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Maris' Feat is More Impressive with Time

April 23, 2011 by MARK HERRMANN /

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Roger Maris holds up a jersey commemorating his

As sports controversies go, the brouhaha over Roger Maris' 61 home runs in 1961 deserves an asterisk. That is, the controversy seemed like a big deal, but it really doesn't count. So slap on an asterisk, which has been the quick and easy way to discredit something for 50 years.

It goes back to the days when influential people thought Maris' record was flimsy enough to deserve an asterisk. He was criticized and vilified as he outraced Yankees teammate Mickey Mantle to surpass what then was the most celebrated standard in sports: Babe Ruth's 60 home runs in a season.

Hall of Famers said Maris wasn't worthy. Yankees fans held it against him that he wasn't Mantle. Purists, including baseball commissioner Ford Frick, said Maris technically didn't break Ruth's record because the schedule had expanded from 154 games to 162 in 1961 and Maris didn't hit his 61st within the first 154. Hey, get your red-hot asterisk here!

Fact is, there never was an asterisk. The threat of it was just part of tainting with a broad brush, along with detractors' arguments that Maris was batting against diluted expansion-year pitching, playing in bandbox ballparks and hitting supposedly juiced balls.

What no one ever did insist, though, was that Maris himself was juiced. Not even the harshest nit-pickers ever accused him of cheating.

That brings us to today, with the controversy having come full circle. Today, purists are on Maris' side.

Today, what with all kinds of testimony of steroid use involving Mark McGwire (who broke Maris' record by hitting 70 homers in 1998 and later admitted using substances that now are banned) and Barry Bonds (who broke McGwire's record by hitting 73 in 2001 and who was convicted of obstructing justice in his steroids-related trial), Maris is the one without the controversy, or the asterisk.

"I still consider him the one who has the record," said Bobby Richardson, Maris' teammate and friend.

Today, there is new regard for the man who was, Maris' son Richard has said, fueled only by caffeine and Camel cigarettes.

As for whether Maris remains the rightful single-season home run king, Tony Kubek, who batted directly in front of him for most of 1961, said: "That's something I could not care less about. All I know is that Roger was a great ballplayer."

But Jim Coates, who had one of his best pitching seasons in 1961 and has written a book titled "Always a Yankee," was more direct about McGwire, Bonds, Sammy Sosa and others: "Here's my opinion on that. I think they should have every one of their records stripped. Guys like Roger and Mickey, they did it on their own."

A detailed new book, "1961*" by Phil Pepe -- a rookie Yankees beat reporter in 1961 -- devotes an epilogue to putting Maris in context of the performance-enhancing drugs era. "He's the last guy who was a true, clean home run champion," he said in an interview. "It hasn't all been proven, but it seems he is the last guy who did it without artificial aid.

"The steroid problem," Pepe said, "has made Maris bigger than he had been."

Maris certainly was a big name 50 years ago. He was on his way to a second consecutive American League Most Valuable Player award. He (and Mantle) appeared in two movies, "That Touch of Mink" and "Safe at Home." Still, his profile fell way short of Babe Ruth's.

By 1961, Ruth had been gone long enough to seem mythical. On the other hand, 1961 still was close enough in the sweep of history to have Ruth's contemporaries still around, throwing cold water on Maris' chase.

Kubek said a barb from Rogers Hornsby and the backlash from Maris' response rankled the Yankees' rightfielder and affected his strained relationship with the media. "Roger was a quiet North Dakota guy. He wasn't from the big city, with big quotes," Kubek said. "But he was the most accessible guy, maybe ever, in the first part of the 1961 season."

Said Richardson, "It was hard because nothing was coordinated, PR-wise, and Roger was asked the same questions over and over."

Pepe, who covered the 1961 Yankees for the New York World-Telegram and Sun and later became a columnist for the Daily News and then a radio commentator, said some reporters were "exasperated" by Maris' handling of unfolding history. "He didn't get it, he didn't understand," the writer said.

But Pepe added that there was no bias against Maris in the press box -- despite how reporters came across in "61*," a movie produced by Billy Crystal. "Why would you root against him? Why wouldn't you want to be part of that? I never heard anybody say, 'I hope he strikes out,' " Pepe said. "I liked the movie, but Hollywood has to have a villain."

