Julia Ruth Stevens, daughter of Babe Ruth, the Baltimore-born Bambino, dies at 102

Julia Ruth Stevens, the last surviving child of Babe Ruth, died early Saturday morning at an assisted-living facility in Henderson, Nev., of complications following a pulmonary embolism, said her son, Tom Stevens. She was 102.

Mrs. Stevens had written “A Daughter’s Portrait” and other books about her father, and had appeared at countless events on his behalf at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and elsewhere around the country, including Baltimore. She was always proud to represent Mr. Ruth, a native Baltimorean who was one of baseball’s all-time greats, Mr. Stevens said.

“With the passing of Julia, it’s kind of the end of the line for Babe Ruth, of people who knew him firsthand,” said Mike Gibbons, director emeritus of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore.

The elder of Mr. Ruth’s two adopted daughters, Mrs. Stevens was born July 17, 1916, in Athens, Ga., to Claire Hodgson, a fashion model, and her husband, Frank, a Southern aristocrat nearly 20 years her senior.

After the marriage ended, Mrs. Hodgson moved with her daughter to New York in 1920 and met Mr. Ruth, whose statue stands at Camden Yards, through a mutual friend, actor Jim Barton.

Their romance was an open secret for five or six years, but Mr. Ruth was already married to Helen Woodford, a coffee-shop waitress he had met in Boston while playing for the Red Sox. A Catholic, he refused to consider divorce, but about three years after Ms. Woodford’s death in a 1929 fire, he married Mrs. Hodgson and adopted her daughter, Julia. Mrs. Hodgson adopted Mr. Ruth’s other adopted daughter, Dorothy Pirone.

As a young woman in the 1930s, before the development of antibiotics, Mrs. Stevens spent weeks in the hospital for strep throat and needed a blood transfusion, Mr. Stevens said.

Mr. Ruth, whose blood type matched hers, stepped up.

“As far as I’m concerned, I have his blood and he adopted me,” she would say, according to her son. “That makes me his daughter.”

“She was very proud of the fact that he had adopted her,” Mr. Stevens said.

Mrs. Hodgson Ruth died in 1976. Mrs. Pirone died in 1989.

Mrs. Stevens met her first husband, Richard Flanders, on a golf trip with her father to North Conway, N.H., and joined him at the Cranmore Mountain Lodge, a ski lodge he owned and operated, according to a family obituary.

When he died in 1949 from hypertension, she became the owner and postmaster of the general store in Eaton Center, N.H., where she met her second husband, Grant Meloon.

After a divorce, she married a third and final time, to Brent Stevens, a poultry farmer — earning Mrs. Stevens the nickname “the egg lady” throughout the Mount Washington Valley.

Mrs. Stevens relished her role as the daughter of the legendary seven-time World Series champion pitcher and slugger, whose name is in the conversation of the greatest baseball players ever.

Mr. Ruth, who signed out of St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in West Baltimore, began his storied major-league career on a $100-a-month contract with his hometown Orioles, a minor league team at the time. He hit a 400-foot home run in his second at-bat in spring training in Fayetteville, N.C., but cash-strapped Baltimore traded him to Boston with two other players just months later for $16,000.

In 1919, the Red Sox made the most famous trade in baseball history, sending Ruth to the New York Yankees for $100,000. He went on to win seven American League pennants and four World Series titles — and become one of the best-known figures in sports and American culture. The Red Sox, who had won five previous World Series in the first 13 years of the league’s founding, languished the next 86 years without a title.

Despite the drought that befell Boston, Mrs. Stevens didn’t believe in the so-called “Curse of the Bambino,” arguing that her father had loved baseball too much to put a curse on any team, her son said.

Mrs. Stevens threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park before Game 5 of the 1999 American League Championship Series and returned to do so on other occasions, the final time to celebrate her 100th birthday in July 2016.

A Red Sox fan who lived in New Hampshire for many years, Mrs. Stevens had rooted for the “curse” to be broken. But she loved hearing Ruth’s name mentioned long after his death on Aug. 16, 1948.

“He’s still relevant today as he ever was,” she used to say, according to her son.

In retirement, Mrs. Stevens often visited the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum and liked to go out for steamed crabs after appearances, said Mr. Gibbons, who served as the museum’s executive director for 36 years.

During a visit to Baltimore on the weekend of the 1993 All-Star Game at Camden Yards, she and Mr. Gibbons realized that several of the National League players were dining in another room of the crab house. They decided to introduce themselves.

“Before we could get up, the All-Stars come into our room,” he said. “They lined up to get Julia’s autograph. It was like, ‘Wow, we are in the midst of baseball royalty.’ ”

Mr. Gibbons said he had interviewed Mrs. Stevens a dozen times in front of crowds of who would pack the museum to hear her recollections of her round-the-world trip to see “Daddy” play with other American All-Stars in Japan in 1934, or listening to their favorite radio program, “The Lone Ranger,” with him in their New York apartment.

“She always had time for one more autograph, even as she got older and older,” he said. “She never stopped being an ambassador for her father, baseball and the museum.”

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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