If not for her face, Mary Ruth Moberly would seem merely the tiny, white-haired great-grandmother she is. But the resemblance to her famous brother, despite generations of facial wrinkles, is simply too striking not to evoke an era long gone. The familiar wide nose, the giant grin, the childlike twinkle in her eyes…it’s a face bright enough to light Yankee Stadium. And that’s how it should be, for 85-year-old Mary Ruth Moberly is Babe Ruth’s sister, once a little girl he called Mamie.
Today she lives with her daughter, Florence, and son-in-law Robert Binau in a neat, redbrick apartment building in Hagerstown, Md., about 70 miles outside her native Baltimore. Babe died of cancer in 1948, and Mamie’s husband, Wilbur, passed away two decades ago after 46 years of marriage. Now she spends most of each day sitting in her rocker, feet propped up on a stool, watching television. And while the inquiries about Babe have all but ceased, Mamie manages to do what even the loftiest records and strongest memories can’t do—survive.
You know, they always said Babe was a bad boy. But he wasn’t, other than not going to school. He was just mischievous. You dare him to do something, you might as well say it was done. That type. Mother used to say to me, “Keep an eye on your brother.” So I’d follow him down the alley. Once I saw the boys dare him to kick over a basket. Potatoes go flying everywhere. Tomatoes, too. And when I got home, there was a policeman there, and I heard a neighbor say, “That damn Ruth boy.”
Because he wouldn’t go to school, Daddy paid to have him sent to St. Mary’s [an industrial training school for boys] for his education. Oh, my parents were strict. That was the trouble, I think. Too strict. I was the most obedient child in the world. Of course, I didn’t want the bops that Babe got from my father. Because when Babe was disobedient, Daddy would let him have it. And when I saw what happened to Babe, I didn’t want it to happen to me.
Now Babe and I were close, but I only saw him once a month while he was at St. Mary’s. Mother and I used to go out and visit. We’d take him little goodies—cookies and candies and cakes. We’d try and make something different each month. He was a big eater, and he liked most anything. We used to watch him play baseball, but I wasn’t much interested, especially with me being a girl.
Babe was born to play baseball. He was with the minor-league Orioles first, then the Red Sox bought him, and after that the Yankees. I remember reading about Babe in the newspaper. I’d turn to the sport section first thing, naturally. Still do. And it was funny reading about my brother. But I used to love going to the games, every minute of them. All I’d have to do is go to the window with my husband and say, “I want two seats. I’m Babe Ruth’s sister.”
See, there were many children in our family, but they were all deceased, other than Babe and I. Babe was the firstborn. I’m the fifth. There was a sister to me, a twin. Twin girls and a set of twin boys. But Babe and me were the only ones to survive—except now Babe’s gone and I’m the only survivor.
Our father and his brother were in the lightning-rod business. Daddy was a big man, with a curled-up mustache, one of those typical German things. Mother was a little person, like I am. Then Daddy went into the saloon business, and eventually he and Babe were in it together. We had a place called The Ruths’ Cafe. We lived over the saloon, and it seemed that Mother and Daddy’s life was all work, but that’s the way it is when you have a saloon.
Mother died of TB when she was 37. I was 10. Then my father got married again, with a big to-do in the saloon. So life got a little better. But then Daddy started losing his eyesight, and I had to give up school in the eighth grade to help out. I was 18 when I married Wilbur Moberly. He was a men’s-clothing cutter. He used to come into the saloon, and he and Daddy got acquainted. It wasn’t a big wedding. See, Daddy had been killed in an accident.
Babe and I lived our lives pretty much separate. I had to raise Florence and take care of my husband. He couldn’t be here and I couldn’t be there all the time, but we’d correspond and visit. I can’t recall the first time I was in Yankee Stadium for a game. That’s just too far back. But Lou Gehrig was my favorite of all the players on the team—after Babe, of course.
The day Babe said goodbye at Yankee Stadium, it was very, very touching. I don’t think anybody had a dry eye. We had special seats, and when Babe went onto the field, he could hardly speak, the cancer had him so bad. It was very emotional, a terrible ordeal, but something you have to go through. I don’t really recall what he said—you couldn’t hear—but you could tell everything from the waving of his hand. “Goodbye,” he said.
We didn’t stay for the ball game. I was crying, and my husband felt as bad as I did. But you know how men are. They can hold it back better.
Babe was going downhill. When they called me and told me he was so bad, I flew straight to New York. That was my first airplane ride. I was so nervous, so upset, that they had to put a blanket over me. I thought, “If I can endure this, I can endure anything.”
When I got to the hospital, they told me to go right to the room. His male nurse let me in, and I went to the bed. See, he was like in a tent, and they had to raise it so I could touch him. And I said, “This is Mamie, Babe.” I think he heard me. I’m sure he heard me. You could tell by the motion of his lips. In a soft whisper, he said, “Mamie.” And, well, as I say, he was there 10 days and then he died.
We had to stay until the will was read, so we were up in New York a week or so. Babe left me $10,000, and his wife gave me some things—his missal and a watch. Then, after people found out I was in the will, I got a lot of calls and letters asking for money. My husband said, “Just do what you think is right.” What did I do? I switched to the Orioles, my hometown team.
I recently celebrated my 85th birthday. Just the family came in. We had cake and candles, sang Happy Birthday. All the birthdays I can remember have been about the same way—just the family. They haven’t really changed that much. Just the faces. Some are with us and some aren’t. Sometimes when I run across a picture of Babe or my husband, it’s kind of sad. You just can’t live that way, though. They’ve gone and you’ve got to live.
Now I never felt that guy [Henry Aaron] broke Babe’s home-run record. I’m not saying he’s not a good ballplayer. I’m not taking that away. But I never felt he broke it. It was a whole different ball game when Babe played. That’s just my opinion. And goodness, the amount of money players are making today. Then, they said Babe made too much. That makes me laugh.
See, I just think all the stories of Babe are wonderful. I mean, if his sister wouldn’t think he’s wonderful, who would? I’m very proud. And I get a laugh when I think about it, that everyone, every child, knows of my brother, Babe Ruth.