Curtis Dahlgren
May 15, 2015
Baltimore: "inspired" by actual events (part 3)
By Curtis Dahlgren

"I WAS A BAD KID. I say that without pride but with a feeling that it is better to say it . . Looking back on my early boyhood, I honestly don't remember being aware of the difference between right and wrong. I don't want to make excuses, or place blame for my shortcomings as a kid completely on persons or places. I might have been hard to handle if I had been born J.P. Morgan V . . [but] I spent most of the first seven years of my life living over my father's saloon at 426 West Camden Street in Baltimore." – by guess who?

BABE RUTH IS THE ANSWER. That was easy for some of us geezers, but I wonder if some youngsters today would say "Who's Babe Ruth?" Or "Who cares?" Well, Babe had a lot to say about kids, to kids:

"The greatest thing about this country is the fact that it doesn't matter which side of the tracks you were born on, or whether you're homeless or homely or friendless. The chance is still there. I know."

"ONLY IN AMERICA." Remember when those words were heard in the cities as well as out on the highways and byways? Remember when baseball was a Big Deal in the summer for virtually every kid? Instead of looting and burning? Before the excuse-making and scapegoating by educators and politicians? Before political correctness and class guilt? Long ago?

My first experience in sports came in a cow pasture. We could have used dried cow pies for bases (while at the same time other kids were using sticks for bats in the streets of Baltimore). Our common over-lapping goal was onward and upward. The chance was there.

Too many kids today believe that the age of opportunity is over. Passe. A cliche. Done away (by scapegoats mostly unnamed). Babe Ruth himself said:

"Too many youngsters today believe that the age of opportunity has passed. They think that ended about the time people stopped reading Horatio Alger." Stopped reading period, I might add. Horatio Who?

Do you know what saved Babe Ruth's life? It was a private school and a Brother Matthias, a huge but soft-spoken schoolmaster. Ruth found his "place" at St. Mary's Industrial School. He wasn't an orphan; his parents just chose to send him there. As for his place, he was catching one day when pitcher after pitcher got hammered. It struck Babe as funny, and he laughed out loud.

Brother Matt called time out and asked him what he was laughing about, and Babe told him. Matt thought for a moment and then said, "All right George; you pitch." And "George Herman" says:

"I can't pitch." But Brother Matt was serious, so Babe took the mound for the first time. He wrote:

"I didn't even know how to stand on the rubber, or even get the ball over the plate. Yet, as I took the position, I felt a strange relationship between myself and that mound. I felt, somehow, as if I had been born out there and that this was a kind of home for me."

Brother Matthias thought he was just putting a boy in his "place," and boy did he ever! Rest is history. It's a shame that so many kids never find there "place" in life – OR EVEN LOOK FOR IT (they've been discouraged by negative-talking demagogues). Babe Ruth wrote:

"Tailoring was to be my trade, the trade that would take me away from the waterfront when, at 21, I would leave St. Mary's . . But baseball won out. Through baseball, I got the second break of my life. The first break, it will always seem to me, was the fact that I met Brother Matthias. He was the father I needed.

"In this great land today baseball is providing breaks for other youngsters . . but it is only one of countless fields which an American boy can enter and try his hand at . . There are more opportunities today than when I was a boy. And all these opportunities are open to
every type of American."

The real question is, could kids still be "inspired by actual events?" Even in Baltimore? A certain politician recently said that churches should forget about "divisive" issues such as abortion and gay marriage and start helping the poor. Just whom do you think built St. Mary's school and so many hospitals in this country, not to mention the Ivy League? I'm not arguing. I'm just sayin'!

P.S. I've never been to Baltimore. Not even closer than DC. But when the Braves left Milwaukee, I became an Orioles fan – not for geographical reasons but for all the fine men on that roster. The Robinsons, the McNallys, and the Boog Powells (plus the hispanic pitcher whose name I can't spell). Real role models.

Let's see: Cal Ripken or Len Bias? Len Bias or Cal Ripken? One holds the record for the longest consecutive game streak; the other for the shortest NBA career. Bias died within hours of being drafted. An overdose. Not judging, but there must be a lesson in there somewhere, for teens in America. Gang banging or banging a baseball? Banging a baseball or gang banging? You decide. I'm just asking.

PPS: It's funny the way my home library has accumulated itself, literally funny. For example, the above Babe Ruth excerpts came from "We Grew Up In America; Stories of American youth told by themselves" by Alice Hazeltine (Abingdon). The book came off the presses in the 1950s and was in a public library for an unknown number of years. It was stamped "DISCARD" and sold, I presume, at a used book sale. Later I think it was donated back to the library and this year it didn't sell. It ended up on the curb with boxes of other unwanted books, headed to the landfill or somewhere.

Hazeltine compiled her stories from many books, including The Babe Ruth Story as told to Bob Considine. On Babe Ruth Day in 1947, to 60,000 people at the "House He Built," Babe said:

"The only real game, I think, in the world is baseball. As a rule people think that if you give kids a football or baseball or something like that they naturally become athletes right away. But you can't do that in baseball . . . the greatest game God ever saw fit to let man invent. Baseball."

Ruth told about the day he met the scout for the minor league Orioles, and the day he left St. Mary's:

"Dunn seemed content to wait until he took me to the Orioles spring training camp at Fayetteville, NC before he took a good look at me. He signed the papers which made him accountable to a Maryland court for my welfare and on February 27, 1914, he came to the barred gate at St. Mary's to claim me. . .

"The barred gate was unbolted and I walked out . . . I was 19 and the proudest, greenest kid in the country. I stood a little over six feet tall and weighed less than 160. I could chew nails."


[I might remind you that it took "right" decisions by his parents, by Brother Matt, and by George Herman himself, to make this true-to-life story even better than I recalled it. If I hadn't literally beaten the garbage man to a book, this column couldn't have been written. I hope you're glad that it was. Pass it on. It's longer than average, but worth it.

Like your job opportunities, you never know where you'll find your next good reading material. When opportunity knocks, don't hit the snooze button!

© Curtis Dahlgren

 

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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)

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