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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Babe Ruth’s daughter keeps legacy alive

MESA, Ariz. – It’s been 75 years since Babe Ruth retired from baseball and his lone surviving daughter is still working to preserve the legend’s legacy.

Julia Ruth Stevens, 93, lives in Sun City in the winter and spring. The rest of the time, she’s a New Hampshire resident. 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.

“My goal in life is to keep his name alive,” Stevens said. “He was a wonderful father and I remember him as that and just not as a baseball player. “

She 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 Boston Braves team.

Ruth formally announced his retirement from baseball on June 2, 1935, after the Braves gave him his unconditional release, three days after he played his final game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

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.

Ruth died from cancer at age 53 on Aug. 16, 1948.

In 1998, The Sporting News ranked Ruth No. 1 on the list of baseball’s 100 greatest players.

“He was the greatest player who ever lived,” Stevens said. “His name will always be synonymous with baseball.”