#PopUps: Babe Ruth was an Alien

Baseball and pop culture have intersected in America for more than a century. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum takes a look at these cross-over stars and events in our web feature #PopUps.

Babe Ruth was an alien. At least, that is what Arthur Dales told Special Agent Fox Mulder in the 1999 Episode of The X-Files entitled “The Unnatural”. The X-Files, which originally ran from 1993-2002 was recently renewed for a 10th season that began airing in January of 2016. The show partners FBI Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Andersen), a Medical Doctor and sceptic who uses the scientific method, with Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), an expert in the occult, supernatural, and a Ufologist - one who studies Unidentified Flying Objects and looks for proof of alien life. In most episodes, Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate a bizarre case which may or may not have supernatural causes or may involve aliens. Mulder usually provides the background knowledge of the unusual while Scully attempts to discredit her partner with a scientific reason for the odd case.

On April 25, 1999, David Duchovny made his directing and writing debut with “The Unnatural”. It is no surprise that Duchovny’s first venture into writing and directing was a baseball themed episode. Duchovny is an avid fan of both baseball and the New York Yankees. This is apparent in “The Unnatural”, which is set in the summer of 1947. Not only is this the year of Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby integrating the National and American leagues, respectively, but it is also the year of the infamous Roswell Incident. This unproven crash of an extra-terrestrial spacecraft, and the allegedly connected government cover-up, is a tenant of the Ufology canon. These two watershed moments in the annals of baseball and Ufology set a perfect stage for the episode.

Starting with the title, we can see the first of many baseball references. The episode title of “The Unnatural” is a clear connection to the 1984 film, The Natural, and the 1952 novel by the same name. As the film was a success, being nominated for five Academy Awards and winning one, the title “The Unnatural” is a clear allusion to the film and also hints at the other worldly origins of the story’s protagonist.

The X-Files viewer who is not also a baseball fan may miss many of the other hidden gems that Duchovny hid in this episode. Firstly, the protagonist of the episode, Josh Exley plays for the all-black team, the Roswell Grays. Josh Exley takes his name from both Hall of Famer Josh Gibson who played for the Homestead Grays and apparently also from author Fredrick Exley. Josh Exley is reportedly from Macon, Georgia. This is roughly where Josh Gibson was born. Also, Exley is referred to in the episode as the “black Babe Ruth”, a term which Gibson was often called. However, the connections between characters and baseball figures do not end there.

The two main characters (Agents Mulder and Scully) take smaller than usual roles in this episode. As this is a flashback episode that has a former Nevada lawman talking about his time spent with Exley and the Grays, it makes sense that the two would not be featured heavily. However, in the opening scene while Agent Scully is bringing an armful of documents to Agent Mulder, she passes a small television. The visual is of a baseball game and the audio is of Agent Scully’s namesake and 1982 Ford C. Frick award winning announcer Vin Scully.

The next interesting connection involves the team name in the episode. Josh Exley plays for the Roswell Grays. As Josh Exley is an allusion to Negro Leagues Star Josh Gibson, who played for the Homestead Grays, it only makes sense that Exley’s team is also named the Grays. The Roswell Grays wear uniforms that are very similar to those of the 1943 Homestead Grays.


Another interesting play on the team name comes from the Sci-Fi side of the story. The tall, grey skinned, large-headed beings that form the typical alien image, are knows as Greys. There is no doubt that Duchovny deliberately did this. While the two are spelled differently, they are certainly homophones (words that sound the same), which plays well to the television audience. In fact, Duchovny’s character, Agent Mulder, even mentions in disbelief that an alien would be playing on a team called The Grays. In one of the more humorous exchanges of the episode, Arthur Dales and Mulder discuss this:

The 1943 Homestead Grays. BL-3284-72 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

MULDER: I've got to give it to you, Arthur. Calling a Negro League team from Roswell the Grays is pretty clever. E.T. steal home. E.T. steal home.

ARTHUR DALES: I didn't make that up.

MULDER: You seriously want me to believe that Josh Exley, maybe one of the greatest ballplayers of all times, was an alien?

ARTHUR DALES: They're all aliens, Agent Mulder. All the great ones.

MULDER: (unbelievingly) Babe Ruth was an alien?

ARTHUR DALES: Yeah.

MULDER: Joe DiMaggio?

ARTHUR DALES: Sure.

MULDER: Willie Mays?

ARTHUR DALES: Well, obviously.

MULDER: Mantle? Koufax? Gibson?

ARTHUR DALES: Bob or Kirk?

MULDER: (fails to respond in befuddlement)

A viewer/baseball fan who has been following the story to this point would understand Mulder’s confusion. While Bob and Kirk Gibson both had outstanding careers in the Majors (Bob being a Hall of Famer), Josh was clearly the Gibson referenced. In the final scene of the episode, any questions about the allusion to Josh Gibson in the form of homerun-smashing Josh Exley are erased. Agent Scully arrives at a ballfield to find Agent Mulder taking late-night batting practice. She states that she received an urgent message on her answering service from a “Fox Mantle” telling her to rush to the ballfield. This was clearly a message from Agent Fox Mulder, who borrowed the surname of Yankee Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle.

Mulder, wearing a Grays uniform with the No. 20 and the name Gibson on the back, asks his partner if she had ever hit a baseball. When she answers in the negative, Mulder stands behind and reaches around to show his partner how to hit. Then, Mulder delivers a monologue that any baseball fan can appreciate. Mulder states, “…. All right, what you may find is while you concentrate on hitting that little ball, the rest of the world just fades away...”

Interestingly, this is not the last time aliens and baseball intersect. Just two years after “The Unnatural” aired, the Las Vegas Stars, newly partnered with the Los Angeles Dodgers, rebranded their franchise to the Las Vegas 51s. For their logo, the 51s currently use a Grey alien with baseball stitches on the forehead. The team is now the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets. The team name is a reference to the military installation, known as Area 51, located approximately 80 miles north of Las Vegas. According to many Ufologists, this has been the site of US government tests on alien space craft and possibly housing the remains of crashed aliens.

This installment of the #Popups has been out of this world, which just goes to show – you never know where baseball may pop up.


Nate Tweedie is the manager of on-site learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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