Judging from the booing at Yankee Stadium, Maris was the villain as he went up against two Yankees icons, Ruth and Mantle (who hit 54 in '61). Teammates say it never drove a wedge between Mantle and Maris, who shared an apartment in Queens with fellow outfielder Bob Cerv. What the whole experience did do was separate Maris from patches of his hair, which wound up down the drain because of stress.

Harmon Killebrew, an Idaho native who hit 46 homers for the Twins in 1961, rooted for the North Dakota family man down the stretch. "Roger was a really likable person," Killebrew said recently. "But I don't know that a lot of people in New York were rooting for him. I think they wanted Mickey."

"Honestly, everybody on the team was pulling for Mickey because he had come up in the system. But when Mickey was hurt and couldn't play anymore, our allegiance switched to Roger," said Richardson, who became close with Maris and delivered the eulogy at his funeral in 1985 (saying Maris is "in God's Hall of Fame").

The baseball establishment seemed to have its own favorite in the race: a burly rightfielder who had put home runs on the map. Frick had been a ghostwriter for Ruth and was seen by some as a loyalist. For the record, the commissioner said at the time that he thought a 162-game season was only a temporary expansion-year experiment (it lasts to this day).

Pepe reports that Frick held a meeting that summer with veteran baseball writers to say there would be a special designation if anyone topped Ruth's record after the 154th game. "Like an asterisk?" columnist Dick Young reportedly asked, and Frick did not disagree.

As Pepe points out at the start of Chapter 10: "There was no asterisk. Not then. Not now. Not ever." (The asterisk in the title is deliberately ironic, the author said, because "that's what people remember.") Instead, Frick approved a separate listing for Maris as record-holder in a 162-game season. Ruth was allowed to keep his 154-game mark. That was changed in 1991 and Maris posthumously was awarded the record outright.

"With Roger, that record was the best thing and worst thing that ever happened," Kubek said. "The bad part was that people thought it was the only thing he could do."

Teammates saw him as a complete talent and competitor, a good outfielder with an outstanding arm. "He was the toughest player in all of baseball for breaking up the double play," Richardson said of Maris, a standout high school halfback. "He'd slide and knock you into leftfield."

Maris also helped make the 1961 Yankees one of the best teams in history. "The greatest one, as far as I'm concerned," Coates said. Former Yankees credit first-year manager Ralph Houk for using Whitey Ford on three days of rest instead of his customary four, producing a 25-4 Cy Young season. They still compliment Houk for shuffling the lineup to bat Maris third, ahead of Mantle, setting the table for history.

History is growing increasingly kind to the man who had only 23,154 witnesses for his 61st homer Oct. 1, 1961 (including 19-year-old truck driver Sal Durante, who caught it in the rightfield seats). Maris now comes off as the clean one, the fellow who didn't buckle under the specter of an asterisk.

During the height of the controversy, Maris told reporters, "A season is a season."

All things considered, no one else really has had one like it.

Roger Maris

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Roger Maris
Born: September 10, 1934(1934-09-10)
Hibbing, Minnesota
Died: December 14, 1985 (aged 51)
Houston, Texas
Batted: Left Threw: Right 
MLB debut
April 16, 1957 for the Cleveland Indians
Last MLB appearance
September 29, 1968 for the St. Louis Cardinals
Career statistics
Batting average     .260
Home runs     275
Runs batted in     851
Career highlights and awards

Roger Eugene Maris (September 10, 1934 – December 14, 1985) was an American right fielder in Major League Baseball who is primarily remembered for breaking Babe Ruth's single-season home run record of 60 home runs in the 1927 season, with 61 in 1961, a record that would stand for 37 years. In 12 Major League seasons, he played in seven World Series and won three championships.



[edit] Early life

The son of Croatian immigrants, he was born Roger Eugene Maras (he later changed his last name to Maris) in Hibbing, Minnesota. He grew up in Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota where he attended Shanley High School. A gifted athlete, Maris participated in many sports while in Fargo, and excelled at football. He still holds the official high school record for most kickoff return touchdowns in a game with four.[1]

At an early age, Maris exhibited an independent, no-nonsense personality. Recruited to play football at the University of Oklahoma, he arrived by bus in Norman and found no one from the university there to greet him. He turned around and went back to Fargo.[citation needed]

[edit] Professional career

[edit] Early years

Even in the minor leagues, Maris showed talent for both offense and defense. He tied for the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League lead in putouts by an outfielder with 305 while playing for Keokuk in 1954. Meanwhile, in four minor league seasons (1953–1956) Maris hit .303 with 78 home runs.

