1895 - 1948
On February 6, 1895, Kate Schamberger Ruth gave birth to
her first child. George Herman Ruth, Jr. was born in the house of his
grandparents in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the first of eight children born to
Kate and George Herman Ruth. Unfortunately, most of the children died in
infancy, and only George, Jr. and his sister Mamie survived to lead a full life.
Ruth's father worked as a bartender and ultimately opened his own tavern. He and his wife spent little time with their son because they worked long hours. Contrary to popular belief, young George was not an orphan. For the first seven years of his life he was with his parents, but he survived without guidance on the dirty, crowded streets of the Baltimore riverfront.
Young George experienced little, if any, real love from his parents who made no time for their son. Ultimately, they felt that they could no longer care for their son. On June 13, 1902, George Herman Ruth took his seven year-old to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys. Not only did he place young George in the school, but he also signed over custody of the boy to the Xaverian Brothers, a Catholic Order of Jesuit Missionaries who ran St. Mary's.
St. Mary's was both a reformatory and orphanage that was surrounded by a wall similar to a prison with guards on duty. There were approximately 800 children at St. Mary's. The reformatory had four dormitories that housed about 200 kids each. George, Jr., who by the age of seven had already been involved with mischievous altercations, was classified as "incorrigible" upon his admission. For a few brief periods he was returned to live with his family, but he was always sent back to St. Mary's, and no one ever came to visit him while he was there.
Perhaps the one positive thing stemming from his time at St. Mary's was meeting Brother Mathias. Brother Mathias was the main disciplinarian at St. Mary's. He spent a great deal of time with George, Jr., providing the guidance and support that the youngster did not receive from his parents. He even helped young Ruth develop as a baseball player. It is because of his difficult childhood and the positive influence of Brother Mathias that Babe Ruth came to love children. This helps to explain why all of his life he went out of his way to do things for kids, especially those in need.
Baseball was a popular and primary form of recreation for the boys at St. Mary's. Young George Ruth, Jr., displayed his potential at a very young age. He played all positions on the field, and was an excellent pitcher. He also possessed a superb ability to hit the ball. By his late teens Ruth had developed into a major league baseball prospect. On February 27, 1914, at the age of nineteen, Ruth was signed to his first professional baseball contract by Jack Dunn, manager of the Baltimore Orioles, at the time a minor league franchise in the International League. Because Ruth's parents had signed over custody of the youngster to St. Mary's he was supposed to remain at the school until the age of twenty-one. To circumvent this, Dunn became Ruth's legal guardian.
Jack Dunn was well known for picking up youngsters whom he thought had major league potential. When George Ruth, Jr., appeared with Dunn at the ballpark the other players started cracking jokes, and one of the players quipped, "Well, here's Jack's newest Babe." The rest of the players also started referring to young George as "Babe" and the name stuck. Thus began the storied career of Babe Ruth.
Just five months after being signed by the Baltimore Orioles, Babe Ruth was sold to the Boston Red Sox. He made his debut as a major leaguer in Fenway Park on July 11, 1914, pitching against the Cleveland Indians.
In the mornings, Ruth would frequent Landers' Coffee Shop in Boston, and it is here that he met Helen Woodford, a seventeen-year-old waitress. They married on October 17, 1914 at St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Ellicott City, Maryland. As Babe's career began to blossom and his salary increased (by 1919 he was making $10,000 per year), he and Helen were able to buy a home outside of Boston in Sudbury, Massachusetts.
In December of 1919 Babe was sold to the New York Yankees, owned by Colonel
Jacob Ruppert and managed by Miller Huggins. Prior to Ruth's arrival in New
York, the team had never won a pennant. With "The Babe" as part of
their arsenal, they became a dominant force in major league baseball, winning
seven pennants and four World Championships from 1920 to 1933.
In New York, Babe and Helen moved into the Ansonia Hotel on Broadway, which was also the New York home for many celebrities. Unlike her husband, Helen was shy and reserved and did not enjoy the constant notoriety that accompanied Babe wherever he went. As a result, she preferred staying at their rural home outside of Boston, where they had a farm with some 200 acres of land and privacy. In 1921, the couple adopted a baby girl, Dorothy.
On January 11, 1929, at the age of 31, Helen died of suffocation in a fire. Dorothy, who was eight at the time, was away at boarding school.
Babe met and became seriously interested in a young widow, Claire Hodgson. Claire had come to New York from Georgia with her young daughter Julia in 1920 and worked as a model and actress. On April 17, 1929, the two were married in St. Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church in New York. This was the day before the Opening Day Game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, and as a wedding present to Claire, Babe hit a home run in his first at bat. In October 1930, Babe formally adopted Claire's daughter Julia, while Claire did the same with Dorothy.
Had Babe Ruth been born fifty years later he would unquestionably have been a star in several sports, at least as a youngster. However, at the time of his youth, baseball was basically the only true "sport of choice." Nevertheless, the Babe was interested in almost all sporting activities and participated in most of them. He had a passion for hunting and fishing, boxing, and bowling. But perhaps one of his biggest athletic passions was golf. He loved the game and played whenever he could. As a matter of fact, his daughter Julia still believes that were it not for golf he would not have known what to do with himself after he retired from baseball.
Perhaps it was because as a child he did not receive the love all children deserve, perhaps it was because his childhood was such a difficult one, or perhaps it was because of something all together different. Regardless of the reason, Babe Ruth loved children and children adored The Babe. Wherever he went, children flocked to him and he never tried to discourage them from surrounding him. He genuinely loved kids and felt that he had to do whatever he could to help those children who were in need. Although he may not have always enjoyed public appearances, he never turned down a request to visit or help kids. He made countless visits to children in hospitals and orphanages, and always did what was asked of him to help charitable causes associated with children. This even included St. Mary's. He never tried to hide his roots and difficult childhood, and once he became established he did much to help St. Mary's and the Xaverian Brothers who ran it.
Babe Ruth's last year as a Yankee was 1934. He had a burning desire to manage in the major leagues. In 1935, at the age of forty, he announced that his playing days were through and that he wanted to become a manager. In late February, Judge Emil Fuchs, owner of the Boston Braves, enticed Ruth to join the team by making him believe that the following year he may become the team's manager. Unfortunately for the Babe, that never came to pass. Ruth played his last major league game on May 30, 1935, for the Boston Braves and announced his retirement on June 2, 1935. From that day on he kept hoping to get a chance to manage in the major leagues, but the opportunity never came. On February 2, 1936, Babe became a charter member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1946, Babe was diagnosed with throat cancer. Even though doctors performed surgery and he received radiation treatments, the cancer could not be arrested. With doctors being unable to do any more for him, Babe was released from the hospital on February 15, 1947. Subsequently, April 27 was declared "Babe Ruth Day" in every baseball park in the United States and Japan. Although too frail to don his old uniform at the time, Babe did make an appearance on that day at Yankee Stadium.
His final appearance at Yankee stadium actually came later, on June 13, 1948, during the 25th anniversary of "The House that Ruth Built." During the celebration the Yankees also retired his uniform, number 3, and for that reason Babe put on the uniform for one last time.
At 8:01 p.m. on August 16, 1948, Babe Ruth lost his battle with cancer. For two days, his body lay in state at the main entrance to Yankee Stadium. Hundreds of thousands of people stood in line to pay their last respects. Babe's funeral was on August 19 at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. He is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York. He now rests along side of his wife Claire who was buried next to him after her death in 1976.