The daughter of baseball’s most renowned player is continuing to round the bases with a plan to preserve her father’s place in history.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s retirement from the game, and at the age of 93, his lone surviving daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, still remembers the highlights and disappointments from his career as if they happened yesterday.
Stevens, who is a Valley resident in the winter and spring, believes Ruth’s name will remain known to generations of fans far into the 21st Century.
Stevens’ mind and words move forward like a speeded-up 8-millimeter film of his trademark home run trot and tip of his cap when he rounded the bases during a 21-year career spent with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Boston Braves.
To millions of fans around the world, Ruth mostly was known as “The Babe, The Bambino and The Sultan of Swat,” but to Julia Ruth Stevens, he simply was “Daddy.”
“My goal in life is to keep his name alive,” Stevens said from her summer home in New Hampshire. “He was a wonderful father and I remember him as that and just not as a baseball player. I still miss my mother and father terribly.”
To honor “The Babe,” Stevens still throws out the first pitch at numerous baseball games across the nation, attends the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y. and appears at the annual Babe Ruth Little League World Series.
And although Stevens is legally blind, she often obliges autograph seekers. Her signature command $25 to $75 on eBay, a bargain compared to her father’s, which sells for thousands. Stevens also has authored three books about her famous father that contain rare photographs and anecdotes depicting the Ruths’ family life through the years.
Stevens was adopted by baseball’s biggest star soon after Ruth married her mother, Claire Hodgson, in 1929, when Julia was 12 years old. Julia was the older of two daughters adopted by Ruth. Dorothy Ruth Pirone, who was Ruth’s younger daughter from a previous relationship, is deceased.
“I knew who he was,” Stevens said when her mother married Ruth. “I was not surprised. She had been seeing him for quite some time. She had been a widow for a long time, and said she just didn’t want anyone to be my father.”
Although Ruth’s career had countless celebrated moments on and off the field, Stevens described the mood as “somber” after her parents came home to New York after Ruth said goodbye to the game as a player on a struggling Braves team.
Ruth formally announced his retirement from baseball on June 2, 1935, after the Braves gave him his unconditional release, three days after playing his final game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Stevens did not witness Ruth’s last game or his final three home runs, as she often did not travel with her parents outside of Boston.
“But my memories are so vivid, I can call up various moments of that time,” she said.
On May 30, 1935, Stevens was 19 when Ruth grounded out in the only at-bat in his final game. He took his place in the outfield, and received a standing ovation after he waved to the fans and ran off the field due to an injured knee.
Five days before his last game, the 40-year-old Ruth hit his final three home runs in a game at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh against the Pirates.
“I sometimes wonder if the designated hitter rule would have been in effect when daddy played, his career would’ve lasted much longer and he would’ve hit a lot more home runs,” said Stevens, who remembered her father’s disappointment over never becoming a manager. “It was his legs that gave out. He had trouble with his knees.”
But Stevens’ memories of The Babe being her father are built on fondness rather than his disappointment nearly 62 years after he died from cancer at age 53 on Aug. 16, 1948.
“I couldn’t have had a better father than him,” Stevens said. “He taught me how to dance. He was a beautiful dancer. He taught me how to bowl and we bowled a lot together. My mother was not a big sports fan outside of baseball, and we went to a lot of hockey games together.”
Today Stevens’ family members, her son, Tom Stevens, her grandson Brent Stevens and granddaughter Amanda, also take part in preserving the Babe’s place in history. Brent Stevens maintains an Internet web site, www.baberuth.com, where fans can look up Ruthian facts or order souvenirs.
“They’re very aware of the important role they have to play in keeping his name alive,” Stevens said.
His name remains perhaps the biggest in the history of the game. In 1998, The Sporting News ranked Ruth No. 1 on the list of “Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players.” In 1999, baseball fans named Ruth to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. In 1969, Ruth was named baseball’s Greatest Player Ever in a ballot commemorating the 100th anniversary of professional baseball.
“He was the greatest player who ever lived,” Stevens said. “His name will always be synonymous with baseball.”