Maris made his major league debut in 1957 with the Cleveland Indians. The next year, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics, whom he represented in the All-Star Game in 1959 in spite of missing 45 games due to an appendix operation.

Kansas City frequently traded its best players to the New York Yankees – which led them to be referred to as the Yankees' "major league farm team" – and Maris was no exception, going to New York in a seven-player trade in December 1959.

In 1960, his first season with the Yankees, despite the already-nagging media, he led the league in slugging percentage, runs batted in, and extra base hits and finished second in home runs (one behind teammate Mickey Mantle) and total bases (four behind Mantle). He was recognized as an outstanding defensive outfielder with a Gold Glove Award, and also won the American League's Most Valuable Player award. The Yankees won the American League pennant, but lost a seven-game World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates thanks to Bill Mazeroski's dramatic home run.

[edit] 1961

In 1961, the American League expanded from 8 to 10 teams, generally watering down the pitching[clarification needed], but leaving the Yankees pretty much intact. Also the season was extended from 154 games to 162 games. Yankee home runs began to come at a record pace. One famous photograph lined up six 1961 Yankee players, including Mantle, Maris, Yogi Berra, and Bill Skowron, under the nickname "Murderers Row," because they hit a combined 207 home runs that year. The title "Murderers Row", originally coined in 1918, had most famously been used to refer to the Yankees side of the late 1920s. As mid-season approached, it seemed quite possible that either Maris or Mantle, or perhaps both, would break Babe Ruth's 34-year-old home run record. Unlike the home run race of 1998, where both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were given extensive positive media coverage in their pursuit of the home run record, sportswriters in 1961 began to play the "M & M Boys" against each other, inventing a rivalry where none existed, as Yogi Berra has testified in recent interviews.

Five years earlier, in 1956, Mantle had already challenged Ruth's record for most of the season and the New York press had been protective of Ruth on that occasion also. When Mantle finally fell short, finishing with 52, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief from the New York traditionalists. Nor had the New York press been all that kind to Mantle in his early years with the team: he struck out frequently, was injury prone, was a true "hick" from Oklahoma, and was perceived as being distinctly inferior to his predecessor in center field, Joe DiMaggio. Over the course of time, however, Mantle (with a little help from his teammate Whitey Ford, a native of New York's Borough of Queens) had gotten better at "schmoozing" with the New York media, and had gained the favor of the press. This was a talent that Maris, a blunt-spoken upper midwesterner, never attempted to cultivate; as a result, he wore the "surly" jacket for his duration with the Yankees.

So as 1961 progressed, the Yanks were now "Mickey Mantle's team" and Maris was ostracized as the "outsider", and "not a true Yankee." The press seemed to root for Mantle and to belittle Maris. But Mantle was felled by a hip infection late in the season, leaving Maris as the only player with a chance to break the record.

On top of his lack of popular press coverage, Maris' chase for 61 hit another roadblock totally out of his control: along with adding two teams to the league, Major League Baseball had added 8 games to the schedule. In the middle of the season, Baseball commissioner Ford Frick announced that unless Ruth's record was broken in the first 154 games of the season, the new record would be shown in the record books as having been set in 162 games while the previous record set in 154 games would also be shown. It is an urban legend, probably invented by New York sportswriter Dick Young, that an asterisk would be used to distinguish the new record.

According to Nash and Zullo in The Baseball Hall of Shame, Frick made the ruling because, during his days as a newspaper reporter, he had been a close friend of Ruth's. Furthermore, Rogers Hornsby--himself a lifetime .358 batter--compared the averages (In Ruth's record year he hit .356; Maris, .269)--and said, "It would be a disappointment if Ruth's home run record were bested by a .270 hitter." (Hornsby's old-time bias was well-known. Scouting for the Mets, the best report he could muster for any current player was "Looks like a major-leaguer". That was his assessment of Mickey Mantle.) Maris couldn't understand such a perspective; he said, "I'm not trying to be Babe Ruth; I'm trying to hit sixty-one home runs and be Roger Maris." (This sentiment would be echoed in 1973–1974, when Henry Aaron, in pursuit of Ruth's career record, said, "I don't want people to forget Babe Ruth. I just want them to remember Henry Aaron.")

