- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

You would think the mother of the greatest baseball player in history would be buried under a suitable tombstone.

You would have been wrong until March 21, when a concrete marker was unveiled at Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Baltimore - 95 years after Catherine “Katie” Schamberger Ruth perished at 39 from tuberculosis and “exhaustion.” The headstone was dedicated June 7 with Paul Harris Sr., a retired Catonsville, Md., attorney whose efforts brought it about, and Linda Ruth Tosetti, Catherine’s great-granddaughter, on hand.

The stone reads simply:

RUTH

Catherine

1873-1912

Mother of George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr.

When the famous home run king died of throat cancer Aug. 16, 1948, at 53, he became the latest member of his family to expire prematurely. His father, George Sr., was accidentally killed at 47 in 1918 in a family quarrel outside the Baltimore bar he owned. Six siblings failed to survive birth or in infancy. His first wife, Helen, died at 31 in a Watertown, Mass., fire in 1929.

Apparently, motherhood was not young Katie Ruth’s thing. Only one picture of her and her firstborn has surfaced. And George Jr. was such an incorrigible youngster that his parents packed him off to what was euphemistically called St. Mary’s Industrial School - basically a Catholic home for wayward boys and orphans - at age 7 and left him there for 12 years.

Even the Babe admitted in a ghostwritten autobiography that “I was a bum when I was a kid, drinking and all.” He was still at St. Mary’s in 1914 when Jack Dunn, owner of the minor league Baltimore Orioles, saw him pitch for the St. Mary’s team and signed him to a professional contract.

Sportswriters of the day immediately labeled the kid “Dunnie’s Babe,” thus creating arguably the most famous nickname in sports. Of course, all the wise guys stopped snickering when the strapping left-handed hurler began blowing down batters on behalf of the Orioles and, a year later, the Boston Red Sox.

Meanwhile, his mother rested uncomfortably in the unmarked grave until Harris Sr. learned of it while doing research for a short book titled “Babe Ruth: The Dark Side.”

“It preyed on me,” he told the Sun of Baltimore. “Every time I thought about her being buried over there, it hurt me. No one had visited her grave since 1912. No one even knew she was there.”

Harris then urged Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum and Birthplace near Camden Yards, to pay for a proper tombstone. A check for $1,200 from the facility’s staff and board members was presented to Harris on Feb. 6, the 113th anniversary of Ruth’s birth.

“Katie was probably the worst-treated woman in the history of the world,” Harris said, referring to the tough and often abusive men around her. “And here she had this boy who was running streets and stealing, and [she and her husband] didn’t know what to do with him. So they sent him away.”

Katie was admitted to Municipal Tuberculosis Hospital in early August 1912 after a long struggle against the disease. Following her death on Aug. 11, Katie was buried anonymously next to her parents at the grave site: Lot 126, Section G of the cemetery.

“There’s no doubt that this is her grave - and it was the only one in the whole cemetery without a marker on it,” Harris said.

A requiem Mass was celebrated at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Aug. 14. Her 17-year-old son was still at St. Mary’s and, as far as we know, did not ask his father or anyone else what had happened to his mother.

Very strange - and very sad.

In years to come, the Babe never talked or wrote about his parents. Perhaps he resented being sent to St. Mary’s and being ignored by his family for so many years. No one ever will know.

What is known is that all these decades later, somebody - Paul Harris - finally cared about Catherine Schamberger Ruth. The belated headstone reflects his touching concern and desire to right, literally, a grave injustice.