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Conspicuous absence

Ruth family won't be there when Bonds passes Babe

Posted: Tuesday May 9, 2006 10:12AM; Updated: Tuesday May 9, 2006 12:35PM
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Tom Stevens, grandson of Babe Ruth, throws out the first pitch before an April game between the Cubs and the Brewers at Wrigley Field wearing a 1932 Ruth road jersey.
Tom Stevens, grandson of Babe Ruth, throws out the first pitch before an April game between the Cubs and the Brewers at Wrigley Field wearing a 1932 Ruth road jersey.
M. Spencer Green/AP


By Bill Syken

In August 2002, Tom Stevens was at PacBell Park in San Francisco to present Barry Bonds with the Babe Ruth Award, named after Stevens's grandfather and given annually to the player who hit the most home runs in the previous season. Bonds, who had set a new single-season mark with 73 in 2001, autographed memorabilia.

The two talked baseball for about 15 minutes and briefly discussed Bonds's training regimen. Bonds told Stevens, an avid weightlifter who has used the supplement creatine, that he maximized his workouts by having his blood tested regularly to make sure his body chemistry was in the optimum state for muscle building.

Stevens, who lives in Henderson, Nev., didn't ask Bonds about steroids -- "It wouldn't have dawned on me at the time," he says -- but since then the question has dawned on everyone. That's why Stevens, 53, declined the Giants' invitation to be in attendance when Bonds passes his grandfather's milestone of 714 home runs. Stevens did not want to bless the moment with his presence the way Roger Maris' wife and children did when Mark McGwire broke Maris' single-season home run record in 1998.

"I have been advised to just avoid the controversy without making a statement," says Stevens, who, careful to avoid any presumption of guilt concerning Bonds, adds, "I wish him luck."

Ruth's other descendants feel similarly. Stevens is a grandson from Ruth's second marriage, to Claire Hodgson. Linda Ruth Tosetti, 51, the youngest of the four surviving grandchildren from Ruth's first marriage, to Helen Woodford, says she received a voice mail from the Giants in early April inviting her to be on hand when Bonds passed the Babe. The message said a written invitation would follow, but Tosetti says one never came.

It wouldn't have mattered though. Without naming Bonds specifically, she says she's disgusted by baseball's steroid users because of the poor example they set for young athletes. She says her grandfather was careful to present a positive image to kids: "I don't want Babe linked with anything like steroids that will harm youth."

Ruth's lone surviving child is Tom's mother, Julia Ruth Stevens, whom Ruth adopted when he married her mother, Claire. Julia also declined to witness homer number 715. Aged 88 and legally blind, the Sun City, Ariz., resident isn't much inclined to travel from city to city on a home run watch. She got her fill of travel this spring when she appeared at Wrigley Field on April 28 for a reenactment of the Babe's "called shot" in the '32 World Series.

Julia isn't particularly concerned that her father's milestone might be passed for a second time. Daddy, as she still calls Ruth, often told her that records were made to be broken. She's instead proud that 714 remains such a meaningful number.

Above and beyond the home runs, she believes that her father endures in the public consciousness because of his magnanimous personality. She remembers waiting for the Babe while he signed autographs after games; her mother would try to draw him away, saying, "Dear, we have guests coming for dinner," but Ruth would continue signing as he walked to his car. For the Babe's daughter, his legacy isn't something for the record books. It springs from the love he inspired for the game. That's one area where Bonds is not expected to surpass Ruth.