Bringing Up Bambino

Babe Ruth takes manager Miller Huggins for a spin in 1921. (Photo courtesy of The Daily News)

Babe Ruth was born on Feb. 6, 1895, in Baltimore, MD. His father was a successful salon proprietor, but the young George proved too much a ruffian for his parents to handle. He often missed school while roaming the streets and docks of Baltimore with his juvenile delinquent friends. Ruth’s overwhelmed parents sent him to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. That was the turning point in the young man’s life.

The tough Xaverians at St. Mary’s had a talent for whipping young hoodlums into shape. Ruth was no exception. At St. Mary’s, Ruth was tutored in and out of the classroom by the imposing Brother Matthias. The tough, old priest taught Ruth to both love schoolwork and the reigning American pastime. Even as a world famous athlete, Ruth continued to revere Brother Matthias, whom he saw as a sort of father figure, hailing him as “the greatest man I’ve ever known.”

Ruth’s life story is all glory and legend. Still, the man met a sad ending. After retiring in 1935, Ruth wanted nothing more than to manage his beloved Yankees. He would listen to Yankee games on the radio in his Riverside Drive apartment, calling out moves he would make if he were indeed managing. Rumors circulated that a despairing Ruth, more than once, had to be reined in from the ledge of the apartment building. Jacob Ruppert, a typically gruff owner, thought Ruth’s managing dream was a joke. “He can’t manage himself,” Ruppert reportedly remarked. “How can he manage the Yankees?” Ruppert was wrong.

By the 1930s, The Babe had settled down. His first marriage didn’t work. As a young star for the Red Sox, Ruth courted and married a South Boston waitress. After only a few weeks of dating, Ruth blurted out to Helen Woolford, “Hon’ how about you and me getting married?” Next came New York and fame and Ruth’s numerous infidelities.

Back in Boston, Helen attempted suicide before moving in with a local dentist, where, tragically, she perished in a Jan. 11, 1929, house fire.

Ruth’s second marriage to Claire Hodgson, a Broadway chorus girl, was more successful. Ruth had a daughter by his first marriage as did his second wife from her own first union. Ruth was now a faithful husband and a doting father. The Yankees did offer him a job managing their prime farm club in Newark, but The Babe turned it down. He probably should have accepted though, gaining a year or two of seasoning before managing the Yankees.

Ruth’s retirement years weren’t a waste. He remained as active as ever, often driving his roadster from the Upper West Side to St. Albans, Queens, for a round of golf. He participated in Old Timers Days and reigned as the most beloved man in America. In 1942, Samuel Goldwyn released The Pride of the Yankees, the Academy Award-winning film on the life of Lou Gehrig. It was quickly agreed: Only Ruth could play Ruth. The Babe promptly lost 40 pounds for the role and was back to his jovial self. In one scene, Ruth barges into the Yankees locker room, decked out in a camel jacket and a Ben Hogan golf cap, while scarfing down a ham sandwich. “Hey, Babe,” a sportswriter called out. “Was that your 37th or 38th home run yesterday?” “I don’t know,” The Babe replied. “I’ll hit ‘em and you count ‘em!” Everyone roared with laughter. For one magic moment, Babe Ruth was himself again.

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Joe Scotchie
Joe Scotchie is the editor of both The Roslyn News and New Hyde Park Illustrated News. In 2009, he won a New York State Press Association award for a sports feature. Joseph Scotchie’s past publications include biographies of Thomas Wolfe and Richard Weaver and a comprehensive history of the city of Asheville, North Carolina.

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