As far as I know, most (maybe all) of the info here on Babe Ruth and his daughter has never been in print before. For a long time I didn’t know that Ruth’s second wife, Claire, and slugger Johnny Mize were first cousins. So, between her husband and cousin, she was associated with 1,073 home runs!
MY STORY: When I was writing the life story of Ruth, simply entitled Babe Ruth: A Biography, the curator of the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore told me that Ruth’s daughter Julia was living in a suburb of Phoenix. It turned out she lived not only in the same town as a good friend of mine, but only about two block from him. I immediately decided to try to accomplish two things–paying my friend a visit and get first hand information on Ruth from Julia. When she agreed to speak to me at her house, it was time for a trip from Ohio to Arizona. It turned out to be one of my favorite interviews/experiences as a writer. Julia passed away not very long ago, on March 9, 2019, having lived a long, memorable life—lasting until the age of 102.
INFO FROM THAT VISIT: This next story is actually from Julia’s son Tom Stevens who was visiting her the day I sat down for the interview. This tale shows that much of the legend of Ruth and many of his superhuman feats were true.
One day Tom ran into the then oldest living member of the Hall of Fame, Joe Sewell. “He was wheelchair-bound, but he played with Babe in the 30’s. He was a third baseman with the Yankees [1931-33] in the twilight of Babe’s career.
Stevens related, “He had a twinkle in his eye while he was telling [of the time] he was the last one in the locker room and Babe came in, almost stumbling, late for practice, for infield and shagging flies. The first thing that would come to people’s mind was that he had been out partying or something like that, but he wasn’t— even he couldn’t do that forever, particularly at his age at that time. He’d long ago given that up anyway. My grandmother wouldn’t have stood for it; in a lot of ways she was one of the best things that happened to him; she brought him up short, so to speak.
“Anyway, he [Sewell] was just about to go on the field, and by this time Babe was getting dressed and he said, ‘Hey, kid, can you give me a hand getting dressed? There’s something wrong here and I can’t figure it out.’ He had put his pants on backwards.
“What had happened was his knees were so shot by that time in his career he was in continual search for painkillers. With prescription drugs, some of them don’t necessarily agree with you too well. Apparently that was what happened in this case.
“So he [Sewell] proceeded to tell the story of how he helped him get dressed and then went out onto the field and Babe followed along afterwards. In spite of all that, he put two out and went 3-for-5, I think, and had five or six RBI. Not too shabby a day.
“At that point Joe Sewell looked up at me and said, ‘Son, your grandfather was a baseball god.’”
FROM JULIA: Julia feels most proud of being Babe’s daughter not because of what he accomplished on the field, but rather “just for him being the person that he was and for being such a wonderful father. There aren’t a lot of stepfathers, which, of course, he started out as, who adopt the children that they are a stepfather to. He treated me as if I had always been his and I never knew another father. Boy, I’m telling you something, I just thought, and I still do think, that I was the luckiest girl in the world to have him adopt me; he was just so wonderful.”
She said she didn’t even care that he was a superstar ballplayer. “Absolutely. It wouldn’t have changed what he was.” In fact, Babe “pretty much left it [his accomplishments] on the field. He really didn’t talk much about [games]. One thing he would say would be if they lost a game. He’d say, ‘I think we could have won that game if such and such a thing had been done, if they’d removed a pitcher’ or something like that. Outside of that, he didn’t really bring the game home.”
Even if, say, the Babe had hit three homers in a game, he didn’t discuss it. As Julia note, “It wasn’t as if he hadn’t done it before. When he hit the last three in Pittsburgh, Mother was with him. I wasn’t, but I thought it was great. To me it was Daddy and that was the kind of thing that Daddy did.
“I, along with Mother, do wish that he had retired after that, but when he made a promise, he kept it no matter what, and he had promised Judge Fuchs that he would finish the particular [road trip] until they got back to Boston— that was when he handed in his retirement.”
If you enjoyed this blog and want more about Ruth and his relatives, add a comment here and I’ll run some additional material.
FINAL ITEMS: A famous story (perpetuated by several movies on the Babe) has him visiting a hospital to see a sick boy named Johnny Slyvester. He promises the boy that he’ll hit a homer for him the next day. Well, two things: 1) part of that story is true, but a whole LOT of it was manufactured/embellished by Hollywood. 2) it was not at all unusual for Ruth to promise young fans that he’d hit a homer for them. One book I read said that, in fact, he “usually” made this promise to sick kids.
He truly was great with kids, but why does Hollywood have to distort things? I am always skeptical when I see “based on true events” associated with movies because I know that means some of the material is embellished for dramatic effect AND I also know that means I have NO idea what is true from the movie and what isn’t. Therefore, I go away skeptical about almost everything in the movie at times.