Patrick Brennan looks at the life of the greatest baseball player of all time, and a timeless American icon.
“Hotter than hell, ain’t it, Prez?” Babe Ruth spoke these words to American president Calvin Coolidge on a sweltering day in the mid-1920s.
A simple quote that perfectly sums up the contradictions of myth and reality, humility and arrogance, boorishness and gentility that was Babe Ruth.
Even in countries like Ireland, there are few people who don’t know Ruth’s name.
George Herman Ruth’s life began far from presidents and the realm of legend. He was born in 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland, to parents of German ancestry.
At the age of seven Ruth was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage, for unclear reasons but probably to do with the unsuitability of his father’s saloon for a young boy.
The Xaverian Brothers ran the school with an iron fist and corporal punishment was common there. It is likely that Ruth’s later appetites for booze, food and women came from the years of deprivation he suffered there but, in one of Ruth’s many contradictions, he would remain a lifelong devouted Catholic.
A Brother named Matthias Boutlier encouraged the youth to redirect his delinquent energies into baseball, and Ruth became adept at both pitching and hitting during his years on the school’s team.
At the age of 19, Ruth left the school and joined the Baltimore Orioles, a minor league team. It’s likely it was here George Herman gained his famous nickname, “Babe” being a general term for new players.
He played as a pitcher and remained mostly in that position when he moved to the Boston Red Sox, a Major League team, in 1914.
Ruth hit his first Major League home run on May 6, 1915, at a time when home runs were rare in baseball