June 24, 2019

Babe And A Brother Named Mathias

Babe Ruth

The Bambino was very proud of his Catholic upbringing. George Herman “Babe” Ruth was arguably one of the most prolific athletes of all-time yet life did not come easy for this iconic sports figure.

Born in 1895 to working class parents in Baltimore among brick row houses, Babe was the son of George Herman, a saloon operator of German descent, and Kate, of both Irish and German ethnicity. Of the eight children she bore, only Babe and his sister, Mamie, survived. That alone is an incredibly heart-wrenching story.

George Sr. and Kate had their hands full with Babe. He got a little too close to dock workers and their habits and salty language. By age 7, after much prayer I am certain, his parents opted for a much stricter environment and more discipline for their son. They sent Babe off to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, also in Baltimore, only miles away from home. Yet the place must have felt like a million miles away for youngster Babe. The school was run by Catholic monks, an order of the Xaverian Brothers, and the rules were strict. They did encourage participation in sports.

It was at St. Mary’s that Babe learned much about life. His mentor was Brother Mathias who took a quick liking to George Jr. Although he was one of the school’s disciplinarians, Brother Mathias become a father figure to the young lad who enjoyed baseball. It was said that the Brother was stern but kind and Babe’s main source for attention and confidence at the part-orphanage and part-school.

Babe-3The school had baseball leagues established for the varied ages of boys and Babe took a quick liking. Brother Gilbert was the coach responsible for teaching George Jr. the fine points of the game while Brother Mathias was the youngster’s most-liked instructor and his first.

In daughter Julia Ruth Stevens’ words:

“I think a lot of Babe’s good coordination came from when he lived at St. Mary’s, and played baseball with Brother Mathias. He took a great interest in Daddy, and Daddy loved Brother Mathias. He was the one that introduced Babe to baseball and showed him what the game was all about. Daddy did, he really did, love Brother Mathias.”

It seems Brother Mathias was like a good little league or high school school. He played catch with a bag, hit balls for him to field and tossed batting practice. The two spent hours and hours daily honing this gifted youngster’s skills as both a batter and as a pitcher.

By age 18, Babe was noticed by professional baseball, as a pitcher, as Jack Dunn was the owner of the then-minor league Baltimore Orioles and had heard of this young talent named George Ruth. At that time, Babe was part of a travel team for St. Mary’s Industrial. He was a dominant pitcher, much like Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers or Jared Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels are today.

After being scouted by the Orioles, it did not take long for Dunn to convince this club to sign Babe. In order to sign his star pitcher to a contract, by rules, Dunn had to sign for Ruth and agree to become his legal guardian. George Herman Ruth Jr. became a Baltimore Orioles before he achieved notoriety and a Hall of Fame career with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

It was those formative years, from age 7 to 18, that Babe always credited for his success. And despite all the pressure and stress from baseball fans and a critical media throughout his star-studded major league career, Babe always found time for prayer, attending Sunday Mass and thanking God for the great faith he acquired at St. Mary’s and especially from Brother Mathias.

And if you’re like me and wondered how he received that nickname of Babe, legend has it that when George Jr. walked to a pitcher’s mound in spring training for the first time, with owner Dunn alongside, one of his teammates yelled out, “Look at Dunnie and his new babe.” He quickly became known as “Jack’s babe” and later just as Babe Ruth.

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Written by
George Eichorn

GEORGE EICHORN is the long-time executive director of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association and sports editor and columnist for a Detroit weekly newspaper. For more than three decades, he has covered the Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series, NBA Championships, and Stanley Cup finals. His articles have been published in the Detroit News, Basketball Times, Basketball Digest, Red Wings Magazine, Baseball Bulletin, Sports Fans Journal, Soccer World, and Bowler’s Digest. During the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York, he proudly covered the historic “Miracle on Ice” hockey game when the United States shocked the Soviet Union. Through the years, he has won numerous broadcasting and writing awards, and most recently received the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame’s Special Recognition Award. In 2003, he authored a book about the rich history of Michigan sports broadcasting, Detroit Sports Broadcasters: On the Air, for which the late Detroit Tigers broadcast legend, Ernie Harwell, wrote the forward. He is the married father of two daughters and a graduate of Wayne State University.

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Written by George Eichorn