(Yesterday, I wrote about Hank Aaron celebrating a birthday. Today, the birthday cake belongs to Babe Ruth. That’s 1,469 home runs all together if you’re counting from home.)
By Glen Sparks
A path from Oriole Park leads you to Babe Ruth’s Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore. Just follow the painted baseballs; it’s a short walk.
You’ll see the Babe Ruth banner and the red, white and blue bunting outside the handsome, brick row house, one of many in the neighborhood. Take a visit, spend an hour or so. Admission is just $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for the kids. (Check out the museum for more details and for exact hours.) You’ll learn more about one of sport’s greatest, grandest and mightiest heroes. Former Yankee All-Star and current Dodger manager Don Mattingly once said, “Honestly, at one time I thought Babe Ruth was a cartoon character.” Nope, he was real. And bigger than life.
You can go upstairs at 216 Emory St., in a neighborhood called “Pigtown” and sometimes, more respectfully “Washington Village.” You’ll see where the Babe was born on Feb. 6, 1895, the oldest child of George Herman Ruth Sr. and Katherine Ruth. George Sr. was a lightning rod salesman and a streetcar operator. Later, he operated a nearby grocery store and saloon.
You’ll learn about George Herman Ruth Jr. the ballplayer. One of the current exhibits is “The Ruthian Record”, which answers the perfectly legitimate question: “Why is Babe Ruth the greatest player to ever take the field?”
The museum has a souvenir area, naturally. Get your Babe Ruth T-shirts, magnets and caps. You can also rent out the place for receptions, birthdays and bar mitzvahs. On a weekend night, if you want the entire facility, plus use of the courtyard and Emory Street for four hours (300-person capacity), it will cost you $1,250. Take $250 off for weekday rentals. … What better place to enjoy a beer? Drink one for the Babe.
The Babe, in the fog
During your visit, you might not learn many nitty-gritty details about the Babe’s early life. Leigh Montville, in his fine biography, The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, writes about how “the fog” so often creeps into the Babe Ruth story. We know little about the Babe’s mom, for instance.
Katherine Ruth (formerly “Schaumberger”) gave birth to eight children. Only two, the Babe and daughter Mary, lived into adulthood.” Mary, or Mamie, passed away at age 91 and only went so far as to say, “Mother was not a well person.” (She also said the Babe was a “very big boy for his age.”) Katherine died at age 39, supposedly of “exhaustion.” The Babe didn’t spill any family secrets either. In his ghostwritten autobiography, he wrote “I hardly knew my parents.”
In 1902, George Sr. took Junior to the exhaustively named St. Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible and Wayward Boys. The Babe was seven years old and already skipping school, breaking neighborhood windows and sneaking off with some of his dad’s beer. According to the Babe’s book, “I had a rotten start (in life).”
The Babe learned how to hit home runs at St. Mary’s. He belted 714 home runs in the major leagues and was the American League home-run champ a record 12 times. In 1920, the Bambino hit 54 home runs, more than 14 of the game’s 15 other teams. He even went 94-46 as a pitcher in his career.
Babe Ruth played on the greatest team in America’s biggest city. He made movies, appeared on Broadway, played on seven World Series teams, toured the world and hammed it up at rodeos and anywhere else with an audience. He drove fast cars, wore fur coats and had the most famous bellyache the world has ever known. He called a shot (or didn’t), befriended stars and starlets and said that he didn’t mind making more money than President Hoover because “I had a better year.”
Babe Ruth would be 120 years old today, an impossible figure. But, Ruth never came close. He succumbed to throat cancer on Aug. 16, 1948, at the age of 53. He crammed plenty of living, and maybe a few too many cigars, into those 53 years. (The Babe’s dad had died on Aug. 25, 1918, in a fight outside his saloon. He was just 45 years old. The bar was located in what is now centerfield at Oriole Park.)
Following his death, Ruth lay in state for two days at Yankee Stadium. More than 77,000 mourners filed past the casket. A funeral mass was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was hot that day in New York City. Supposedly, former Yankee and pallbearer Joe Dugan said, “I’d give a hundred dollars for a beer.” Legend says that Yankee pitching great Waite Hoyt, another pallbearer, said, “So, would the Babe.”
(Tomorrow, I plan to post a quiz about the Babe. Check back.)