By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
The fascination with the Bambino never fades away.
Seventy years ago in 1948, Babe Ruth died at age 53 but the Sultan of Swat has never been forgotten.
About 30 books have been written about Ruth, including three autobiographies. His second wife also wrote a book on Ruth and two southwestern Ontario writers have stepped forward to get involved.
The latest is Brian (Chip) Martin of London, whose tentative title is He Taught the Babe to Play: Brother Matthias of St. Mary's. The other intriguing book is Ossie & the Babe: Unlocking the Secrets Behind a Historical Baseball Photograph, an account by David Beattie of Stratford.
Beattie's book has been out since 2016 and Martin's book is planned for release sometime in 2019 by McFarland Publishing.
And just think, there is a Canadian connection in Martin's book. Brother Matthias is a Canadian, who was born Martin Leo Boutilier on Nova Scotia's fabled Cape Breton Island in 1872. A few years after he was born, Boutilier and his family moved to Halifax and then Boston.
"This is the first time the full story of the man who helped shape the legend has been told,'' Martin told me. "I expect to share some information not before known.''
Boutilier and one of his brothers became members of the Congregation of the Brothers of St. Francis Xavier, known as the Xaverians. Martin became Brother Matthias and was posted to St. Mary’s Industrial Training School in Baltimore shortly before the turn of the century.
It was at St. Mary's that Matthias ran into a fellow by the name of George Herman Ruth. Matthias was 6-foot-6 and weighed nearly 300 pounds. He was appointed school disciplinarian and was a coach on one of the roughly 40 baseball teams formed among the 700 to 800 inmates.
St. Mary’s was a combination reform school, orphanage and a facility for children whose parents could not keep them. As Martin told me, George Ruth was deemed incorrigible by a justice of the peace when he was a mere seven years old. But by the time Brother Matthias started working with him, the kid began to turn a new leaf.
George became known as Babe and remained at St. Mary’s for 12 years in all and Matthias coached the natural young talent on an all-star team. Matthias converted the loud-mouthed but lovable lefty into a pitcher from catcher. Ruth became the school’s best player. Jack Dunn of the Baltimore Orioles first discovered Ruth as a pitcher and signed him to his first professional contract.
Matthias and Ruth developed a relationship through baseball that was almost a father-son one. Babe, as he became known with the Orioles, never forgot Matthias.
"Babe called Matthias the greatest man he had ever known and credited him with making him a man and teaching him the game of baseball,'' Martin said. "Matthias continued to stay in touch with Ruth as his career took off and was occasionally called in by team management to counsel Ruth when he went astray.''
We won't tell you anymore. We have to leave something to the imagination. Martin's most recent book the Detroit Wolverines: The Rise and Wreck of a National League Champion, 1881-1888, is also a fascinating look at a bygone era.
As for Beattie's book, his fascination with Ruth stemmed from a rare photograph his partner Maxine purchased for him at a sports memorabilia store in Minneapolis in 2001. Ossie is Ossie Bluege, who spent his entire major-league career with the Washington Senators. He's shown in the photo ready to tag the Yankees slugger out.
"Maxine says she was attracted to the photo for a number of reasons,'' Beattie said in an interview. "It was old-time baseball, black-and-white, a bit grainy, a piece of history – and it shows a taut, frozen action moment, a hard slide, depicting the speed and power and precision that exemplify so well how baseball is played. Then she saw the caption, 'Babe Ruth sliding into third', and that was a big bonus.''
Beattie and Maxine put their heart and soul into researching the story behind the photo. The image was largely unknown. Beattie and his partner tried to deduce as much as they could about exactly when and where the photo was taken and what part it played in the game on that day.
"Even at Cooperstown, the Library and Archives people hadn't seen it before,'' Beattie said. "The questions it raised captivated us and challenged us and entertained us over all those 15 years – and it was a long time until I could say yes, that I'd pinned down the date and the inning and the play. It's allowed the Library of Congress to correct its records.
"Since publishing the book, I discovered that Ossie Bluege's daughter Wilor still lives in Minneapolis, and she was thrilled to learn of my book. Partly as a result, she has since co-authored with one of her sisters a proper biography of their dad. I helped them out with that project in a small way.''
Again, we will leave something to the imagination. Beattie's book can be purchased by logging onto his website david-beattie.com
Danny Gallagher's upcoming book is called Blue Monday: the Expos, the Dodgers and the Home Run That Changed Everything. It will be released Oct. 13. You can pre-order online.