Douglas Healy

Nov 22, 2021

4 min read

Babe Ruth: From Juvenile Delinquent to Baseball’s Top Player

Babe Ruth was born George Herman Ruth Jr. in Pigtown, Baltimore, Maryland, in 1895. Tragically, just one of his seven younger brothers and sisters survived infancy: his little sister, Mamie.

Both of Babe Ruth’s parents were German, with Prussian and Hanoverian lineage on his father’s side. Ruth spoke German as a child. When he was six years old, his father bought a saloon, the family moving into the apartment upstairs. The following year, Babe Ruth was placed in St Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, and orphanage and reformatory.

Reportedly, George Ruth Sr. had run out of ideas on how to mentor and discipline his son. Some accounts suggest that the decision to send Ruth to the school stemmed from a violent incident that occurred at his father’s saloon, which city authorities deemed an unsuitable environment for a small child. According to an account from Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe Ruth’s adopted daughter, her father became a delinquent, having received little supervision growing up. In his adult years, Babe Ruth admitted playing truant from school and drinking beer as an adolescent.

During his time at St Mary’s, Ruth received an education, as well as learning work skills, including shirt-making and carpentry. Students, who ranged in age from 5 to 21, performed most of the work at the facility. Even at the height of his baseball career, Ruth would adjust his own shirt collars. Corporal punishment was common. Ruth was rarely visited by his parents, and his mother died when he was 12.

Ruth developed his passion for baseball at St. Mary’s. A left-hander, he played using gloves and mitts made for right-handed players. Brother Matthias Boutlier, a Nova Scotia native who was widely respected for his fairness and strength, took the young Ruth under his wing. A large man, Brother Matthias became Ruth’s role model and mentor, Ruth stating later in life that he was “born as a hitter” the first time he saw Brother Matthias hit a ball.

According to Ruth’s biographer, Robert W. Creamer, Ruth revered the clergyman, which was remarkable given his reported unruliness. A devout Catholic, Ruth gave generously to St. Mary’s fundraisers in later life, and visited hospitals, schools, and orphanages. In 1926, He spent $5,000 on a Cadillac for Brother Matthias, subsequently replacing it after it was damaged in an accident. Nevertheless, biographer Leigh Montville suggests many of Babe Ruth’s notorious excesses later in life were driven by deprivations he experienced at St. Mary’s.

Babe Ruth went on to become St, Mary’s best pitcher. At 18, he was allowed to play in local games, and was mentioned in several newspapers for his pitching prowess and hitting ability.

In 1914, the minor-league Baltimore Orioles signed Ruth. Despite being required to remain at the school until 21, Ruth was discharged from the school at 19, earning a monthly salary of $100. Acquiring the moniker “Babe” while playing for the Orioles, Ruth played his debut game on March 7, 1914. He quickly rose to prominence as the team’s star pitcher.

After the Baltimore Orioles ran into financial difficulties, manager Jack Dunn had no other option but to sell the team’s best players. Babe Ruth joined the American League on July 4, 1914, playing for the Boston Red Sox. He won his first game for the team within a week, driving a 4–3 win against the Cleveland Naps.

Despite his initial success, Ruth reportedly locked horns with Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan, who kept Ruth off the pitching rotation, much to his annoyance. Ruth was subsequently sent to play for the Providence Grays, competing in the minor leagues. He was impressed by the team’s manager, “Wild Bill” Donovan, who himself was once a star pitcher for Detroit.

In one stretch, Babe Ruth started and won four games in eight days for the Providence Grays, pitching a one-hit 9–0 win at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Park on September 5, 1914, and hitting his first professional home run. Recalled to Boston shortly after his star performance, Ruth subsequently pitched and won for the Boston Red Sox against the Yankees.

Ruth joined the New York Yankees in 1920 after a $125,000 buyout, an astronomical sum at the time. He quickly emerged as the sport’s greatest hitter. In his first season with the team, he run a total of 54 home runs. In his second, he hit 59.

Along with Lou Gehrig, Ruth formed part of the infamous Murderer’s Row, widely regarded as the greatest team to ever play baseball. In an outstanding career in professional sport, Babe Ruth established numerous records, and was among the first five players inducted in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.