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Stevens didn’t drop the ball - Retiring justice says memory still serves

Stevens had his clerks pull newspapers from 1932 and confirm that he had been remembering correctly the center field trajectory of that ball.

Retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens
Retiring Justice John Paul Stevens speaks at the 7th Circuit Bar Association Dinner on Monday flanked by attorney Michael Monico (left) and Judge Frank H. Easterbrook. The group presented him with this Cubs jacket.
Dom Najolia, Chicago Sun-Times

Retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens made clear to a friendly hometown crowd of lawyers and judges Monday night that even at age 90, he’s still got it.

The senior justice thought he might be losing it when someone told him his recollection of a ballgame was incorrect. The Chicago native was here in 1932 at Wrigley Field to see Babe Ruth’s famous “called shot” home run. Stevens said he clearly remembered the ball sailing into the center-field bleachers.

But after he repeated that story last year, a man told him his grandfather was also at the game and caught the ball in the left-field bleachers. So Stevens began to doubt himself and told a reporter that perhaps people should be wary of relying on a senior citizen’s recollections.

“But then I remembered that Babe Ruth hit two home runs that day,” Stevens said, to laughter. “So, I gave one of my law clerks the assignment.” Stevens had his clerks pull newspapers from 1932 and confirm that he had been remembering correctly the center field trajectory of that ball.

Stevens has been coming to this gathering of lawyers and judges for 50 years. Even though everyone wanted him to be the guest of honor, he insisted on just giving an eight minute introductory speech for Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 40 years his junior, and a leading prospect to replace him on the court.

She begged him in his chambers and again here to let him take the place of honor, but “I pulled rank,” Stevens said.

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