Working in this business for more than 30 years, I have been fortunate to meet some incredible people. I hung with George Bush (41) and Michael Jordan on the same day at a Ryder Cup; stupidly turned down a ride from Clint Eastwood at Pebble Beach; spent two hours with Ernie Banks looking at his picture file at Tribune Tower.
However, never in my wildest dreams, from the day I first held Babe Ruth’s homer-laden card while playing Strato-O-Matic as a kid, did I ever imagine that I would have dinner with someone who calls him “Daddy.”
Yet there I was last Friday with Julia Ruth Stevens, still going strong and talking proudly about her famous father at the age of 97. We were joined by Julia’s son and the Babe’s grandson, Tom Stevens, his wife, Anita, and my wife, Ilene (All pictured above).
I interviewed Julia for my book, Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery Behind Baseball’s Greatest Home Run. While she wasn’t at the famous Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, there never was a doubt her mind about her father’s intentions.
She heard direct testimony from a couple key witnesses at the game: Her mother, Claire, and Francis Cardinal Spellman, the long-time Archbishop of New York. “Daddy certainly did point,” Julia said. “He always seemed to rise to the occasion. He just wanted to beat the Cubs. If he had missed, he’d have been very, very disappointed. (Cardinal Spellman) said there’s no question that he pointed. I’ll take his word and my mother’s.”
The Cubs invited Julia and Tom to Friday’s game as part of its Wrigley Field 100th anniversary celebration. It was Babe Ruth bobblehead day. Julia threw out the first pitch and she and Tom sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.
Earlier in the week, Tom called and asked if we would like to have dinner with Julia and his wife on Friday.
“We really enjoyed your book and would like to meet you,” she said.
Of course, I said yes and made reservations for Joe’s Stone Crab in downtown Chicago. Scanning the packed restaurant, I thought if people only knew of the history sitting at our table.
Naturally, we talked about her life with Babe. Julia was the daughter of Babe’s second wife, Claire. He adopted her shortly after they got married in 1929.
For all the legendary stories about Ruth’s wild lifestyle in his younger years, he became a changed man, a family man, after his marriage to Claire. Julia recalled how “Daddy” enjoyed staying at home, occasionally inviting friends over. If he did go out, it was to a favorite Italian restaurant nearby.
Ruth became very close to Claire’s brothers, Julia’s uncles. If anything, after a terrible childhood when he was abandoned by his parents, Ruth finally had the family he never had during the years Julia lived with him.
While Julia has vivid images of Ruth as a player, her lasting memories was of him as a father. She recalled how he taught her how to dance.
“Daddy really was wonderful to me,” Julia said.
Ruth died before Tom was born, but he and Anita had vivid memories of his grandmother, Claire. “She truly was a lovely, sweet lady,” Anita said.
Being Ruth’s grandson does have its advantages. Tom recalled going to a Yankees game at the age of 10 with Claire. She arranged for him to meet the Yankees of the Mickey Mantle era in the locker room.
Julia then chimed in. “Oh, I loved Mickey. He was so much fun,” he said.
Indeed, through the years, Julia and Tom have become close with a virtual who’s-who in baseball while representing Ruth at various functions, including the annual Hall of Fame ceremonies. Ted Williams was “a great guy” and the Steinbrenner family couldn’t do enough for them during appearances at Yankee Stadium.
Age is not a friend to Julia now, but she and Tom try to get a few events each year.
“It’s always an honor to represent Daddy,” Julia said.
“We want to continue to tell people about his legacy,” Tom said.
When I told friends about my dinner with Ruth’s family, they all asked what were they like. Well, they were terrific, down-to-Earth people who just happened to be related to the greatest baseball player of all time.
Tom, a civil engineer who builds bridges, has had a fascinating life in his own right, working all over the world, including a long stint in Afghanistan. Anita is a retired school teacher. Julia lives with them outside of Las Vegas.
Throughout dinner, the conversation centered on Tom’s work, their kids, our kids as much as on baseball and Ruth. At the end of the day, we’re all ordinary people with concerns and interests like everyone else. I would like to think Ruth would be proud with how they turned out.
All in all, it was a wonderful evening. As we finished our dinner, I asked Julia and Tom to inscribe my book. Julia wrote: “Thanks for doing such a great job on your book about my Dad. Julia Ruth Stevens.”
Tom wrote: “What a great book. I enjoyed every page. Babe’s Grandson. Tom Stevens.”
I will cherish those inscriptions. They always will serve as my closest connection to The Babe.