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Babe Ruth: the man, the myth, the 'daddy'

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(subtitled 'Remembering the Bambino in Stories, Photos & Memorabilia') - written by Julia Ruth Stevens and Bill Gilbert

This biography of Ruth's life was written primarily by his daughter, so I went in with high expectations and (for the most part) was not disappointed. Juila Ruth Stevens was born in 1917 to Ruth's future wife, Claire, who married Ruth in 1929. I had always assumed that Julia was Ruth's biological daughter until I read this and found out Ruth was her step-father. Regardless, she refers to him as 'Daddy' throughout the book, which was strange at first but came to be endearing as I grew accustomed to it.

Most of the book is a recap of Ruth's professional life, from his early days with the minor league Baltimore Orioles to his retired days when he tried in vain to get a managing job.

But the best parts concern his personal life, which only his daughter knew. For example, he was a fine hunter and fisherman, and would drive to the country on occasion to hunt and kill game. Before leaving at about 5 a.m. to beat rush hour traffic (which existed even back in the 20's), he would wake up Julia to cook her breakfast. There's a great photo of Ruth in full hunting gear holding a shotgun with dead birds draped around him like a necklace.

He rarely read or watched movies, fearing it would damage his vision and prevent him from hitting a baseball. Ruth also held a tradition of personally decorating the Christmas tree, then bringing in his family with the lights off and dazzling them when he switched the tree lights on.

I learned how badly Ruth wanted to manage after he retired. The second time he was rejected by Larry MacPhail (president of the Brooklyn Dodgers), he came home, sat down in the living room and cried. How strange is it that the greatest player ever couldn't get a managing job?

What Julia doesn't touch on (for obvious reasons) are the stories of Ruth's partying and carousing, of which he was infamous for. She still deeply admires him and wants to keep it that way.

What the book excels at is putting you in the era of Ruth - spaced throughout are replicas of programs, newspaper articles, ticket stubs, contracts, scorecards and team photos, all removable so that they can be held as if they were the real thing.

As usual with this publishing company (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), the photos are incredible. From Ruth fishing with Lou Gehrig, to playing golf with Ty Cobb, to donning catcher's gear in high school, to the only known photo of his parents, to the famous shot of Ruth on his 'day' in 1948, most are unique and all help show the progress of his life.

The book includes some great nuggets as well: the offbeat origin of 'Babe', the identity of two teams that had a chance to sign him before Boston, a great story remembered by Mel Allen, what he thought he could have hit had he cared about 'those dinky singles', and a very unusual fan request that Ruth accommodated.

Unfortunately, there's no resolution regarding his famous 'called-shot' in the 1932 World Series. There was, however, a previous 'called-shot' that is hardly known about. The Yankees and White Sox were tied at one in the 15th inning, and the team's traveling secretary (Mark Roth) was concerned they would miss the last train to New York. 

As my father walked past Roth's box seat on his way to home plate, he asked him, "What's the matter with you? Sick?"

Mr. Roth said, "Yes. If you bums don't win this game in a hurry, we'll blow the train."

Daddy told him with confidence, "Take it easy. I'll get us out of here."

Then he walked up to the plate and hit the first pitch he saw into the right-field stands...

As they were hustling onto the train, my father turned and asked Mr. Roth, "Why didn't you tell me about that before?"

It's those kind of stories that take Ruth from being a great baseball player to a larger-than-life legend that transcends sports. Not only was he the greatest baseball player ever but the most important as well.

This book lets you understand Babe Ruth as only his daughter knew him.