Babe Ruth’s Autobiography, as Written in 1920
It is a little known fact that Babe Ruth finished his autobiography before finishing his first season with the Yankees. That he got a little help with this will not be surprising, but the identity of the ghostwriter(s) may be. I will reveal that at the end of this week-long series, on Friday. Have certain facts offered here been challenged by historians? Certainly; Ruth made up some of his story, just as all autobiographers do. But the voice is sometimes right, if often spectacularly wrong; and many tidbits are new, like the two home runs missing from his 1919 record, or Ruth’s proposal to award two bases on an intentional walk. And then there is the curiosity of its being largely forgotten since its newspaper syndication, by United News over 12 days in August of 1920. So without further ado: Babe’s life story, told in his own words … more or less.
King of Hitters Made First Home Run at 7
Babe Ruth Tells Story of Life—Baseball Career Began in Industrial School When Wild Nature Was Conquered.
Babe Ruth hit his first home run when he was 7 years old.
In the first of a remarkable series of articles telling his life story, the home run king and idol of American baseball fan today tells of this first four-base hit and of his first impressions of St. Mary’s industrial school, where he was sent by his parents when a boy. Ruth’s story is that of the rise of a “reform school” boy under the early tutelage of sympathetic Father Matthias, one of the brothers at St. Mary’s, to the position of the world’s greatest ball player, admired and loved by baseball enthusiasts and fellow players alike.
Ruth played “hookey” when he was a boy in order to play baseball. After long family conferences, Babe was sent to St. Mary’s. There it was that his career really started.
By Babe Ruth.
NEW YORK, Monday, Aug. 9—There’s no use of my beating around the bush.
I spent 12 years in a reform school. A friend of mine came to me the other day out in Chicago and said, “Babe, a lot of people seem to have an idea that St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore is a reform school: don’t you think it would be a good idea for you to clear up on that point?”
There was only one answer that I could make him: It is a reform school. St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys is the sort of institution where unruly young rascals are taken in hand by men of big character and taught to be men. It is run by an order of Brothers who can find and develop the good in a disobedient youngster. When I was first sent to St. Mary’s I did not give the idea many votes, but as I look back upon the years I spent there I realize now that the best thing my parents ever did for me was to put me in the way of the good training I got there.
At the age of 7 I must have seemed a pretty hard case. For a year I had been enrolled as a schoolboy and most of that year I had devoted to an independent study of applied baseball. The ordinary punishment for playing hookey, applied to the customary zone, had no effect on me.
Father a Stern Disciplinarian.
My father was a stern man. He loved his family so well that it undoubtedly cost him many a sleepless night to decide on sending me away, young as I was, to St. Mary’s.
In thinking of St. Mary’s people unjustly lose sight of the fact that the boys were there to be trained, not to be punished. They forget that many of the boys wore homeless, friendless little orphans being befriended, taught trades and kept out of mischief. Many of the lads had never done a wrong thing. Others had played hookey.
My father knew that I needed the constant good example of the Brothers, some discipline and close supervision. He would not flinch. And after many conferences under the reading lamp after supper my mother consented for my own sake, although her heart was aching.
Mother did not live to see me break the world’s home run record in 1919. I only wish that she might have been spared to see that her decision was the right one. If only she were here now so that I might repay her in happiness! She died in 1913, while I had still a year ahead of me in school. It was the first great sadness I had experienced as a young man. I was summoned home from school too late to be with her.
My first day in school was the hardest, physically. I was so big for 7 that I might have held my own with some of the boys older than myself. However, I had a knack for getting along with my fellow “men” and seldom met trouble more than half way. On the second day in school I made the Colts, the smallest ball team in the institution, as catcher, and it was only a couple of days later that I stepped up to the plate with the bases full, measured a nice groove ball, and socked it over the center fielder’s head for the first home run of my career.
My smack won the ball game and I stood high with the team. So you see I was on a ball team when I was 7 years old and made my first home run at that age. Since that day I have put over a good many home-run wallops, but no drive I have ever made meant half as much to me as my first home run at St. Mary’s.