Maris failed to reach 61 in 154 games (he had only 59 after 154 games). He hit his 61st on October 1, 1961, in the fourth inning of the last game of the season, a contest between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium in front of 23,154 fans.[2] Tracy Stallard was the pitcher who gave up Maris's 61st home run. No asterisk was subsequently used in any record books—Major League baseball itself had no official record book, and Frick later acknowledged that there never was official qualification of Maris' accomplishment. However, Maris remained bitter about the experience. Speaking at the 1980 All-Star game, he said of that season, "They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing. Exactly nothing." Despite all the controversy, Maris was awarded the 1961 Hickok Belt for the top professional athlete of the year, as well as winning the American League's MVP Award for the second straight year. It is said, however, that the stress of pursuing the record was so great for Maris that his hair occasionally fell out in clumps during the season. Later Maris even surmised that it might have been better all along had he not broken the record or even threatened it at all.

Maris' major league record would stand three years longer than Ruth's did, until National Leaguer Mark McGwire broke it by hitting 70 in 1998. The record is currently held by Barry Bonds (also a National Leaguer) who hit 73 home runs in 2001. Maris remains the American League record holder through the 2008 season.[3]

[edit] Roger Maris' 61 home runs

Number  ↓ Game  ↓ Date  ↓ Pitcher  ↓ Team  ↓ Inning  ↓
1 11 04-26-1961 Paul Foytack Detroit Tigers 5th
2 17 05-03-1961 Pedro Ramos Minnesota Twins 7th
3 20 05-06-1961 Eli Grba Los Angeles Angels 5th
4 29 05-17-1961 Pete Burnside Washington Senators 8th
5 30 05-19-1961 Jim Perry Cleveland Indians 1st
6 31 05-20-1961 Gary Bell Cleveland Indians 3rd
7 32 05-21-1961 Chuck Estrada Baltimore Orioles 1st
8 35 05-24-1961 Gene Conley Boston Red Sox 4th
9 38 05-28-1961 Cal McLish Chicago White Sox 2nd
10 40 05-30-1961 Gene Conley Boston Red Sox 3rd
11 40 05-30-1961 Mike Fornieles Boston Red Sox 8th
12 41 05-31-1961 Billy Muffett Boston Red Sox 3rd
13 43 06-02-1961 Cal McLish Chicago White Sox 3rd
14 44 06-03-1961 Bob Shaw Chicago White Sox 8th
15 45 06-04-1961 Russ Kemmerer Chicago White Sox 3rd
16 48 06-06-1961 Ed Palmquist Minnesota Twins 6th
17 49 06-07-1961 Pedro Ramos Minnesota Twins 3rd
18 52 06-09-1961 Ray Herbert Kansas City Athletics 7th
19 55 06-11-1961 Eli Grba Los Angeles Angels 3rd
20 55 06-11-1961 Johnny James Los Angeles Angels 7th
21 57 06-13-1961 Jim Perry Cleveland Indians 6th
22 58 06-14-1961 Gary Bell Cleveland Indians 4th
23 61 06-17-1961 Don Mossi Detroit Tigers 4th
24 62 06-18-1961 Jerry Casale Detroit Tigers 8th
25 63 06-19-1961 Jim Archer Kansas City Athletics 9th
26 64 06-20-1961 Joe Nuxhall Kansas City Athletics 1st
27 66 06-22-1961 Norm Bass Kansas City Athletics 2nd
28 74 07-01-1961 Dave Sisler Washington Senators 9th
29 75 07-02-1961 Pete Burnside Washington Senators 3rd
30 75 07-02-1961 Johnny Klippstein Washington Senators 7th
31 77 07-04-1961 Frank Lary Detroit Tigers 8th
32 78 07-05-1961 Frank Funk Cleveland Indians 7th
33 82 07-09-1961 Bill Monbouquette Boston Red Sox 7th
34 84 07-13-1961 Early Wynn Chicago White Sox 1st
35 86 07-15-1961 Ray Herbert Chicago White Sox 3rd
36 92 07-21-1961 Bill Monbouquette Boston Red Sox 1st
37 95 07-25-1961 Frank Baumann Chicago White Sox 4th
38 95 07-25-1961 Don Larsen Chicago White Sox 8th
39 96 07-25-1961 Russ Kemmerer Chicago White Sox 4th
40 96 07-25-1961 Warren Hacker Chicago White Sox 6th
41 106 08-04-1961 Camilo Pascual Minnesota Twins 1st
42 114 08-11-1961 Pete Burnside Washington Senators 5th
43 115 08-12-1961 Dick Donovan Washington Senators 4th
44 116 08-13-1961 Bennie Daniels Washington Senators 4th
45 117 08-13-1961 Marty Kutyna Washington Senators 1st
46 118 08-15-1961 Juan Pizarro Chicago White Sox 4th
47 119 08-16-1961 Billy Pierce Chicago White Sox 1st
48 119 08-16-1961 Billy Pierce Chicago White Sox 3rd
49 124 08-20-1961 Jim Perry Cleveland Indians 3rd
50 125 08-22-1961 Ken McBride Los Angeles Angels 6th
51 129 08-26-1961 Jerry Walker Kansas City Athletics 6th
52 135 09-02-1961 Frank Lary Detroit Tigers 6th
53 135 09-02-1961 Hank Aguirre Detroit Tigers 8th
54 140 09-06-1961 Tom Cheney Washington Senators 4th
55 141 09-07-1961 Dick Stigman Cleveland Indians 3rd
56 143 09-09-1961 Mudcat Grant Cleveland Indians 7th
57 151 09-16-1961 Frank Lary Detroit Tigers 3rd
58 152 09-17-1961 Terry Fox Detroit Tigers 12th
59 154 09-20-1961 Milt Pappas Baltimore Orioles 3rd
60 159 09-26-1961 Jack Fisher Baltimore Orioles 3rd
61 162 10-01-1961 Tracy Stallard Boston Red Sox 4th

