ulia Ruth Stevens’ room is adorned with images of the American legend.
To most, the man in the photos is among the greatest to ever play baseball. She calls him “Daddy.”
Babe Ruth, the American icon, posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, but for months the medal sat mostly undisturbed on the floor of Tom Stevens’ home in the Las Vegas Valley. Now it is on display in a museum across the country as a gift from the family earlier this month.
“It does no one any good hidden under couches and things like that, so the obvious place for it is the Babe Ruth birthplace museum in Baltimore,” said Stevens, who is Ruth Stevens’ son.
The medal is the latest in a series of donations the 66-year-old engineer has made in The Great Bambino’s memory, but much of the family’s effort to preserve the legend comes through sharing stories about George Herman Ruth when he wasn’t on the baseball diamond.
A lifetime of stories
Julia’s face lights up at times when she speaks about her father, who adopted her after marrying her mother in 1929. She is his last-surviving daughter.
“He’d always stick his head into my room after he got up (and) he’d say, ‘You want to have breakfast with me?’” Ruth Stevens said. “And I’d always say, ‘Of course!’”
Ruth would frequently make a breakfast he called the “hole in one” — a piece of toast with a hole cut out of the middle to make room for an egg. But it wasn’t his favorite dinner.
“Steak,” she said, giggling.
Golden Mylar balloons from her 102nd birthday hang next to a colorful Peter Luke painting of Ruth on the wall of her room at an assisted living facility. The memories of her father are starting to fade as she ages, requiring Tom to chime in with reminders of stories he’s heard throughout his life, such as the way the slugger ordered takeout Chinese food.
“And what would he ask for?” Tom said to his mother.
“A bottle of that ink!” Julia said, referring to soy sauce.
What Julia knows of the Charleston and the foxtrot, she learned from Babe Ruth, mostly at the Hotel Des Artistes in Manhattan, she said.
I think as long as there’s baseball, there will probably be Babe.
Tom Stevens, grandson
The two bonded over dinners in Greenwich Village, radio programs and the circus at Madison Square Garden.
He also taught her golf (it didn’t go well) and bowling (that went better).
“Well, I always tried to beat him, not that I ever did,” she said. “He was a good bowler. Very good. As a matter of fact, I always thought to myself, ‘Whatever sport there is, polo or anything, Daddy always knew how to do it and do it well.’”
In Her Own Words
Julia Ruth Stevens talks about her experiences growing up with her famed father.
On What He Means To Her
But he didn’t teach her baseball, Julia said.
Tom helped his mother recall her earliest memory of her father: Ruth giving her a wristwatch when she was a young girl.
“And it was just thrilling for me to have something like that because there weren’t that many around,” she said.
But while roughhousing on the couch with her dad one day, the crystal in the watch broke.
“And I started to cry because it was the first watch that I ever had,” she said. “And Daddy says, ‘Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it, I’ll buy you a new one.’ And that’s the way he was about things.”
In 1934, Julia joined Ruth on a trip to Japan with a team of all-stars for her high school graduation gift. Ruth extended the trip with Julia and her mother to go sightseeing across Asia and Europe, said Tom, who was born years after Ruth’s death in 1948.
“The trip to Japan and the stay there was probably the most wonderful time of my life,” Julia said. “For one thing, they did leave Daddy alone so that he could do the things that he wanted to. They didn’t crowd around him and he loved that.”
While the family was staying in a suite at a luxurious hotel, a man in a kimono knocked on the door, Julia recalled with some help from her son. The man’s sleeves were filled with baseballs for Ruth to autograph, Tom said.
Tom speaks fondly of stories he heard of Ruth acting as a showman when carving a Thanksgiving turkey, or carefully adding icicle decorations to the Christmas tree long after everyone else lost interest.
Tom said it rankles his mother, who was 12 when she was adopted by Ruth, to be referred to as Ruth’s stepdaughter.
He recalled how Ruth came through when Julia, as a young adult, was sick in the hospital with strep throat. She needed a blood transfusion, and Ruth proved to be a match, Tom said.
“She said as far as she was concerned, between being adopted and the transfusion, ‘I’m his daughter, period,’” Tom said.
Tom’s home is decorated with photos of Ruth, his grandmother Claire, and Julia the day her father walked her down the aisle for her wedding. It would look like a normal collection of family photos if not for the famed ballplayer’s visage.
Perpetuating a legacy
Camera flashes snapped intermittently throughout a packed Yankee Stadium on Sept. 21, 2008. Julia, wearing a navy Yankees jacket, clutched Tom’s arm as they walked to the infield, waving to an eruption of cheers.
“As the stadium’s history began with a Ruth, it’s only fitting that we close Yankee Stadium with a Ruth,” the announcer’s voice echoed through the stadium.
Ahead of the Yankees’ departure to their newly built baseball cathedral, Julia threw the final ceremonial first pitch in “The House That Ruth Built.”
It was one of many ceremonial experiences for Tom and Julia, who have tossed first pitches, presented trophies, and commemorated Ruth at events. The family history has placed Tom in the presence of prominent athletes, celebrities and four U.S. presidents, he said. Julia still receives fan mail from baseball fans looking to connect with The Sultan of Swat.
“The only way, really, that I could possibly pay him back is to help perpetuate his legacy,” Tom said. “I think as long as there’s baseball, there will probably be Babe.”
Julia spoke of her special relationship with fans in a biography posted on the Babe Ruth League website about her 2018 induction into the league’s International Hall of Fame.
“I think people feel when they meet me they are touching a part of Daddy. I know it is really him they admire, and it is a wonderful feeling for me to know they are connecting to a part of him through me,” she said in the league biography.
Julia’s age makes it difficult for her to travel to events now, and the days of media interviews are behind her.
But after game days at Yankee stadium to watch Ruth play, her travels abroad, and growing up beside a legend, experiencing the extraordinary and the mundane, Julia said she knows she has lived a full life.
“And it was all because of Daddy,” she said.
Babe Ruth Statistics
George Herman “Babe” Ruth played for three Major League Baseball teams during his career: the Boston Red Sox (1914-1919); the New York Yankees (1920-1934) and the Boston Braves (1935).
• Batting average: .342 (10th in MLB history)
• Home runs: 714 (3rd in MLB history)
• Hits: 2,873
• RBI: 2,213 (2nd in MLB history)
• Slugging percentage: .690 (1st all-time)
•On-base percentage: .474 (2nd all-time)
• Pitching W/L record: 94-46
• ERA: 2.28