I can remember that drive as though it happened only yesterday. There was a tall, skinny lad pitching —I’ve forgotten his name, because there were several hundred of us playing ball on the school teams—and I hit a boy’s “fast one” and lined it out way over the center fielder’s head. I didn’t have any idea how far the ball was going, but all the kids looking on set up a yell and I dug my toes in and raced around. I was so afraid that I’d be caught out at the plate that I began sliding for it when I was about ten feet away.
But the ball never did get to the plate until after I had got up, brushed myself off and looked up to find Brother Matthias patting me on the back.
Attack of Homesickness.
But, getting back to that first day, I was a pretty homesick kid along about sundown. I could see the family gathered about the table for supper and my chair empty and I was wondering whether they missed me as much as I missed them. Nobody was paying much attention to me and I wanted sympathy.
As I have said, I could have held my own in a knuckle party,but the stubborn little imp within me was having his troubles with the good little boy that lives in the character of every bad little boy. None of the fellows seemed to know what a time I was having with myself to keep back the tears, and I went to bed in the strange dormitory feeling as though I had been sold out by my best friends.
“What’s the matter, Babe?”
I looked up from my pillow in the darkness there, to see a great, 6-foot-6 man standing over me. He said it in a whisper because he knew that one kid would be sensitive about having the others know him to be homesick.
“What’s the matter, Babe?” Brother Matthias whispered.
My determination was as hard as a railroad doughnut. If he had cuffed me I would not have whimpered. But when he soaked that doughnut in the milk of human kindness, old obstinacy softened.
Got His Share of Lickings.
I don’t remember having been called Babe before that. Perhaps that’s where the name originated. Anyway, he told me he was coach of the ball club and advised me to come out and try for a place on the team. I knew I was going to like this kindly, understanding big friend. But I couldn’t foresee, of course, that he was going to coach me along into the big leagues and make me the home-run champion.
At home my parents and my sister, Mary, who is now Mrs. Moberly of Baltimore, were keeping pretty close tabs on, me through Brother Matthias. I think he told them good news of me from time to time, because as the months multiplied into years the arrangement seemed to become the natural disposition of the family–father, mother and sister at home and the young man of the family away among boys under the tutelage of men, learning to become a man among men.
I used to get my discipline in the old-fashioned way at school.
My share of lickings came to me for such offenses as smoking and chewing tobacco, but I knew I had them coming when I got them, and there were a few I earned which I didn’t get.
After about six months I was given a holiday leave of absence to go home. I think my father was pleased with the change the brothers already had worked in me. It seemed that he and I had come to think alike. Perhaps I was improving; perhaps he had become a little more liberal. Probably it was a little of both. At any rate, when we talked together we had an understanding which we had not had before and were more like good friends and companions than father and son. He had a new respect for my childish opinions which were as important to me, however ridiculous he may have thought them, as his own were to him.
I came to have a new love for dad as a great, kind giant who would go to the floor with a squad of piano movers in defense of a friend or one of his old-fashioned principles.
When my leave was up I was tempted to ask permission to remain at home. I knew that the first few days back at St. Mary’s would be another fight with homesickness. Dad was almost ready to suggest it himself, but I knew that if I mentioned quitting he would lose some of his great new faith in me.
So I said good-bye to them at home and went away to St. Mary’s again, just as proud of my own gameness as my father was of his son.
Part 2: Day Babe Ruth Signed With Dunn, His Biggest
“I’d Have Played for Nothing Just to Get to Wear the Uniform,” World’s Greatest Slugger Declares.
Under the direction of Brother Matthias, Babe Ruth played every position on the St. Mary’s baseball team, while carrying on his studies. Babe’s specialty was catching, but he was just as likely to be assigned to pitch or play the infield. In the meantime he was learning to be a shirt maker.
Then came two big events in Ruth’s life. First, he was given a place on the big team of St. Mary’s, the “First” team, which had uniforms—and everything.
The next event was the appearance at St. Mary’s of “Jack” Dunn, manager of the Baltimore International League team. He came to talk to Brother Matthias about Babe becoming a professional ball player.
Ruth was then 19 years old. Brother Matthias signed for the big schoolboy to join the Baltimore club.
This is the second of a series of stories of his life by Ruth.
NEW YORK, Tuesday, Aug. 10.— I certainly called at headquarters when I took my baseball ambitions to St. Mary’s. All told, there were 44 ball teams in the school and every boy on every team had dreams of being summoned one day to the big leagues. If baseball is the one and only all-American game, then our school was 100 per cent American.
