Babe Ruth with his team from St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, Baltimore, 1914.

Babe Ruth’s Baltimore Beginnings

02/06/2017
By Preservation Maryland

Did you Know? Babe Ruth, then George Herman Ruth, Jr., was born in Pigtown in Baltimore City on February 6, 1895. That house still stands and is now the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, and there are many more Baltimore locations important to this Hall-of-Famer’s early life.

The Beginning of a Legend in Baltimore

George Herman Ruth, Jr. was born in Baltimore in 1895 at 216 Emory Street, the home of his maternal grandfather. His early childhood was quite challenging. Only he and his younger sister, Mamie survived past infancy. His parents, George Ruth, Sr. and Kate, were often absent from the home because they needed to work, and his father battled alcoholism. Young George Jr. was frequently in trouble with his peers and teachers.

At age seven, Ruth became a student at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys – later Cardinal Gibbons High School – a Catholic school that his parents hoped would help reform their son. St. Mary’s provided George Jr. with a more stable life, and also introduced him to the game of baseball. A monk named Brother Matthias became a kind of father figure in George’s life and encouraged his love of baseball. Since George seemed especially talented at the sport, the Brothers at St. Mary’s invited the owner of the minor league Baltimore Orioles, Jack Dunn, to observe George at practice.

Baseball Career Highlights

At age 19, Ruth signed a contract with the Orioles. His new teammates referred to him as Babe, a reference to his youthful appearance, and the title stuck with him for the rest of his life. Babe’s first professional baseball game was on March 7, 1914. He began as a pitcher and shortstop, although his primary position later became right field.

Despite Babe’s strong performance, Dunn, the Oriole’s owner, facing team financial difficulties, was forced to sell him to the Boston Red Sox in the summer of 1914. At the end of the 1919 season, the Red Sox sold Babe to the New York Yankees. Babe took the Yankees from a losing team to a baseball powerhouse, helping them win seven pennants and four World Series titles.

Babe Ruth, as a Yankee, plays the Orioles, 1931.

He was known especially for his ability as a hitter; his major league record 714 home runs stood for nearly 40 years until Hank Aaron broke it. At retirement in 1935, he held 56 major league records. For his tremendous ability and contribution to the sport, Babe was honored as one of the first Baseball Hall of Fame inductees.

Finding Ruth in Baltimore

Babe’s childhood home, now the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore.

Three of the five houses Babe Ruth occupied over his years in Baltimore and one tavern building his father owned still stand.

Babe’s birthplace at 216 Emory Street in downtown Baltimore is the best-preserved and most rewarding Baltimore destination for the Babe Ruth enthusiast. This is the best place to go if you want to learn about Babe Ruth’s Baltimore beginnings. Hirsh Goldberg, former press secretary for Baltimore Mayor Theodore McKeldin, launched a successful campaign in the late 1960s to save the site from impending demolition. With this success came the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in 1974. A renovation to the historic property in 2015 added a handicap-accessible entrance and elevator, as well as new exhibit space.

OTHER PLACES TO VISIT

Boyhood Home: Babe lived the first two years of his life in his uncle’s house near the intersection of Font Hill and Frederick avenues in southwest Baltimore. Although in poor condition, the building is still there.

Family-Owned Taverns: From 1897-1901, the Ruth family lived above George Sr.’s tavern at 339 South Woodyear Street. The building is extant and its brick façade has not been covered over with Formstone like the other rowhomes nearby. One of his father’s taverns was actually located near center field at Camden Yards. When the stadium was being constructed in the early 1990s, developers, knowing the approximate location of the tavern, called in preservationists to uncover anything they could find. With the help of Babe’s sister Mamie, they found some generic bottles and dishes, but nothing noteworthy. A brick from the building is at the babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. The other tavern, on Eutaw Street, has been converted into a club.

His School: Although Cardinal Gibbons School, or St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys when Babe attended, closed in 2010, the Fine Arts Building and baseball field, places Babe knew well, are being preserved. St. Agnes Healthcare purchased the 32-acre site in 2012 and has redeveloped it into affordable housing for lower income residents.

Then-Oriole Stadium: Today’s Peabody Height’s Brewery is located on the former site of Orioles Park, home to the Baltimore Orioles from 1914 to 1944, where the Babe would have played an Oriole.

This post was researched and written by Kyle Fisher, one of Preservation Maryland’s Waxter Interns. Kyle’s work with us focuses on research and communications. He has a BA in Communications and History from Virginia Tech and a MA in Social Studies Education from Loyola University Maryland. Learn more about Kyle and our intern program here: presmd.org/waxter.

 

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