Obituaries

Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe Ruth’s last surviving child, dies at 102

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Julia Ruth Stevens threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park on July 9, 2016, for her 100th birthday.

“The Curse” brought about by Babe Ruth’s departure from the Red Sox became an enduring part of baseball lore, but his oldest daughter would have none of it.

Julia Ruth Stevens said her father “would have been the first to refute it.”

Mrs. Stevens, Ruth’s last surviving child, was 102 when she died in her sleep Saturday in an assisted living facility in Henderson, Nev., her only child, Tom Stevens, told the Globe Saturday.

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“She was the last authority on Babe, the man,” he said by phone from his home in Nevada.

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While living in Conway, N.H., for many years, she became a Red Sox fan. Speaking to the Globe about “the Curse” in 1999, she predicted that if Boston were to win the World Series, “I don’t think it would ever be mentioned again.”

Nevertheless, she didn’t like to tempt fate. In 1995, Boston finished first in the American League East, only to lose to Cleveland in the Division Series.

“I felt like I ought to get out of town, because I was bringing them bad luck,” she told the Globe a few years later. “You know, being a baseball player’s daughter, it’s hard not to be a little superstitious.”

Her friend, Joe Brill of Quincy, told the Globe that when asked about “the Curse,” she had a ready answer: “Daddy loved baseball. He’d never put a curse on a baseball team.”

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Mrs. Stevens, he added, “was thrilled” when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, breaking an 86-year drought.

In a statement, the Red Sox said the organization joined “the rest of the baseball world in mourning the death of Julia Ruth Stevens, who with devotion, charm, and grace preserved and illuminated the memory and legacy of her father.”

Courtesy of Joe Brill
Julia Ruth Stevens (right), with her parents in Japan in 1934

Babe Ruth played the first six seasons of his career in Boston, where he was a standout pitcher. “I’d say my father was equally as proud of the 29 shutout innings he pitched in the World Series as the 60 home runs,” Mrs. Stevens told the Globe in 1993 of her father’s mound performance for the Red Sox in 1916 and 1918 championships, which was a record for many years.

In 1919, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee famously sold Babe Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees, which helped set in motion one of the most famous rivalries in sports history. It also led to the theory that sending Ruth to the Yankees cursed the Red Sox to languish for decades without winning the World Series.

In a Facebook post announcing Mrs. Stevens’s death, her family said she “was a loving wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who lived a wonderful, full life during the 102 years that she was with us. As the daughter of Babe Ruth, she had many amazing experiences, which she was pleased to share with eager reporters and fans alike.”

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Her family added that “until the very end, she was very proud to call him ‘Daddy’ and she particularly loved recalling events from 1934 when she went on a ‘round the world’ tour with her parents. The tour began with a series of 15 exhibition baseball games played in Japan.”

File Photo
Julia Ruth Stevens with her parents, watching the Giants beat the Yankees during the first game of the 1936 World Series.

Born in Athens, Ga., on July 17, 1916, Julia Hodgson was the daughter of Frank Hodgson and Claire Merritt.

When Claire Ruth died in 1976, the Globe noted that her family had other baseball connections. Claire’s father was a lawyer who had represented Hall of Fame hitting legend Ty Cobb. Her cousin was slugger Johnny Mize, another Hall of Fame player.

Julia was young when her parents separated. Claire moved to New York City, where she was introduced to Babe Ruth.

His first wife, Helen, had died in a house fire a few years after they separated. Ruth married Claire in 1929. He adopted Julia and the couple raised her along with Dorothy, his adopted daughter from his first marriage. Dorothy died in 1989.

In a first-person account for the Globe in 1959, Claire wrote that when Julia graduated from high school in New York in 1934, Babe Ruth flew back to New York from a Yankees road trip to St. Louis to attend the ceremony.

Claire said her husband also flew home from his baseball duties a few years later when Julia was ill. “He gave Julia a blood transfusion that saved her life,” she recalled.

While on a golf trip with her father to North Conway, N.H., Julia met Richard Flanders. They married and she helped him run the Cranmore Mountain Lodge. After he died several years later, she ran a general store in Eaton Center, N.H., and met Grant Meloon. They married and had a son, and their marriage later ended in divorce.

She subsequently married Brent Stevens, a poultry farmer. They had been married for 49 years when he died in 2004.

He had been a Red Sox fan, and she told the Globe that she switched her baseball loyalties from New York to Boston in the mid-1990s, when Brent stopped rooting for Boston — he decided he couldn’t let the Red Sox break his heart again.

“It was about that time that I took up for them,” she recalled in 1999.

Mrs. Stevens also was a longtime supporter of Babe Ruth League baseball. Mark Matanes, Eastern Mass. commissioner for the organization, said she “was always stopping by and telling stories.”

Brill said he met Mrs. Stevens when she visited Quincy in 2003 for the Babe Ruth World Series. She turned down a limousine ride to the field because she preferred to ride with someone who could “talk baseball,” Brill recalled. He picked her up in North Conway, and they “became real good friends.”

They often traveled to baseball appearances including at Fenway Park, which she last visited on July 9, 2016, to throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game just before she turned 100.

“It was all about the kids for Julia and continuing her father’s name,” Brill said.

A date for a service to be held in Conway in the spring will be announced for Mrs. Stevens, who in addition to her son leaves two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Tom Stevens said his mother will be buried in Conway, alongside her late husband, Brent. Burial will take place once the ground thaws, he said, around the start of the baseball season.

In interviews with the Globe, Mrs. Stevens spoke of the side of her father fans rarely saw.

“All I can remember is all the nights we used to stay home and he’d play rummy or checkers with us or just listen to the radio. He loved listening to the radio,” she told the Globe in 1993. “He loved ‘The Lone Ranger’ and ‘Gangbusters,’ and we’d just sit there together and listen.”

She recalled that her father also “taught me how to dance. He was a beautiful dancer, he really was. Believe me, when I was a teenager, there was nobody I’d rather dance with than my father.” “I just wish other people could have known him as I knew him, because he was such a caring, loving father,” she said.

The slugger even tried to teach her his favorite sport. “He thought everyone should play ball,” Claire wrote in her Globe piece. “I found him once giving Julia hitting instructions before she left for a girls’ camp.”

Bryan Marquard of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Maddie Kilgannon can be reached at maddie.kilgannon@globe.com.