Without the love and guidance of a hulking, 6-foot-6 father figure from Nova Scotia, Babe Ruth likely wouldn’t have evolved into a baseball superstar. Throughout his career, The Bambino often referred to Brother Matthias, the Canadian disciplinarian at the St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore, as the greatest man he ever knew.
No longer able to deal with his incorrigible behaviour, Ruth’s parents sent their son to the St. Mary’s Industrial School when he was just seven years old. Ruth’s parents also signed over their son’s custodial rights to the school. The institution boasted 800 boys with similarly sad stories, who would benefit from the guidance of approximately 30 Catholic brothers.
It was there that The Bambino would find a father figure, friend and confidant in Brother Matthias, whose real name was Martin Boutilier. Born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1872, Brother Matthias was an intimidating presence at the school, but he was always fair and understanding and the boys grew to respect him. Robert Creamer’s famous Ruth biography describes the Nova Scotian as being shaped like a pear, with a slight face and sloping shoulders, descending into a heavy body with thick legs. Brother Matthias had blonde hair and blue eyes and was the school disciplinarian, whose mere presence could quell schoolyard fisticuffs. He was also the assistant athletic director.
Brother Matthias is often credited with introducing Ruth to baseball. Creamer reports that Matthias used to hit long fly balls with one arm to kids in the schoolyard. Likely seeing Ruth’s talent, Matthias would devote hours to hitting ground balls to his budding diamond star. Ruth began as a power-hitting, left-handed throwing catcher at St. Mary’s, before Brother Matthias caught Ruth laughing at the futility of his team’s pitcher one game. A seething Brother Matthias reportedly approached the young Ruth and told him that if he thought he could do better that he should pitch. Feeling the shame of his mentor’s scorn, Ruth took the mound and shortly thereafter became the most dominant pitcher at the school.
“It was at St. Marys that I met and learned to love the greatest man I’ve ever known,” wrote Ruth of Brother Matthias in his autobiography. “He was the father I needed. He taught me to read and write, and the difference between right and wrong.”
Ruth would spend almost 12 years at St. Mary’s under Brother Matthias’s watchful eye, before Jack Dunn, the owner of International League’s Baltimore Orioles, would sign him to his first professional contract in 1914.
But over the course of his legendary career, Ruth never forgot the hulking Canadian who taught him so much. Each year, Ruth would reportedly buy Brother Matthias a new Cadillac and would often return to the school to visit with the children.