Babe's sister will gaze out on field of memories

MICHAEL OLESKER

April 05, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Her name is Mary Ruth Moberly, but her big brother always called her Mamie to annoy her. The brother's name was George, but the world called him Babe to adore him.

Mary Moberly, 91 years old and a tiny feminine vision of her brother, is a final connection across the generations: not only to George Herman "Babe" Ruth, but to a distant time before they planted center field in a modern ballpark over a place once

called West Conway Street and a saloon called Ruth's Cafe.

Mary Moberly lives in Hagerstown now, widowed and staying with her daughter, Florence Binau. She says she'd have come down for tomorrow's grand opening day at the new baseball stadium named for a railroad yard instead of Baltimore's most famous baseball citizen, only she's been a little under the weather.

Probably, she'll watch the game on television. Certainly, she'll think of her brother and those turn-of-the-century years when their father owned his bar in the neighborhood that became Oriole Park at Camden Yards. "It was a pretty rough neighborhood," Mary Moberly recalled, "and I had to stay indoors at night. They tried to do that with Babe, you know, but he just ran. Oh, yes."

Her mind backtracks nearly a century, to a time of factories in the neighborhood, and the railroad yard, and her father's bar. "It was a nice bar," she remembers. "Daddy saw to that. He was a big man, not quite as big as Babe grew up to be, but a big man. And, of course, the more that Babe got into trouble, the more Daddy had to go to the whippings."

George Ruth Sr. never managed to keep his kid in line. Mary Moberly remembers Babe refusing to go to school, wanting instead to run the streets with his pals.

"Oh, my brother was into all kinds of mischief," his sister says. "He wanted to do what he wanted to do. My father would say, 'You have to go to school.' My brother would say, 'I'm not going.' "

Though she was still a little girl, "I remember seeing him go into the classroom, and yet my mother would get a note from the teacher that he hadn't come. He got out some way. He always got out."

Tomorrow, about 48,000 people will crowd the new ballpark and let their eyes drift toward center field. That's precisely where the Ruth family lived, above their bar. Archaeologists working with construction crews on the new ballpark found their place by creating a computerized geographic information system using 113 historic maps of the area.

They found not only Ruth's Cafe, but the family's outdoor privy. (New York may have The House That Ruth Built, but Baltimore has The Outhouse Built For Ruth.)

The Babe's father ran his saloon there from 1906 to 1912 -- but, by then, George Jr. was only an occasional visitor, having been banished to St. Mary's Industrial School.

"It was only because he wouldn't go to class," his sister recalls. "He was a mischievous boy, but not a bad one. He wanted anything that would cause a laugh, just to have fun. A lot of people say he was bad, and I have to correct them. He was sent to St. Mary's just because he wouldn't go to school."

Well, maybe. St. Mary's was a reform school, but also a home for orphans and for boys whose homes had been broken by divorce or illness or poverty. The Babe first arrived at St. Mary's when he was 8, stayed a month, went back several months later for another month, and then went back when he was 10 and stayed.

"We could only go to see him once a month at St. Mary's," Mary Moberly remembers. "We'd bring him candies and cakes, which he loved. He seemed delighted with St. Mary's, because he was surrounded by so many boys, and he made friends so easily." She remembers him coming home from St. Mary's on occasion but the visits were never for long. The Babe would run the streets again with old friends, and the father would fume.

"We still called him George back then," she says. "I was Mary, of course, but then he started calling me Mamie to annoy me. And everybody picked it up. I could have kicked him in the ankle for that.

"And then, one day when he started playing baseball for a living, we heard they were calling him Babe. Babe, what a crazy thing to call a big man like that.''

He didn't come back to Baltimore much as his baseball career blossomed -- though there's an old snapshot of the Ruths, father and son, standing inside their saloon, in which the two men could be mistaken for twins.

It was long ago. There was a busy railroad yard in the neighborhood then, and factories and tough men who supported families on a few dollars a week. And there was Ruth's Cafe, and it connects across the years to a beefy kid from Baltimore who became the most famous ball player of all time.

Mary Moberly says the Babe would have loved having the new park carry his name, but that's water under the bridge now. She'll turn on the television set tomorrow, and she'll get a glimpse of center field at some point.

But for her, it won't be Opening Day 1992 out there, just a spring afternoon nearly a century ago, and a saloon and a few rooms

above it, and a big brother she called George.

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