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.
The 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.