Our Annual Birthday Tribute to Babe Ruth!

Our Annual Birthday Tribute to Babe Ruth!

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Our Annual Birthday Tribute to Babe Ruth!

We can’t let the day go by without a birthday salute to Babe Ruth. So here’s a few words about the Babe and his wife, Claire Hodgson.

Claire Hodgson,was a dark-haired beauty who had come to New York from her home in Georgia. Claire and Babe’s romance was an open secret for five or six years, but marriage appeared out of the question for Ruth. For one thing, he already was married, to Helen Woodford, a coffee-shop waitress he had met in Boston during his playing days with the Red Sox. For another, though Babe and Helen long had been living apart, Ruth, a Catholic, refused to consider divorce.

Circumstances changed suddenly in 1929. Helen, who had been living near Boston, was killed when fire destroyed the house she shared with a man who neighbors assumed was her husband. The Ruths’ adopted daughter, Dorothy, away at boarding school, was spared.

The death of the first Mrs. Ruth removed a major obstacle for Babe, and he married Claire about three months later. A year after that, the blended family formally merged into one when Babe adopted Julia and Claire adopted Dorothy. For most of Babe and Claire’s marriage, the couple also shared their New York apartment with Claire’s mother and two of her brothers.

Ruth had been a major cavorter during his first marriage, driving his wife to nervous exhaustion with his drunken binges and infidelity. But that changed when Claire entered the picture.Gone were the days when Ruth tipped $100 for a ham sandwich. Claire took over the household finances, limiting him to the $50 checks she wrote when he needed pocket-money for haircuts and cigars. Ruth’s drinking and eating marathons also slowed. 

Some of Ruth’s friends resented Claire’s tight-fisted control over the Babe. But daughter Julia Stevens said her father never did. ”In a lot of ways, she was rather strong-willed. But she had to be to keep Daddy in tow. And she did it in a way that Daddy didn’t mind. If she would say, ‘I don’t think we should do such and such,’ he wouldn’t argue. He’d say, ‘All right.’”

If Claire took over the Babe’s social life, she also played a role in his famous feud with teammate Lou Gehrig. The Yankees sluggers were opposites: Gehrig, a frugal home body who rarely missed his 10 o’clock bedtime; and Ruth, the night carouser who never met a curfew he expected to keep. But they were close pals through the 1920s, batting back-to-back in the Yankees lineup and teaming up on off-season barnstorming tours. Away from the ballpark, Gehrig’s mother took a liking to the Babe’s daughter, Dorothy, often inviting her to spend afternoons with her and Lou at the Gehrig home. One of Dorothy’s overnight visits led to a fight that turned the families against each other for years.

The little girl arrived at the Gehrigs’ home with worn, old play clothes. Stevens recalls that Dorothy had packed the things herself while her mother was out of town. But for Ma Gehrig, it was just another example of Claire Ruth’s favored treatment of Julia and her neglect of her adopted daughter.

Stevens recalls: ” Mrs. Gehrig said, ‘Mrs. Ruth’s daughter [Julia], she goes to the ballgames in silks and satins, and poor little Dorothy has nothing but rags to wear.’ ” When Mother heard about that, she said, ‘Tell Lou’s mother to keep her mouth shut.’ And that was that. Lou wouldn’t stand for anyone speaking bad about his mother.”

It took Gehrig’s fatal illness in the late 1930s to reconcile the families. Later, Claire admitted that she had overreacted, apologetically accepting full responsibility for the rift between the two players.

Gary Livacari

Information: Excerpts edited from the Babe Ruth Wikipedia page.

Photo Credits: Featured photo from the George Brace Baseball Photo Collection; others from public domain; colorizations by Don Stokes: https://www.facebook.com/Don-Stokes-Old-Time-Baseball-Colorizations-923346241033508

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I'm a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

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