Moberly, a petite and classy lady, always let Yankee slugger take bows


July 07, 1992|By John Steadman

They buried the Babe's little sister yesterday. Mary Ruth Moberly, a quiet, petite woman who lived to be 91, and the only close remaining family link to the greatest baseball player of them all, was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Cemetery under a canopy of blue skies and fond remembrances of a life that made her a celebrity because of who her brother was.

She had carried herself well. Gentle, gregarious and accommodating with those who got to know her. Never one to brag or take bows, yet readily available to talk about George Herman "Babe" Ruth, six years her senior, who became the most notable American sports hero in history.

It was Mrs. Moberly's expressed hope the new downtown park where the Baltimore Orioles play would be named after the Babe because not only was he discovered by the Orioles but for part of his young life was raised in short centerfield, where his parents, during the early 1900s, owned a saloon and the family resided on the second floor.

Mrs. Moberly, who was known to sometimes sign autographs, "Babe Ruth"s sister," told us in a visit two years ago to her Hagerstown apartment, where she lived with a married daughter, Florence Binau, why it was necessary for her brother George to be enrolled at St. Mary's Industrial School under the disciplined care of the Xaverian Brothers.

"It seemed he was always getting into fights with other boys in the neighborhood," she said. "They would tease him, hollering he had a 'sissy name,' Ruth. Being an all-around boy, he would often punch them in retaliation. Then their mothers, in a matter of minutes, would be knocking on our back door to complain to my mother and father about what George had done to their 'Little Johnny.' "

The Babe found mischief as a child and, as recalled by his sister, particularly reveled in kicking over the baskets of fruits and vegetables in Lexington Market and then racing out of the place with the stall proprietors in anguished pursuit. Mrs. Moberly's daughter said it would have meant much to her mother and to baseball itself if the Babe Ruth name had been used on the downtown park as the first major-league stadium honoring a player.

"What they did made no sense [meaning the governor and the owner of the Orioles], but mother didn't let it get her down. That wasn't her personality. She could have been upset but wasn't. I, too, believe it would have been a wonderful thing for baseball and Baltimore."

Family and friends numbered, by actual count, at the graveside service, a modest 22, which offered a stark contrast to when her illustrious brother was buried from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York in 1948. On that occasion, at the funeral of the Babe, there were more than 6,600 mourners in the church and police estimated 75,000 waited outside (blanketing a 15-block area) in the rain to offer final respects.

In the vestibule of St. Patrick's, the venerable Connie Mack was talking to a group of seminarians and said, "If baseball tried for the next 100 years, it could never repay or thank Babe for what he was able to do for the game."

From 1948 until the present, first Claire Ruth, the Babe's second wife, and then Mrs. Moberly provided grand sources for personal stories about the most illustrious personality sports in this country has yet produced. That only 22 were there for the final goodbye to Mary Ruth Moberly tells all of us about the basic truths that deal with life and death.

Mrs. Moberly, called Mamie by the Babe, lived to an age, 91, where she outlived most all her friends. There were eight children in the Ruth family but only two, the Babe and Mrs. Moberly, reached adulthood. It was then, the late 1890s and early 1900s, when the survival rate of babies and children severely diminished because of numerous childhood diseases hospitals and medical science were at that time unable to control.

The Moberly family, elated over the fact that Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III, and the late Paul Welsh had led the original restoration of the Ruth birthplace on Emory Street, requested memorial donations be sent to the Babe Ruth Museum. The museum was represented at Mrs. Moberly's services in Hagerstown by curator Greg Schwallenberg, Kelly Gunther, Judith Morgan and in the cemetery by Ray Weinstein, president of the museum foundation.

"America has never come close to producing another Babe Ruth," said Weinstein. "He was one of a kind -- as a player and a celebrity the public absolutely adored."

His little sister would have agreed.

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