We tried football for a while one autumn, but the field was hard and covered with bits of rock and broken glass, and after some of the boys had had a few pounds of meat scraped off in being tackled, we thought we had better go back to baseball.
Like all kids, however, we tried everything. There was a basketball team, but I didn’t care much for that, and there were some pretty good boxers in the school. I used to put on the gloves and exercise and get a sore nose now and then, but I was not much of a success as a boxer. I loved to clout a baseball, but I didn’t like to clout another boy.
I was a big kid and could hit pretty hard and I suppose I could have become a boxer if I had stuck to it. Kid McCoy thought I looked pretty good as a heavyweight last winter. He and a moving picture actor got an idea when I was out in Los Angeles that I might be able to handle some of the big fellows in the ring and eventually knock Jack Dempsey for a home run. But this did not make such a hit with me. I had my batting eye and I didn’t want to risk having it mussed up by some ring battler with years of experience.
But let’s get back to baseball.
Brother Matthias had the right idea about training a baseball club. He made every boy on the team play every position in the game, including the bench. A kid might pitch a game one day and find himself behind the bat the next, or perhaps out in the sun field. You see, Brother Matthias’ idea was to fit a boy to jump in at any emergency and make good, so whatever I may have done at the bat or on the mound or in the outfield or even on the bases, I owe directly to Brother Matthias.
Headed for First Team.
With so many teams in the school, the ambition of every boy was to graduate into the next higher team, and eventually to make the first team, which had uniforms—and everything.
At St. Mary’s I guess I gave more thought to the game when off the field than the other boys. I used to practice batting with a couple of kids pitching to me. The balls they pitched were not very fast, but I was learning to keep my eye on the hall. I’m going to have a lot to say about that later.
If the baseball fans think that my home runs come easy now they should have seen the games at St. Mary’s in the early slugging days when I often made three homers in an afternoon. We played baseball virtually all the year round, even in winter if the weather was good. It wasn’t anything unusual to play even three games, in one day. My specialty was catching, but under Brother Matthias’ rule I might pitch the second game of a double-header, and if a third game was played I might find myself at first, but I think I liked batting best of all.
Why, there were seasons at St. Mary’s when I made 60 or 70 home I runs, but I wasn’t the only kid who punched them out. Some of the other fellows were right on my heels. For team hitting we made our present Murderers’ Row of the Yankees look like the hitless wonders.
There were several of us who got pretty wise in baseball and we graduated up through the various intermediate teams ahead of some other fellows.
I was about 17 when Brother Matthias came to me and told me to report for a uniform, as he had a place for me on the big team. I thought I had signed with the world’s champions, because all the little kids used to point out the members of the big team and offer to carry their gloves.
But don’t get the idea that all my time was given to baseball. I was spending an much time in the classroom with my books as the average kid on the outside and I was also learning the trade of shirt making, because the object of St. Mary’s was not only to give a boy an education, but to give him a trade as well.
Always Went to Church.
The brothers did not overlook the spiritual side, either. Every boy in the school went to church every day unless he was sick. You heard some pretty loud cheering at our ball games, from a lot of us who were said to be roughnecks, but Brother Matthias was there, and out of respect for him, if for no other reason, there was no bad language. For 12 years in St. Mary’s I went to church every day and I have never missed a Sunday since I left the school.
One day during the winter of 1913 I was out on a pond near the school sliding with a bunch of other fellows. I noticed a man crossing the grounds toward the principal’s office. Just then I didn’t pay much attention to him, but I probably would have thrown my arms around him if I had known who he was and why he had come out to the school on that bleak winter’s day. For, a few minutes later one of the little kids, always full of importance on any mission for a member of the regular ball club, came running up to me, all excited and out of breath, and stammered that a man wanted to see me in Brother Matthias’ office.
My first thought was that someone had slipped on our slide and that I was going to get the dickens for it. There was nothing to do, however, but face the music, so I took one more running slide across the pond for luck, and walked up to the office. I took my time, and, believe me, I didn’t feel any too comfortable.
