George Herman “Babe” Ruth, the legendary figure in baseball history, left an indelible mark on the sport that still resonates today. His impact went far beyond his exceptional playing skills, as he became a symbol of awe-inspiring athleticism and unparalleled entertainment. However, his journey extended far beyond the confines of the diamond, as he embarked on a personal odyssey of profound significance.
Ruth revolutionized the game, ushering in an era of power and excitement with his towering home runs and remarkable performances. Even a century later, his records continue to shine brightly: he boasts the highest career slugging percentage (.690), ranks third in all-time home runs (714), and holds the second most RBIs (2,214). Undoubtedly, Ruth’s name is synonymous with greatness in the realm of baseball.
On a recent episode of The Cale Clarke Show, Clarke took the time to reflect on Ruth’s life, specifically the period in which he abandoned his Catholic faith but later returned.
“He was well-known for living a life of debauchery,” said Clarke. “He essentially lived on hot dogs and beer. Every hotel he would check into after a game, according to his teammates, had a bathtub in his room filled with ice and beer all ready to go.”
Ruth’s early years were marred by a tumultuous and challenging upbringing. Growing up in poverty, his working-class immigrant parents struggled to provide for their large family. In the absence of parental guidance, young Ruth found himself entangled in trouble. Petty theft, drinking, and street fights became the norm for the rebellious teenager. Even when he was sent off to a Catholic boarding school in hopes of instilling discipline, the die had already been cast, and Ruth’s path to a notorious reputation off the field was laid.
After experiencing a journey that took him from the Orioles to the Red Sox, and ultimately landing him with the Yankees, Ruth’s youthful habits resurfaced. While he was amassing astonishing records on the diamond, off the field, he indulged in excessive drinking, wild parties, and promiscuity. One of Ruth’s road trip companions, Francesco Pizzolo, humorously remarked that rooming with the legendary “Sultan of Swat” simply meant being in the presence of his suitcase, considering Ruth’s constant absence due to his active nightlife.
Yet, all the partying and fame and chasing women wasn’t enough to fill his soul as he would eventually discover. As he lay on his deathbed in a New York hospital in 1948, his final contemplations centered on his faith—the very same faith instilled in him during his upbringing at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. In a heartfelt letter penned from his hospital bed, he lamented his past while finding solace in the promise of the future. He acknowledged his past missteps but celebrated the transformative power of God that guided him back to his spiritual home.
Bad boy Ruth, that was me.
Don’t get the idea that I’m proud of my harum-scarum youth. I’m not. I simply had a rotten start in life, and it took me a long time to get my bearings.
Looking back to my youth, I honestly don’t think I knew the difference between right and wrong. I spent much of my early boyhood living over my father’s saloon, in Baltimore—and when I wasn’t living over it, I was in it, soaking up the atmosphere. I hardly knew my parents.
St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore, where I was finally taken, has been called an orphanage and a reform school. It was, in fact, a training school for orphans, incorrigibles, delinquents and runaways picked up on the streets of the city. I was listed as an incorrigible. I guess I was. Perhaps I would always have been but for Brother Matthias, the greatest man I have ever known, and for the religious training I received there which has since been so important to me.
I doubt if any appeal could have straightened me out except a Power over and above man—the appeal of God. Iron-rod discipline couldn’t have done it. Nor all the punishment and reward systems that could have been devised. God had an eye out for me, just as he has for you, and he was pulling for me to make the grade.
As I look back now, I realize that knowledge of God was a big crossroads with me. I got one thing straight (and I wish all kids did)—that God was Boss. He was not only my Boss but Boss of all my bosses. Up till then, like all bad kids, I hated most of the people who had control over me and could punish me. I began to see that I had a higher Person to reckon with who never changed, whereas my earthly authorities changed from year to year. Those who bossed me had the same self-battles—they, like me, had to account to God. I also realized that God was not only just, but merciful. He knew we were weak and that we all found it easier to be stinkers than good sons of God, not only as kids but all through our lives.
Thanks to Brother Matthias I was able to leave St. Mary’s in 1914 and begin my professional career with the famous Baltimore Orioles. Out on my own… free from the rigid rules of a religious school…boy, did it go to my head. I began really to cut capers.
I strayed from the Church, but don’t think I forgot my religious training. I just overlooked it. I prayed often and hard, but like many irrepressible young fellows, the swift tempo of living shoved religion into the background.
So what good was all the hard work and ceaseless interest of the brothers, people would argue? You can’t make kids religious, they say, because it just won’t take. Send kids to Sunday school and they too often end up hating it and the Church.
Don’t you believe it. As far as I’m concerned, and I think as far as most kids go, once religion sinks in, it stays there—deep down. The lads who get religious training, get it where it counts—in the roots. They may fail it, but it never fails them. When the score is against them, or they get a bum pitch, that unfailing Something inside will be there to draw on. I’ve seen it with kids. I know from the letters they write me. The more I think of it, the more important I feel it is to give kids “the works” as far as religion is concerned. They’ll never want to be holy—they’ll act like tough monkeys in contrast, but somewhere inside will be a solid little chapel. It may get dusty from neglect, but the time will come when the door will be opened with much relief. But the kids can’t take it if we don’t give it to them.
While I drifted away from the Church, I did have my own “altar,” a big window of my New York apartment overlooking the city lights. Often I would kneel before that window and say my prayers. I would feel quite humble then. I’d ask God to help me not make such a big fool of myself and pray that I’d measure up to what he expected of me.
In December, 1946 I was in French Hospital, New York, facing a serious operation. Paul Carey, one of my oldest and closest friends, was by my bed one night.
“They’re going to operate in the morning, Babe,” Paul said. “Don’t you think you ought to put your house in order?”
I didn’t dodge the long, challenging look in his eyes. I knew what he meant. For the first time I realized that death might strike me out. I nodded, and Paul got up, called in a chaplain, and I made a full confession.
“I’ll return in the morning and give you Holy Communion,” the chaplain said,” But you don’t have to fast.”
“I’ll fast,” I said. I didn’t have even a drop of water.
As I lay in bed that evening I thought to myself what a comforting feeling to be free from fear and worries. I now could simply turn them over to God. Later on, my wife brought in a letter from a little kid in Jersey City. “Dear Babe”, he wrote, “Everybody in the seventh grade class is pulling and praying for you. I am enclosing a medal, which if you wear will make you better. Your pal—Mike Quinlan.
“P.S. I know this will be your 61st homer. You’ll hit it.”
I asked them to pin the Miraculous Medal to my pajama coat. I’ve worn the medal constantly ever since. I’ll wear it to my grave.
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