Books of the region: sports and culture

August 04, 1996|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,special to the sun

Paul F. Harris Sr. is a retired lawyer, a former standout athlete, a lifelong Baltimorean, a Babe Ruth admirer, a records-searcher. At age 70, his has been a quiet suburban life. But no more - not after the gold ore he has found, researching Ruth.

Decades of baseball and newspaper people have had a go at the Babe's Baltimore background, plus half a dozen competing biographers. One and all, they settled for generalities about German descent, working-class life, a century ago. They overlooked a lot: the marriage record for Ruth's parents, George H. Ruth Sr. and Catherine Schamberger, and their death certificates; the death certificates for her parents, Pius and Johanna Schamberger; the record - a note of hilarity - of Ruth's several baptisms.

Harris didn't just find these records; he has reproduced them in his slim, self-published book, "Babe Ruth: The Dark Side" (paper, $6, at Babe Ruth Museum). He has reconstructed family trees - the Ruths back to Hannover and Prussia, the Schambergers to (( Baden.

On several points, Harris (Knobby, to his friends; his father played with and against Ruth in local baseball) demolishes familiar banalities. Babe Ruth's parents, aged 23 and 20, were married June 25, 1894, at Fulton Avenue Baptist Church. Their first child was born slightly more than seven months later, in the Schambergers' rowhouse, 216 Emory St., the site of today's Babe Ruth Museum.

He was baptised March 1, at Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church, on South Poppleton Street. He was baptized again, Aug. 7, 1906, at St. Mary's Industrial School, which listed him as a convert to Catholicism. This was shortly after Ruth, an out-of-control kid, had been placed there by his barkeep father. Apparently Ruth Sr. was unaware of the first baptism; or had there been an early, third, still-undiscovered Pro-testant baptism?

An underlying theme, Harris finds, is that Protestant Ruths and Catholic Schambergers were at odds, in that age of denominational walls and rigid mindsets. In 1912, ill from "exhaustion" and tuberculosis (and with her parents deceased),

Mrs. Ruth went to a sister's home to die. Ruth Sr. soon remarried; he died in 1918 in a fistfight outside his final saloon, his head having hit a stone curb. Ruth Sr. had followed his son's baseball career; Schamberger interest is undemonstrated.

Ruth Sr. was buried in a family plot in Loudon Park Cemetery; its famous-names tour omits him. The Schambergers are across town in Holy Redeemer Cemetery.

To Harris, whose book is now up for national publication, the sorriest part of the whole story is that today nothing marks the burial site of Katie Ruth. Did it never occur to her two grown children (of eight altogether) to order a memorial stone?


"Urban Rhythms, Urban Blues: Life in the Big City" (Shannon Press, 246 pages, $16.95) is an anthology of the columns of Wiley A. Hall 3rd, as published in The Evening Sun from 1985 to 1995. Hall's beat was the daily lives of Baltimore's majority population; his stories and analyses ring very true.


"The 1996 Maryland Poetry Review" (Drawer H, Catonsville 21228, 70 pages, paper, $10) comprises work by 60 poets, mostly local; four essayists, and the artist Mitra Modarressi. Rosemary Klein edited this 10th anniversary issue; it includes winning entries in the Michael Egan Memorial Contest, with first place to Tillie Friedenberg for her quiet study of an old man who feeds deer.


Hiram F. Ammons' new book, "Great Blacks in Wax Activity Book" (Dajo Publication Co., 168 pages, Paper, $12.50) ties in with the displays at Great Blacks in Wax Museum, 1601-03 E. North Ave. Ranging from Hannibal to Beatrice F. Gaddy, the book provides careful biographical detail, thoughtful questions for consideration and debate, drawings to color. Pride of ancestry will surely grow in the attentive younger reader.


In his small, handsome book, "The Joy of Keeping Score: How Scoring the Game Has Influenced and Enhanced the History of Baseball" (Walker, 117 pages, $17.95), Paul Dickson of Garrett Park bats six for seven:

They're still paper-pencil-eraser, not computer / Freedom - devise your own system / Often, women are today's scorekeepers / Scorecards are easy to save / Ron Menchine's old-time scorecards illustrate "Joy" / Nifty anecdotes, too, in Dickson's text / At the 2,131 game, alas, he wrote it "Ripkin."

James H. Bready was a reporter, book review editor and editoria writer for The Evening Sun for many years. He now writes a monthly column about books of the region.

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