As I came in, I took off my cap and waited for it to happen. I looked from Brother Matthias to the visitor and was surprised and a whole lot relieved to find that nobody was scowling at me. Brother Matthias took me by the arm and led me around in front of the visitor to introduce me to somebody he said was Mr. John Dunn. Of course, Jack Dunn, manager of the Baltimore Internationals, was sort of an idol to the boys of St. Mary’s, but hardly any of us had ever seen him. So the name “Mr. John Dunn” meant little to me. When, after a few words, he asked me if I wouldn’t like to play baseball on the Baltimore Internationals, I almost felt over.
So this was Jack Dunn, the great Jack Dunn!
He was there to offer me $600 a season to play with his club. I’d have gone with him just for the honor of wearing the uniform!
I asked Brother Matthias whether he thought I ought to go, and he left it to me. I was 19 years old and unable to sign a contract in my own name, so it was really up to Brother Matthias to keep me at school or start me on a baseball career.
He signed, and I was told to report to Mr. John Dunn—I didn’t dare think of him then as “Jack“—for the start of the training trip.
The little kid who had gone down to the pond to summon me to the office had followed me back and was hanging around, the doorway during our talk. I guess he wanted a peep at Dunn more than anything else. Then the youngster, who had now tiptoed into the room, broke out crying:
“There goes our ball team!”
Part 3: Ruth Hit One Homer in Very First Game
Lost the Ball in a Corn Patch Initial Day of Practice with Baltimore International Team.
Ruth took his first real railroad journey when he traveled from Baltimore to Fayetteville for spring training with the Baltimore International League club, at the age of 19. His days as a “rookie“ with his first professional ball club, after leaving St. Mary’s school, were much the same as those of other ‘‘rookies.“ His first assignment was to play shortstop with the “Yannigans.” Thanks to the school training of Father Matthias, who shifted his boys to all positions, Babe got away with it, although his specialty was catching or pitching.
To top things off, Babe drove out his first home run off professional pitching.
This was in the spring of 1914. Ruth was sent in to pitch an exhibition game against the Philadelphia Athletics. Eddie Murphy, Rube Oldring and Eddie Collins then headed the Athletics’ batting list. Babe won his game, his first victory over a big league club. This is the third of a series of stories of his life by Ruth.
NEW YORK, Wednesday. Aug. 11.–After being signed for a tryout with the Baltimore Internationals, I could hardly sleep at night for counting the minutes until the time to report for spring training. All the fallows in the school envied me and said they hated to see me go, but wished me all sorts of good luck.
The day arrived, however, and I packed my suitcase before breakfast. I was taking no chances on being left. Brother Matthias shook me by the hand and told me he knew I would make good, adding that I had only to “play the game” on the field and off.
There were a dozen other rookies waiting on the station platform with the regulars and the newspaper writers who were to accompany the club. Few of us rookies knew one another, but we herded together on the outskirts of the big crowd unnoticed by anyone, although I thought I saw the newspaper experts looking us over the way the stock buyers look ’em over in the Chicago yards. I don’t remember that anyone gave me so much as the once over. I was only a kid and to them had nothing but size and a schoolboy reputation to recommend me. I was nearly six feet, two and I guess I looked like so much ivory.
We rookies knew that it was each man for himself to win a place on the ball club, and we knew also that before spring training ended, some of us would he playing in the trolley league or back on the old home lot. Still we were friendly in our early misery and rivalry and unanimous in our envy of the regulars.
The trip to Fayetteville was a great event in the life of a boy who had been under rather strict discipline for 12 years. I had gone to the institute at the age of seven, you will remember, and here I was at the age of 19, taking my first real railroad journey, and a much longer one than I ever thought I would take. Most of the way 1 was busy looking out of the window and it gave me quite a thrill to run over high trestles and through tunnels, because I was only a boy after all and everything was so new to me. Likewise, the comforts of the hotel at Fayetteville appealed particularly to me. I roomed with another rookie but 1 must say that this boy’s snores at night were music to me: they reminded me of the dormitory back at Saint Mary’s.
He Gets His Chance.
The sport writers immediately started their annual series of stories about the season’s dining room phenom. They criticized the rookies’ form at the dinner plate and one of them said that, if I could swing a bat as well as I swung a fork I would punch .300 for the season. They evidently had never before seen a healthy boy with a healthy appetite, because I don’t believe I ate one bit more than anyone else. One of the wits said that Babe Ruth’s favorite breakfast delicacy was a planked steak smothered in pork chops.
