jordan."

So exactly what is MLB waiting for? Negron's already passionate voice turned up an octave: "It's the greatest story never told."

Jon Lane is an Editorial Producer for YESNetwork.com. He can be reached at jon.lane@mlb.com.
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