The Deathbed Confessional Letter of Babe Ruth

“Will there ever be another Ruth? Don’t be silly! Oh sure, somebody may come along someday who will hit more than 60 homers in a season or more than 714 in a career, but that won’t make him another Ruth… It wasn’t so much that he hit home runs, it was how he hit them and the circumstances under which he hit them. Another Ruth? Never!” – Waite Hoyt

George Herman “Babe” Ruth is widely regarded as one of the most impactful baseball players to ever play the game. As noted by his former teammate, Waite Hoyt, Ruth was not only an exceptional player, but he was an icon and arguably one of the greatest crowd-pleasing athletes of all time. He transformed baseball into a game of big hits, big home runs, and big scores.

And even though he played a hundred years ago, his statistics have stood the test of time: highest career slugging percentage (.690), third most home runs (714), second most RBIs (2,214). Needless to say, “The Babe” is remembered for his prowess in the world of baseball. But in his personal life, Ruth went on a much more important journey.

Recently on The Cale Clarke Show, Cale spent a segment discussing the life of George Herman Ruth, his departure from the Catholic Faith, and his deathbed confessional letter which explained his return to God and the Church.

“He was well-known for living a life of debauchery,” began Cale. “He essentially lived on hot dogs and beer. Every hotel he would check into after a game, according to his teammates, had a bathtub in his room filled with ice and beer all ready to go.”

Ruth had had a notoriously rough childhood, growing up exceptionally poor, born to working-class immigrant parents. Because his parents spent every waking hour working, they spent very little time caring for their eight children, only three of whom survived to adulthood. Without supervision, Ruth got into all sorts of trouble including petty thievery, drinking, and fighting. And though he was eventually sent away to a Catholic boarding school in an attempt to instill discipline, Ruth had already laid the foundation upon which his future off-field antics would build.

After being signed to the Orioles, sold to the Red Sox, and subsequently the Yankees, Ruth’s childhood habits caught back up with him. While he was setting monstrous records on the field, off the field he was getting drunk, partying, and sleeping around. Ruth’s road trip roommate, Francesco Pizzolo, was once interviewed about what it was like to stay with baseball’s “Sultan of Swat”, but because of how often Ruth was out on the town, Pizzolo joked, “That isn’t so. I room with his suitcase!”

But no earthly vices bring lasting happiness, as Ruth found out. As he lay on his deathbed in a hospital in New York in 1948, he wasn’t thinking about beer. He wasn’t thinking about smoking or chewing tobacco. He wasn’t thinking about chasing women or even hitting home runs. Ruth was thinking about his faith; the same faith he’d been given as a child and raised with at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. Where had he gone wrong? He wrote a letter as he lay on that hospital bed. And in it, he lamented his past but rejoiced at the future. He had been lost, but by the power of God, he had found his way back home.

Bad boy Ruth, that was me.

Don’t get the idea that I’m proud of my harum-scarum youth. I’m not. I simply had a rotten start in life, and it took me a long time to get my bearings.

Looking back to my youth, I honestly don’t think I knew the difference between right and wrong. I spent much of my early boyhood living over my father’s saloon, in Baltimore—and when I wasn’t living over it, I was in it, soaking up the atmosphere. I hardly knew my parents.

St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore, where I was finally taken, has been called an orphanage and a reform school. It was, in fact, a training school for orphans, incorrigibles, delinquents and runaways picked up on the streets of the city. I was listed as an incorrigible. I guess I was. Perhaps I would always have been but for Brother Matthias, the greatest man I have ever known, and for the religious training I received there which has since been so important to me.

I doubt if any appeal could have straightened me out except a Power over and above man—the appeal of God. Iron-rod discipline couldn’t have done it. Nor all the punishment and reward systems that could have been devised. God had an eye out for me, just as he has for you, and he was pulling for me to make the grade.

As I look back now, I realize that knowledge of God was a big crossroads with me. I got one thing straight (and I wish all kids did)—that God was Boss. He was not only my Boss but Boss of all my bosses. Up till then, like all bad kids, I hated most of the people who had control over me and could punish me. I began to see that I had a higher Person to reckon with who never changed, whereas my earthly authorities changed from year to year. Those who bossed me had the same self-battles—they, like me, had to account to God. I also realized that God was not only just, but merciful. He knew we were weak and that we all found it easier to be stinkers than good sons of God, not only as kids but all through our lives.

Thanks to Brother Matthias I was able to leave St. Mary’s in 1914 and begin my professional career with the famous Baltimore Orioles. Out on my own… free from the rigid rules of a religious school…boy, did it go to my head. I began really to cut capers.

I strayed from the Church, but don’t think I forgot my religious training. I just overlooked it. I prayed often and hard, but like many irrepressible young fellows, the swift tempo of living shoved religion into the background.

So what good was all the hard work and ceaseless interest of the brothers, people would argue? You can’t make kids religious, they say, because it just won’t take. Send kids to Sunday school and they too often end up hating it and the Church.

Don’t you believe it. As far as I’m concerned, and I think as far as most kids go, once religion sinks in, it stays there—deep down. The lads who get religious training, get it where it counts—in the roots. They may fail it, but it never fails them. When the score is against them, or they get a bum pitch, that unfailing Something inside will be there to draw on. I’ve seen it with kids. I know from the letters they write me. The more I think of it, the more important I feel it is to give kids “the works” as far as religion is concerned. They’ll never want to be holy—they’ll act like tough monkeys in contrast, but somewhere inside will be a solid little chapel. It may get dusty from neglect, but the time will come when the door will be opened with much relief. But the kids can’t take it if we don’t give it to them.

While I drifted away from the Church, I did have my own “altar,” a big window of my New York apartment overlooking the city lights. Often I would kneel before that window and say my prayers. I would feel quite humble then. I’d ask God to help me not make such a big fool of myself and pray that I’d measure up to what he expected of me.

In December, 1946 I was in French Hospital, New York, facing a serious operation. Paul Carey, one of my oldest and closest friends, was by my bed one night.

“They’re going to operate in the morning, Babe,” Paul said. “Don’t you think you ought to put your house in order?”

I didn’t dodge the long, challenging look in his eyes. I knew what he meant. For the first time I realized that death might strike me out. I nodded, and Paul got up, called in a chaplain, and I made a full confession.

“I’ll return in the morning and give you Holy Communion,” the chaplain said,” But you don’t have to fast.”

“I’ll fast,” I said. I didn’t have even a drop of water.

As I lay in bed that evening I thought to myself what a comforting feeling to be free from fear and worries. I now could simply turn them over to God. Later on, my wife brought in a letter from a little kid in Jersey City. “Dear Babe”, he wrote, “Everybody in the seventh grade class is pulling and praying for you. I am enclosing a medal, which if you wear will make you better. Your pal—Mike Quinlan.

“P.S. I know this will be your 61st homer. You’ll hit it.”

I asked them to pin the Miraculous Medal to my pajama coat. I’ve worn the medal constantly ever since. I’ll wear it to my grave.

The Big Bam. The Babe. The Sultan of Swat. The Great Bambino. The King of Crash. The Caliph of Clout. From a man worthy of so many titles, accolades, and honors, the prospect of facing God so unworthily evoked a beautiful reversion and sincere expression of humility; recognition that at the end of life, all must answer to the same creator.

Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5pm CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at and on the Relevant Radio® app.