Why Do so Many People Think Babe Ruth Was an Orphan?

Ask any Major League Baseball fan to pick the greatest player of all time, and they likely won’t hesitate before saying Babe Ruth. The seven-time World Series champ’s name is so famous that he’s taken on a nearly mythological status in American culture.

One of the problems with being a legend: People don’t always get the facts right. Instead, myths take on lives of their own; one of those lies is that Babe Ruth was an orphan. Let’s look at his accomplishments and break down the interesting reason why so many people think this was the case.

Babe Ruth’s career in pro baseball

A list of all of Ruth’s accomplishments could easily fill a book. In fact, plenty of books exist about his baseball career. Let’s start by taking a look at his career numbers. During his 22 years in the big leagues, Ruth racked up 714 home runs, 2,213 RBIs, and 2,873 hits all while batting a phenomenal .342.

Even more impressive is Ruth’s all-time slugging percentage of .690 — good for No. 1 of all time. His home-run total stood as the all-time record for many decades, before Hank Aaron finally broke it in 1974. Ruth led the American League in home runs for 12 seasons and RBIs for six seasons. As noted above, he also won seven World Series.

Yet it wasn’t just Ruth’s nuts-and-bolts accomplishments that turned him into a legend. It was also the way he played the game. His home runs weren’t just home runs; they were awe-inspiring feats of nature. Ruth had an inherent sense of timing that allowed him to make big plays in dramatic ways.

Ruth as the source of myth

Like many historical figures, Ruth is surrounded by tales. Most of those stories have at least some basis in fact. Over the years, however, tales start to outweigh reality, finally crossing the line into myth.

For instance, Ruth never hit a home run that went between the pitcher’s legs and then over the center fielder’s head. But he did hit a ball that went through the pitcher’s legs, took a huge hop, and went over the center fielder for an extra-base hit.

Likewise, he never hit a pop fly so high that he was able to circle all of the bases for a home run, as depicted in the movie The Babe. However, he did get several triples in that fashion.

The myth that Babe Ruth was an orphan

Babe Ruth in hospital during illness
Babe Ruth in hospital during illness | Allsport Hulton/Archive

The same kind of tall-tale logic lies behind the myth that Ruth was an orphan. He did spend part of his childhood at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible and Wayward Boys. Yet Ruth didn’t end up there as an orphan, but rather because he was a problematic child.

Ruth’s parents simply didn’t know what else to do with their troublesome child and sent him to the Catholic school when he was just seven years old. It was there that Ruth first fell in love with baseball. He still lived at the school when he signed his first baseball contract with the minor-league Baltimore Orioles.

As long as we’re on the subject of Ruth myths, you may wonder about his famous called shot. It is true that Ruth made a pointing gesture during an at-bat in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. And it’s true that he did hit a home run in that at-bat.

Yet the footage of the event is simply too ambiguous for historians to tell if Ruth was clearly indicating his intention to smack a home run.

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