George Herman “Babe” Ruth was born on February 6, 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland, and died on August 16, 1948. Although many of his celebrated records have been broken, what he gave to and did for the game of baseball will forever be remembered. Each August Chatter from the Dugout recalls a particular aspect of Ruth’s life, and this year we will introduce the reader to a man that had a tremendous influence on the life of Babe Ruth.
George Ruth was called “incorrigible and vicious” by his mother and father who sent their boy to the St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore on June 13, 1902 at the age of seven. The young boy lived there for the next 12 years, and when he finally walked out through the front gate Babe had already signed a professional baseball contract, and in several months would be playing major league baseball. What changed an uneducated and untamed boy into the most famous and visible sports figure of all time was 6’6” and 250-pound Brother Matthias of The Xaverian Brothers or Congregation of St. Francis Xavier (C.F.X).
The school was located a few miles outside of downtown Baltimore with six buildings on several acres that included two baseball fields. The 800 boys, or inmates as they called themselves, received little corporal punishment although poor behavior might result in the withholding of privileges. The children were kept busy as the Brothers believed “idleness breeds trouble”, and one of the harshest punishments given could be keeping a boy off the baseball diamond.
No one knew it at the time, but Ruth’s life would take a turn for the best when he met a huge man by the name of Brother Matthias, an assistant to Brother Herman who was the director of athletics at St. Mary’s. Brother Matthias was believed to be Martin Boutlier who was born in 1872 in Lingan, Cape Breton, a small mining town in Nova Scotia. “A game of bat and ball” had been played in the Cape Breton area since 1838, and so Boutlier was able to pass his baseball skills on to little George. Martin Boutlier joined the Catholic faith, and moved to the United States where he became Brother Matthias.
With his ample size Brother Matthias was a “force to be reckoned with”, and was said that his “commanding presence was enough to quell schoolyard mutinies without saying a word.” Brother Matthias eventually became teacher, coach, and confidant to the crude and immature George Ruth. In his autobiography Ruth said of the Brother, “It was at St. Mary’s that I met and learned to love the greatest man I’ve ever known…He was the father I needed. He taught me to read and write, and the difference between right and wrong.”
The boys could select a trade, and George chose sewing shirts. They were given a small stipend that Ruth used on candy that he gave to the younger boys. George could easily have been a good craftsman, but his abilities and interest was on the baseball field.
St. Mary’s had intramural teams that were named after the major league teams. George was a catcher on the “Red Sox”, and there are two stories as to how the he became a pitcher. One was that the regular pitcher lost his privileges, and George was asked to take over the mound. The other, and the most interesting, was when an unhappy St. Mary’s hurler could not get anybody out, Ruth stood by laughing and teasing his teammate. Finally, Brother Matthias finally said, “If you can do any better, then get out there and throw the ball yourself.” George Herman did, and a future major league pitcher was born.
The Brothers also had nearby boys’ college named Mount St. Joseph’s where the boys were considered high class snooties while those at St. Mary’s were thought of as rowdy ruffians. Needless to say there was a lot of competition between the two schools. Mount St. Joseph’s had a fine pitcher named Bill Morrisette who later played in 13 major league games with the Philadelphia A’s and Detroit Tigers.
As a special contest during commencement ceremonies the college set up a game that would feature Morrisette and Ruth pitching for the two rival teams. Ten days before the big game George ran away. He was soon found, but could not play ball for the next five days. Finally, Brother Matthias reminded George that his punishment was over, the game was in two days, and he had better start practicing. The precise game information was never reported, but it is known that George Herman threw a shutout, struck out at least 14, and won the game by at least six runs.
In February of 1914 George was ready to leave St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, and had been transformed from an “urchin of the docks” into a responsible young man. He had signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles (minor league) for one hundred dollars a month, considerable more than his candy money. After the boys learned that George would soon be leaving it was said, “There goes our ball club.” The day George was leaving they had the worst winter storm in 25 years as a foot of snow fell and winds took off some of the roofs and a steeple. Nothing could keep George Ruth from getting on that train that also included Bill Morriselle. On July 11, 1914, only five months later, Babe Ruth would be pitching for the Boston Red Sox and winning his first big league game 4-3 over Cleveland.
The little rough juvenile delinquent that became one of the best players in the history of baseball never forget Brother Matthias nor the boys back at the school. Brother Matthias always received a new Cadillac automobile each year, and Ruth often returned to his alma mater to play ball with the boys. Babe Ruth always had time for the children.
From “Bygone baseball by C. Philip Francis”