Ruth's daughter shares fond memories

Ruth's daughter shares fond memories

PHOENIX -- It takes something besides someone closing in on the home run record her father used to have for Julia Ruth Stevens to recall the good ol' days with her larger-than-life dad.

Waking up each morning basically does the trick for Babe Ruth's 88-year-old daughter.

"We had so many wonderful times together," she said. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of Daddy, and mother."

The dark brown eyes that can't see much anymore sparkle when Stevens talks about her "Daddy" -- George Herman Ruth.

To us, he is "The Babe." To her, he is and always has been "Daddy."

Babe Ruth is back in the news a lot these days as San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds pursues Ruth's former Major League record of 714 career home runs. And, while Stevens wonders why so many writers want to interview her, she is more than happy to talk about her Daddy.

During a recent interview at her winter home in north Phoenix, Stevens said she doesn't understand why there is such a fuss about Bonds and the former record because, "Hank Aaron already broke the record, and then some."

She hopes she isn't around when the new Yankee Stadium opens, realizing more than ever what her father accomplished in a life that was heading down a troubled path as a child. She is amazed that a baseball signed by The Babe is worth at least $10,000.

"Goodness sakes alive," she said. "There were players in the 1930s not even making $10,000 a year."

But that's the impact The Babe had on the game and his daughter.

"I appreciate Daddy now more than when he was bringing me up," she said. "He was a wonderful father. Now that I am older, I realize all the things that he accomplished after such a terrible start.

"He really had a deprived childhood. He was 7 years old when he was sent to the St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys (a reformatory and orphanage in Baltimore)," she added. "He rarely talked about it, but he said so many times, 'I don't know what I would have become if I hadn't met Brother Mathias.'"

Ruth became the most famous athlete of his generation and even now, more than 70 years after he played his final game, he remains as one of the most revered athletes in sports history.

Virtually all of the records Ruth set during his 22-year MLB career have been broken, including the two marks Stevens said were his favorites.

"It was a tossup between his 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series for the Red Sox, and his 60th home run," she said. "He was very proud of his pitching records."

Ruth was one of the game's premier pitchers from 1915-18, posting a 78-40 record with a sub-3.00 ERA in each of those four seasons. He also hit 20 home runs during the so-called "dead ball" era, including 11 in 1918, when he tied Philadelphia Athletics "slugger" Tilly Walker for the American League lead. Four of the eight AL teams hit fewer than 10 home runs that season.

The "Ruthian" era really took off the following season when The Babe led the American League with 29 home runs during his final season with the Red Sox. For the second straight season, he hit more home runs by himself than four of the eight AL teams.

But to Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe Ruth was much more than a great baseball player who hit a lot of home runs. She still embraces the moments they shared during a 22-year father-daughter relationship.

She has far more memories than memorabilia.

"I was 9 years old when Daddy and mother met," Stevens said, "and I was 12 when they were married in '29. I wasn't much of a baseball fan back then. Oh, I am much more into baseball in my later years than when I was younger.

"I used to love going to Opening Day and the World Series. The crowds were big and there was just so much excitement."

Asked what she would say to Bonds if she ever met him, she quipped, "I would say, 'How do you do?' That's about it."

Stevens is legally blind now and doesn't read newspapers anymore, but has been told that Bonds has said some "not very kind" things about her Daddy.

"I would not want to offend him by saying something that was not nice," she said.

While she pays little attention to the third member of Major League Baseball's 700-homer club, Stevens remains an avid baseball fan and occasionally attends an Arizona Diamondbacks game at Chase Field.

"I don't know where the ball is going when it gets hit," she said, "but I can tell what happens by the sound of the crowd. I can tell if it's a hit or an out."

Stevens said that when she's in Arizona, she roots for the D-Backs. But when she returns to her summer home in New Hampshire every May, she becomes an ardent Red Sox fan.

Not the Yankees?

"Goodness sakes alive," she said. "I was a Yankees fan all those years Daddy played for them."

Asked what The Babe would think about the idea of a new Yankee Stadium, she said, "Well, I think he would be pretty sad, and disappointed. It would mean the actual end of the House that Ruth Built, and I think that's awful.

"But I'm sure I'll be gone by the time the new one is built. I wouldn't want to be around for the opening of the new one, anyway. There would be no memories for me there. It wouldn't mean anything to me."

While sitting in a small room, surrounded by 18 photos of her famous father, Stevens talked about the promise her dad kept in 1934, when she graduated from high school, and the two graduation gifts that were offered.

The more she talked, the wider her smile became, as though the distant past was alive again.

"He had always promised me that he would be there to see me receive my diploma," she said.

But a little problem developed that threatened that promise.

On the day before her graduation from a small private school in New York, the Yankees were ending a road trip in St. Louis, and because all MLB teams traveled by train, it didn't seem possible for Ruth to make it back in time for the graduation.

"Mother, who always traveled with Daddy, came back (by train) a day early so she would be there," Stevens said. "But Daddy could not take the day off to come with her. Instead, he flew back and arrived in time.

"I remember looking around to see if he had arrived, noticed a murmur go through the crowd, and then saw him walking in with mother. He kept his promise."

babe ruth: the sultan of swat
Where The Babe ranks in baseball history:
• Slugging percentage.68981st
• Career OPS1.16381st
• Home runs7142nd
• Runs batted in2,1172nd
• At-bats per HR11.762nd
• On-base percentage.47402nd
• Extra-base hits1,3563rd
• Walks2,0633rd
• Runs scored2,1753rd
• Total bases5,7935th
• Batting average.34219th

As a graduation gift, Stevens was given a choice: receive a college education, compliments of "The Bank of Dad", or go on a 3 1/2-month around-the-world trip with her parents and an All-Star team of Major League players.

"I said, 'I'll take the trip' and I have never, ever regretted it for a moment," she said. "I saw so much and was so fascinated with Japan. It was a beautiful country, so many flowers, and all the women wore Kimonos.

"What an experience that was. You know, I haven't been back to Japan since that trip in '34."

She would never take another trip like that now, but is perfectly satisfied with the memories of that one.

"Daddy had it in his will that all of his memorabilia would be donated to the Hall of Fame," she said. "All I really have are pictures and my memories, and they are absolutely priceless."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.