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Daughter Remembers the Babe

April 09, 2006|From the Associated Press

SUN CITY, Ariz. — Julia Ruth Stevens sits in her favorite chair in her tiny, pale pink living room and happily shares details about more than a dozen pictures of her famous father hanging on every wall.

Lately, Stevens hears his name -- she simply refers to Babe Ruth as "Daddy" -- mentioned almost daily on the news, now that San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds is closing in on Ruth's home run mark.

"It doesn't matter what the record is, I don't think there is anybody who is going to take Daddy's place," she said. "He was special. Daddy said records were made to be broken. It's the first person who people remember.

"As long as there is baseball, Daddy's name is always going to be mentioned. He was one of a kind."

Bonds has 708 home runs, seven shy of passing Ruth. Even though Hank Aaron holds the all-time record of 755 home runs, there is still something magical about the Babe's 714.

"If you ask the average person, the average person probably knows 714 more than 755 -- 714 kind of rhymes I guess," said Cub Manager Dusty Baker, Bonds' former skipper in San Francisco. "But 755 is the record."

San Francisco played its home opener Thursday against the Atlanta Braves.

Stevens, 88 and legally blind for 30 years, respectfully doesn't want to be part of celebrating Bonds' achievement whenever it might happen. She hasn't spoken directly to the team.

"I would say 'Thank you for the invitation. I just don't feel I could do it,' " she said. "That is not a negative thing and that's not taking anything from Barry Bonds. I do not want them to think, 'She's a poor sport,' because it's OK with me."

Stevens and her son, Tom Stevens, are scheduled to be in Chicago later this month. Tom will throw out the first pitch before the Cubs host the Milwaukee Brewers, and that's as close as they plan to get to any fanfare.

"We've reached out to her and she referred us to her son," Giant executive vice president Larry Baer said Wednesday. "We're working with the son to see what, if anything, to do."

Ruth always told his daughter, whom he adopted after marrying her mother Claire when Stevens was 12, that he could accept players passing his milestones.

Still, Stevens believes her father would be upset by the way the game has changed and how so many players, most notably Bonds, are accused of using steroids to boost their power numbers and home run totals in the last decade.

"If he came back, I personally think he would be disappointed if there was the slightest tinge of anything that would hurt a baseball player's career if it came out, which it has," she said. "He would think you ought to do it on your own. I still love baseball and I always will, but I wish it hadn't changed. That's an old lady talking."

After last month's release of "Game of Shadows," a book by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters revealing Bonds' alleged longtime use of performance-enhancing drugs, Commissioner Bud Selig announced baseball would investigate past steroid use by players.

"I like to stay out of any controversy -- I'm sure you know what I mean," Stevens said. "I don't know enough about it to make a judgment."

For Stevens, nothing can overshadow what Ruth accomplished in his 22-year big league career. Her eyes no longer allow her to read a newspaper, so Stevens gets most of her baseball information on a new 32-inch flat screen television stationed about five feet in front of her chair. She watches close to 80 games a season.

Stevens has Ruth memorabilia throughout her house, including a table with steins, beer and wine bottles, even a cereal box, featuring his face. There are figurines of his likeness and framed baseball cards.

One picture in particular dates back to Ruth's initial years wearing Yankee pinstripes in the 1920s, still in its original, worn wooden frame. He's posing in his hitting stance.

"You can see how slim he still was," she said.

She has written two books about her dad, too.

Stevens spends the winters in a quiet Phoenix suburb, where she grows grapefruit and oranges. At the end of April, she will return to her country home in New Hampshire. When she's on the East Coast, she roots for the Red Sox, the team her father began his career with before being sold to the New York Yankees. In Arizona, it's the Diamondbacks.

"I'm a hometown fan," she said.

Stevens plays bridge a couple of times a week and attends church every Sunday. She enjoys going with friends to the grocery store and beauty shop.

Whenever she gets questions about Bonds, which is often, she "turns the conversation around" to something positive about baseball and her father.

"Even though writers like to say he was an alcoholic, he was this, he was that," she said. "He didn't get out of St. Mary's [Industrial School] until he was 19 years old. He wanted to try everything. I don't begrudge him."

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