HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) – Julia Ruth Stevens, the last surviving daughter of Hall of Fame baseball slugger Babe Ruth and a decades-long champion of his legacy, has died at age 102, her family has announced.
Her family said Stevens died Saturday morning at an assisted living facility in Henderson, Nevada, after a short illness.
“Julia was a loving wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother who lived a wonderful, full life during the 102 years that she was with us,” her family said in a statement posted on Babe Ruth Central’s Facebook page.
Diane Murphy, a fellow resident at Prestige Senior Living at Mira Loma in Henderson, told The Associated Press that Stevens had lost her sight but remained bright and vibrant.
Stevens was part of a circle of residents who read books aloud, according to Murphy.
“She was so sharp and laughed at the right moments,” Murphy said. “She was a lovely lady.”
Even well into her 90s, Stevens threw out first pitches at baseball games across the nation, attended Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York, and appeared at the annual Babe Ruth Little League World Series.
She authored three books about her famous father.
“As long as there is baseball, Daddy’s name is always going to be mentioned. He was one of a kind,” Stevens once said. “My goal in life is to keep his name alive. He was a wonderful father and I remember him as that and just not as a baseball player.”
Stevens was adopted by baseball’s biggest star soon after Ruth married her mother, Claire Hodgson, in 1929 when Julia was 12 years old. Hodgson died in 1976.
Julia was the older of two daughters adopted by Ruth. Dorothy Ruth Pirone, who was Ruth’s daughter from a previous relationship, died in 1989 at age 67.
Tom Stevens told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in an interview earlier this year that it rankled his mother to be referred to as Ruth’s stepdaughter.
He said Ruth proved to be a match to provide Julia a needed blood transfusion when she was hospitalized as a young adult.
“She said as far as she was concerned, between being adopted and the transfusion, ‘I’m his daughter, period,’” Tom Stevens said.
Babe Ruth retired in 1935, days after playing his last game. He was with the Boston Braves that year after starring for the New York Yankees from 1920-34 and the Boston Red Sox from 1914-19.
Ruth died from cancer at age 53 in 1948.
“I sometimes wonder if the designated hitter rule would have been in effect when Daddy played, his career would’ve lasted much longer and he would’ve hit a lot more home runs,” Stevens once said. “It was his legs that gave out. He had trouble with his knees.”
Stevens said Ruth taught her how to dance and how to bowl and “I couldn’t have had a better father than him.”
She made her final trip to Yankee Stadium at age 91 in 2008 to say goodbye to one of her dad’s favorite places where he hit many of his 714 career home runs.
Accompanied by her son, Tom, and two grandchildren, Stevens got a warm reception from the crowd before New York’s 6-0 loss to Cincinnati.
A New York sports writer dubbed the Bronx stadium “The House That Ruth Built,” and the Yankees retired Ruth’s No. 3 during their 25th anniversary celebration of Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948, the great slugger’s final visit to the ballpark.
As Ruth’s daughter, Stevens’ family said, “she had many amazing experiences, which she was pleased to share with eager reporters and fans alike. 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” to Japan with a major-league all-star team.
Funeral plans for Stevens and a full list of her survivors weren’t immediately available Sunday.