Babe Ruth

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Babe Ruth : biography

6 February 1895 – 16 August 1948

Ruth has been named the greatest baseball player of all time in various surveys and rankings. In 1998, The Sporting News ranked him number one on the list of "Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players".The Sporting News list of Baseball’s Greatest Players In 1999, baseball fans named Ruth to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. In 1969, he was named baseball’s Greatest Player Ever in a ballot commemorating the 100th anniversary of professional baseball. In 1993, the Associated Press reported that Muhammad Ali was tied with Babe Ruth as the most recognized athletes in America. In a 1999 ESPN poll, he was ranked as the second-greatest U.S. athlete of the century, behind Michael Jordan.

Montville noted the continuing relevance of Babe Ruth in American culture, over three-quarters of a century after he last swung a bat in a major league game:

Early years

George Herman Ruth, Jr. was born at 216 Emory Street in Pigtown, a rough neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. Ruth’s parents, George Herman Ruth, Sr., and Katherine (Schamberger) Ruth were both German-American. George Ruth, Sr. had a series of jobs, including lightning rod salesman and on Baltimore’s streetcars, before working as a counterman in a combination grocery/saloon on Frederick Street, owned by relatives. George Jr. was born in the house of his maternal grandfather, Pius Schamberger, a German immigrant and trade unionist.Creamer, pp. 24–25. Only one of Ruth’s seven siblings, his sister Mamie, survived infancy.Smelser, pp. 7–9.

There are many things unknown about the circumstances of Ruth’s childhood; even the date of his parents’ marriage is undiscovered.Creamer, p. 11. Few other personal details regarding his parents are extant. The family moved to 339 South Goodyear Street, not far from the rail yards, when young George was a toddler; by the time he was six, his father had a saloon with an upstairs apartment at 426 West Camden Street. Details of why he was sent, at the age of seven, to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage, are similarly scanty. Babe Ruth, as an adult, suggested that not only was he running the streets and rarely attending school, he was drinking beer when his father was not looking. There are also stories that after a violent incident at the saloon, the city authorities decided the environment was unsuitable for a small child. At St. Mary’s, which he entered on June 13, 1902, he was recorded as "incorrigible"; he would spend much of the next twelve years there.Wagenheim, pp. 13–14.Creamer, pp. 29–31.Montville, pp. 8–11

Although St. Mary’s inmates were educated, a substantial amount of time was devoted to work, especially once the boys turned 12. Ruth became a shirtmaker during his time there, and was also proficient as a carpenter. As a baseball player, making a large salary, he would adjust the collars of his shirts himself, rather than having a tailor do it. The boys, aged 5 to 21, did most work around the facility, from cooking to shoemaking; when St. Mary’s was renovated in 1912, the work was done by the residents. The food was simple, and the Xavierian brothers who ran the place insisted on strict discipline; corporal punishment was omnipresent. Ruth’s nickname among the boys was "Niggerlips", as he had large facial features and was darker than most boys at the all-white reformatory.Montville, pp. 19–23.

Ruth was sometimes allowed to rejoin his family, or was placed at St. James’s Home, a supervised residence with work in the community, but he was always returned to St. Mary’s.Creamer, pp. 39–40.Wagenheim, p. 14. George rarely was visited by his family; his mother died when he was 12 and by some accounts, he was permitted to leave St. Mary’s only to attend the funeral.Creamer, p. 32. How Ruth came to play baseball there is uncertain; by one account one of the misdeeds that led to his placement at St. Mary’s was repeated breaking of Baltimore’s windows with long hits while playing street ball; by another, he was told to join a team by the school’s athletic director, Brother Herman, on his first day, becoming a catcher although left-handers rarely play that position. During his time there he would also play third base and shortstop, again unusual for a left-hander, and forcing him to wear mitts and gloves made for righties. He was encouraged in his pursuits by the school’s Prefect of Discipline, Brother Matthias Boutlier, a native of Nova Scotia and large man who was greatly respected by the boys both for his strength and for his fairness. For the rest of his life, Ruth would praise Brother Matthias, and his running and hitting styles would closely resemble his teacher’s.Creamer, pp. 35–37.Montville, pp. 24–26. Ruth stated, "I think I was born as a hitter the first day I ever saw him hit a baseball."Creamer, p. 37. The older man became a mentor and role model to George, whose biographer Robert W. Creamer commented on the closeness between the two: