Ruth's Birthplace Has Become a Special Place for Baseball Fans

September 30, 1987|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

BALTIMORE — Babe Ruth, the kid from Baltimore, the Sultan of Swat, the Bambino, is honored in his hometown with a museum at his birthplace, a red brick row house near the Baltimore waterfront.

There are museums for baseball teams, but his is the only one for an individual player. But the Babe, of course, was special.

It almost didn't happen. The century-old row houses were about to be razed in 1969 when a group of Baltimore civic leaders, led by then-Mayor Tommy D'Alesandro, intervened and established a private nonprofit foundation to preserve the home as a shrine to the barrel-chested slugger who rewrote baseball history.

The Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum is a national historic landmark filled with photographs, memorabilia and exhibits that would stimulate the adrenaline of any baseball fan. The museum consists of Ruth's home and three adjoining red brick row houses.

These have been special times at the Babe's birthplace. Today marks the 60th anniversary of his 60th home run in 1927, a 154-game season, a record exceeded only by Roger Maris in 1961 when he hit 61 homers in a 162-game season.

"A lot more baseball fans and old-time baseball players than usual have been coming here all year," said Mike Gibbons, 40, executive director of the museum. "I think much of it has to do with all the attention home runs are getting this year and the fact that it's the 60th anniversary of the Babe's 60-home run season."

If Babe Ruth's 60th home run ball is out there, the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum would love to have it for its collection. "Who wouldn't want it?," Gibbons said. "However, I have never heard mention of someone owning that ball. But somebody had to catch it the day Ruth hit it."

Nobody caught it, but a New York fan, Joe Forner, then 40, was reported as having retrieved it amid a mad scramble.

Ruth hit 714 home runs in his long career, a figure exceeded only by Hank Aaron's 755. One wall of the museum is covered with 714 plaques, one for each of Ruth's homers. Each plaque has information about the home run, a description of it, when it was hit, who was pitching. Three lines are left on the bottom for an inscription by anyone paying $200 for a lifetime membership in the 714 Club.

Some of the plaques were bought in memory of baseball fans who died, some were bought as birthday presents and anniversary gifts. A member of the 714 Club receives an identical plaque. Money raised by the sale of the plaques is used to help support the museum. About 500 have been sold.

Ruth lived in the house only as an infant. His parents moved to another neighborhood in Baltimore not long after he was born, and when he was eight, presumably because he was a disciplinary problem, his father sent him to St. Mary's Industrial School, run by Catholic brothers, where he lived off and on for the next 12 years.

There, Brother Matthias, whose duties included coaching baseball, became Ruth's mentor, and Ruth became the star of the baseball team.

His birthplace is furnished as it was when the Babe was born. Furnishings were presented by Ruth's sister, Mamie Ruth Moberly, who lives in Hagerstown, Md. The bedroom he was born in has a cradle, bed and dresser that belonged to the family.

Several of Babe Ruth's bats and autographed baseballs are here, as well as his baseball uniforms and photographs from childhood till his death of cancer at 54 on Aug. 16, 1948. There are pictures of the fans who filed by his body lying in state at Yankee Stadium, "the house that Ruth built," and of the huge crowds at his funeral Mass said at St. Patrick's Cathedral by Cardinal Spellman.

On exhibit are numerous products that carried Ruth's name, from the popular Baby Ruth candy bar--which, according to one version of the story, really was named after a President's daughter--to such things as Babe Ruth underwear, watches and games. There are movie posters from the film he made in Hollywood in the winter of 1926-27 called "Babe Comes Home."

A 20-minute Mike Wallace TV biography produced in 1961 on the life and times of Babe Ruth is shown several times each day.

In one corner are signed baseballs and bats from the other 13 players who have hit more than 500 home runs. Ruth was the first to accomplish the feat. The others are: Aaron, Jimmy Foxx, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Reggie Jackson, Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks and Mike Schmidt.

Special exhibits are a regular feature. Currently on display are memorabilia and photographs of the 1927 Yankee team regarded as the greatest team in baseball history, with Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Earl Combs, Mark Koenig and Tony Lazzeri. Miller Huggins was the manager.

The 1927 Yankees won 110 regular-season games and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates four straight in the World Series.

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