babe ruth in reform school -- 2/1/19

Today's selection -- from Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer. Though his parents were living, George Herman "Babe" Ruth was sent to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, which served as an orphanage, reform school, and training school:

"What ultimately brought the Ruths to the final drastic step [of sending their son to St. Mary's] is impossible to determine, but on June 13, 1902, a Friday the 13th, when George was not yet eight and a half years old, he was committed by his parents to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys. He was listed as 'incorrigible' when he entered the Home, as it was usually called, and Ruth later admitted this, adding that whenever he wanted something in those days he took it, usually from his parents. 'Looking back on my boyhood,' he said in his autobiography, 'I honestly don't remember being aware of the difference between right and wrong.' As a grown man Ruth was usually meticulously honest in money matters, but otherwise that carefree attitude toward moral and social codes remained. His excesses occasionally brought him to his knees, figuratively if not literally, but in the words of sportswriter John Drebinger, 'He was the most un­inhibited human being I have ever known. He just did things.'

"Whatever Little George did in the late spring of 1902, it was enough to send him for the first time on the long trolley ride out to the Home. St. Mary's was primarily what its name said it was: an industrial training school for boys. But it was more than that. In later years it was to become solely a reform school, and a boy who was sent to St. Mary's was labeled bad. In Ruth's day it was a reform school too, but only partly; it harbored orphans and boys whose homes had been broken by divorce or death or serious illness, and it also took in poor boys whose families could not afford to take care of them. St. Mary's was four miles southwest of downtown Baltimore, a stunning distance for a small boy whose lifetime had been encom­passed by a few city blocks. ... There were 800 boys at St. Mary's, and George Ruth, at eight, was one of the youngest. ...

Babe Ruth (top row, left) at St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, Maryland - 1912

"In his pamphlet [written years later] on Ruth at St Mary's, [his former classmate] Lou Leisman recalled a Sunday visiting day around 1912 when he, Leisman, was feeling sorry for himself because his father was dead, his mother was ill and he had had no visitors for two years; the eighteen-year-old Ruth, who had had no visitors himself, said, perhaps in a rough effort to console the younger boy, 'You're lucky, Fats. I haven't seen my father in ten years.' On another visitorless Sunday Ruth said, 'I guess I'm too big and ugly to have visitors. Maybe next time.' Next time never came, according to Leisman. But Mamie [Ruth's mother] recalled, 'We could visit him once a month. We used to ride out on the trolley. We had to change cars, there at the convent.' So someone was visiting the boy. ... He grew up there, and even though it was in a real sense a prison for a growing boy, he looked back on St. Mary's later with a warmth and nostalgia he never felt for the places he lived with his family. St. Mary's was his home.

"[Each boy had a job at St. Mary's, Ruth's was in the tailor shop.] The account money he earned in the tailor shop was important to young Ruth. With it he would buy gobs of candy at the little store and distribute it to smaller boys, particularly those who were orphans and had no relatives or friends. This apparently is not legend, for his largesse stuck in the memory of those who knew him at the Home. Leisman grew rhapsodic about his kindness. He told a story about an eight-year-old boy with the rather graphic name of Loads Clark, who burst into frightened tears one day because he had broken a window in the laundry. He was terrified by the prospect of the punishment he would receive. Ruth, sixteen at the time, calmed and soothed the younger boy and told him, 'Go on, get out of here. Take it on the lam.' Loads did and Ruth took the blame for the window and accepted the punishment. According to his devoted [friend] Leisman, 'He made life a little more livable when life seemed unbearable.' [Lawton] Stenersen remembered Ruth at St. Mary's as popular, unpredictable, stubborn, reckless and, above all else, generous."



Robert W. Creamer


Babe: The Legend Comes to Life


Scribner a division of Simon & Schuster


Copyright 1974 by Robert W. Creamer


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