Babe Ruth : biography
The school’s influence remained with Ruth in other ways: a lifelong Catholic, he would sometimes attend Mass after an all-night bender, and became a well-known member of the Knights of Columbus. He would visit orphanages, schools, and hospitals throughout his life, often avoiding publicity.Reisler, p. 22. He was generous to the school as he became famous, donating money and his presence at fundraisers, and spending $5,000 to buy Brother Matthias a Cadillac in 1926—and then replacing it when it was destroyed in an accident. Nevertheless, his biographer Leigh Montville suggests that many of the off-the-field excesses of Ruth’s career were driven by the deprivations of his time at St. Mary’s.Montville, pp. 28–29.
Most of the boys at St. Mary’s played baseball, with organized leagues at different levels of proficiency. Ruth later estimated that he played 200 games a year as he steadily climbed the ladder of success there. Although he played all positions at one time or another (including infield positions generally reserved for right-handers), he came to star as a pitcher. According to Brother Matthias, Ruth was standing to one side laughing at the bumbling pitching efforts of fellow students, and Matthias told him to go in and see if he could do better. He not only became the best pitcher at St. Mary’s, but by 1913 at age 18 was allowed to leave the premises to play weekend games on teams drawn from the community. He received several newspaper mentions, for both his pitching prowess and an ability to hit long home runs.Montville, pp. 26–28.Wagenheim, p. 17
In early 1914, Ruth was signed to a professional baseball contract by Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the minor-league Baltimore Orioles, an International League team. How it was that Dunn signed Ruth cannot be stated with certainty, with historical fact obscured by stories that cannot all be true. By some accounts, Dunn was urged to attend a game between an all-star team from St. Mary’s and one from another Xavierian facility, Mount St. Mary’s College. Some versions have Ruth running away before the eagerly-awaited game, to return in time to be punished, and to then pitch St. Mary’s to victory as Dunn watched. Others have Washington Senators pitcher Joe Engel, a Mount St. Mary’s graduate, pitching in an alumni game after watching a preliminary game between the college’s freshmen and a team from St. Mary’s, including Ruth. Engel watched Ruth play, then told Dunn about him at a chance meeting in Washington. Others involve Brother Gilbert, baseball coach at Mount Saint Mary’s, said to have told Dunn about Ruth to appease him after a Gilbert-coached prospect refused to leave school to join the Orioles. Ruth, in his autobiography, stated that he worked out for Dunn for a half hour, and was signed.Montville, pp. 32–34.Wagenheim, pp. 18–21.Creamer, pp. 48–51. Dunn also became his guardian. According to Ruth biographer Kal Wagenheim, there were legal difficulties to be straightened out as Ruth was supposed to remain at the school until he turned 21.Wagenheim, pp. 19. Ruth was to receive a salary of $250 per month.Creamer, p. 52.
The train journey to spring training in Fayetteville, North Carolina in early March was likely Ruth’s first outside the Baltimore area.Wagenheim, pp. 20–21. The rookie ballplayer was the subject of various pranks by the veterans, who also most likely gave him his famous nickname. There are various accounts of how Ruth came to be called Babe, but most center around him being referred to as "Dunnie’s babe" or a variant. "Babe" was at that time a common nickname in baseball, with perhaps the most famous to that point being Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher and 1909 World Series hero Babe Adams, who appeared younger than he was.Montville, p. 36.Wagenheim, p. 22.
Babe Ruth’s first game as a professional ballplayer was an intersquad game on March 7, 1914. Ruth played shortstop, and pitched the last two innings of a 15-9 victory. In his second at bat, Ruth hit a long home run to right, which was locally said to be longer than a legendary shot hit in Fayetteville by Jim Thorpe.Creamer, pp. 61–62. His first appearance against a team in organized baseball was an exhibition against the major-league Philadelphia Phillies; Ruth pitched the middle three innings, giving up two runs in the fourth, but then settling down and pitching a scoreless fifth and sixth. The following afternoon, Ruth was put in during the sixth inning against the Phillies and did not allow a run the rest of the way. The Orioles scored seven runs in the bottom of the eighth to overcome a 6-0 deficit, making Ruth the winning pitcher.Creamer, pp. 66–67. On April 5, 1914, he defeated the major-league Brooklyn Dodgers, in an exhibition played in Baltimore, with a performance that demonstrated his pitching, hitting and fielding skills, throwing five strikeouts, hitting a triple, and taking part in a rare, bases-loaded 1-2-3 double play.