For two days Jack Dunn had us out limbering up, with the mildest sort of ball tossing. I didn’t like it because I had been limber for twelve years and wanted a chance to show that I could put the ball clear out of the park if they’d let me lean a bat against it. I was wearing the gray uniform of the Baltimore club and felt that the proper thing to do would be to score a home run. Anything less than that wouldn’t match up with the suit. On the night of March 6 Dunn announced that there would be a game on the next morning and he told me that I was to go in at shortstop for the Yannigans. That was the time I thanked my stars for Brother Matthias’ training at every position on a ball team. I had wanted to specialize in pitching and catching and would not have known how to play short if I’d not been compelled to play them all at Saint Mary’s. I speared everything that came my way that day. My first time at bat I was determined to show them that I could hit a homer off a regular league pitcher. I dug my spikes in the dirt, watched the ball sailing up the path and swung. There was no telling where the ball went. As soon as I hit and felt the blow singing up the bat, I tore around the bags and scored easily. The ball had gone into a cornfield way over the center fielder’s head. Later on in the game I pitched an inning—Dunn was trying me out for fair. Well, I wasn’t a Walter Johnson, but they didn’t score any more runs on me.
After that game I noticed that the regulars were more friendly to me than they had been. Apparently they had been hearing some comments by Jack Dunn.
Within a few days, Dunn gave me a place on the regular squad and when he arranged an exhibition game with Connie Mack’s world champion Athletics at Wilmington, N. C., he told me I would start the session in the box. Gee, I was going to work against the team that had turned back the Giants in the fall of 1913! The first three men up were Eddie Murphy, Rube Oldring and Eddie Collins. They swung and went back to the bench in order. We scored a run in our half, the Athletics tied it in the second and went out in front in the third, but in our half of the third we tied it up and for the remaining six sessions I held them without a score. We won, 6 to 2.
I had licked the world’s champions.
We were a mighty happy lot when we went back to Baltimore to start the season, and of the rookies who had won out a chance to play with the club and the right to wear that “Baltimore” on the chest, I was the happiest of all. To me it meant that my days in Saint Mary’s were ended, and although I loved the old school, I was impatient to be getting on in the world. I had cut out for myself a career in baseball and was determined to see it through.
Dunn had decided to use me as a pitcher and we worked into the season with my name on the regular roster as a moundsman. As a home run hitter I hadn’t lived up to the performances of my schooldays, perhaps, but it must be remembered that I had been working against the best twirlers in the world, whereas my school day home runs had been made off the delivery of youngsters like myself.
On July 3 I pitched a morning game for the Orioles and in the afternoon I asked Jack Dunn—yes, I called him Jack then—for permission to beat it away from the afternoon game. I was very anxious to go and Dunn evidently noticed this, so he asked me what was on my mind. I said to him: “Oh, I’m just going out to old Saint Mary’s to see the boys and play a little ball.”
It seemed mighty fine to get back to the old place. I felt as if I’d been away for years and wanted to hear how things had been going on in the “big team.” The fellows asked me all sorts of questions about playing in the league, so one of the brothers arranged for me to make my first speech.
As a speech, this was a “foul ball,“ I hadn’t any swing at all, but the boys were decent to me, so I told them how professional ball players took care of themselves physically, and that sort of thing. I had cut out smoking for a couple of months because one of the brothers had asked me to. I thought this was a good thing for the example it showed the little fellows. I talked to them about baseball as a profession and I guess their eyes popped out when I told them I was getting $1,800 a year! I know mine popped out when Jack Dunn gave it to mc. You see he started me off at $600 a year when the regular league season began. At the end of the first month he doubled the figure, and a month later came across with another boost of $600. Remember that I was a rookie and glad to be playing at all. I didn’t have to ask for these jumps. Of course, this isn’t big money in the big leagues, but at the time it was a lucky rookie who could get $1,800 a season, and I was only 19 years.
Tomorrow at Our Game:
Part 4: Babe’s Home Run-less Year Disappointed Him
Part 5: You Want to Hit Homers, Here’s Recipe
Part 6: Drawing Passes All Bunk, Says Babe Ruth