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For sale for $3 million: St. Petersburg home where Babe Ruth stayed

The St. Petersburg home had features Babe Ruth enjoyed: access to fishing, a golf course and a speak-easy nearby.
Published Mar. 9, 2015

Exactly 90 years ago this week, Babe Ruth made his first-ever trip to St. Petersburg for spring training as a marching band played Hail to the Chief and half the town turned out to greet the nation's most famous baseball player. Now you too could be part of the Babe's legend — the waterfront estate where the New York Yankee slugger sometimes stayed is on the market.

Just bring peanuts, Cracker Jack and $2.99 million.

Built in 1928, the five-bedroom, five-bath house at 211 Sunset Drive N still has some of its original features, including front windows, three limestone fireplaces and wooden beams oiled to bring out the rich color.

And the Sultan of Swat, a notorious boozer and glutton, surely would have been delighted with the recent $2 million renovation that added an Old World wine room, wet bar and Tuscany-style kitchen with copper sinks and massive center island.

"It's really a masterpiece,'' Dania Perry, the Century 21 listing agent, said of the estate. "To walk through it is a unique experience.''

The 7,381-square-foot home with a pool and greenhouse sits across a brick street from the rest of the property, which contains a bath house and dock with boat and personal watercraft lifts. The views are of Boca Ciega Bay.

But back in Ruth's day, when he fished for grouper during his stays, "none of the Treasure Island waterfront was there,'' Perry said. "You could actually see the Gulf of Mexico.'

The location was a prime reason Ruth chose the house, according to baseball historian Tim Reid

"He did fish, he was an avid fisherman,'' Reid said Friday. "He was the only Yankee until (Lou) Gehrig that was allowed to stay away from the rest of the team because he was so overwhelmed by fans. The house was close to the Jungle Country Club, so he golfed there and always had a room there and there was a famous speakeasy down the block, the Gangplank."

Though Ruth's first trip to St. Petersburg was in 1925 — to such excited crowds "it was like the Beatles' arrival,'' Reid says — it is unknown exactly what years he decamped to the Sunset Drive house.

"He usually did not sign a lease, or people gave (him) a house gratis. The years that fit are '28, '29 and '30, he wouldn't have been there earlier or later. In the '30s he went to the Flori de Leon (hotel) and in later years he would be at the Snell Isle'' home of a friend.

At some point during his career the Steinway company presented Ruth with a piano made from the wood of Louisville Slugger bats. What became of the piano is an enduring mystery.

"The story was reported that he left it in the house,'' Reid said. "I've been trying to track it down.''

Last year, as part of a celebration of 100 years of baseball in St. Petersburg, Reid arranged for Ruth's only surviving child, 98-year-old Julia Ruth Stevens, to visit the home, currently owned by fitness guru Joel Marion and his wife, Lisa.

Though Stevens had no personal recollections of the house, "she felt (Ruth's) presence. If you want to think of that as a ghost, she felt his presence stronger than at any other place she knew he was.''

Ruth, who also had a daughter by his mistress, spent 10 springs in St. Petersburg. He helped make what was then a small town "important to the rest of the world,'' noted a 2004 story in the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times).

"He loved it here,'' the story said. "He loved our weather, especially when it was sunny and he could sneak out in the morning before practice and play golf. He was a lousy putter; the man didn't know his strength and sometimes threw his club in disgust when the ball rolled past the cup. But he laughed afterward.''

Tales of the Babe's carousing were legend. In the mornings, recovering from a bender, he would down bicarbonate of soda, then drive to the Yankees' training facility near downtown St. Petersburg.

One day he abruptly left his right field position near a lake.

"What's going on?" roared Miller Huggins, the Yankee manager.

"I ain't going out there anymore,'' Ruth replied. "There's an alligator.''

The Babe, just 53 when he died in 1948 of throat cancer, is said to still haunt many of the places he stayed in St. Petersburg. Among them: the Princess Martha Hotel; a house in the Old Northeast, the Don CeSar on the beach and a penthouse he often rented at the Flori de Leon at 130 Fourth Ave. N.

Too late, though, to catch Ruth's ghost there. The seventh-floor co-op sold in December for $215,000.

Information from Times files was used in this report. Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanksate

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