Note that Maris, a left-handed batter, hit 12 of his 61 home runs off left-handed pitchers.

[edit] Remainder of career

In 1962, Maris made his fourth consecutive and final All-Star game appearance. His fine defensive skills were often overlooked. He made a game-saving play in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series against the San Francisco Giants. With the Yankees leading 1-0 and Matty Alou on first, Willie Mays doubled toward the right-field line. Maris cut off the ball and made a strong throw to prevent Alou from scoring the tying run; the play set up Willie McCovey's Series-ending line drive to second baseman Bobby Richardson, capping what would prove to be the final World Series victory for the "old" Yankees.

Injuries slowed him the next four seasons, most notably in 1965, when he played most of the season with a misdiagnosed broken bone in his hand. Despite real injuries, he began to acquire yet another "jacket" by the New York Press - the tag of "malingerer".

In 1963, after missing a ground ball hit in a nationally televised game, he gave the middle finger to a jeering Minnesota Twins crowd. Now encumbered with an injured image as well as body, he was traded by the Yankees to the St. Louis Cardinals after the 1966 season. The Yankees questioned Maris' courage and Maris left angry.

Maris was well-received by the St. Louis fans, who appreciated a man with a straightforward Midwestern style even if the New York press did not, while Maris himself felt much more at home in St. Louis. He played his final two seasons with the Cardinals, helping them to pennants in 1967 and 1968 with a World Series victory in 1967 (he hit .385 with one home run and seven RBIs in the post-season). Gussie Busch, owner of the Cardinals and of Anheuser-Busch, set Maris up with a beer distributorship after he retired.

[edit] Awards, honors, and life after baseball

From left to right, the bats used to hit Babe Ruth's 60th homer in 1927, Roger Maris' 61st in 1961 and Mark McGwire's 70 and Sammy Sosa's 66th in 1998.

On the Indians, he wore uniform number 32 in 1957 and 5 in 1958; the Athletics first gave him uniform number 35, but in 1959 he wore number 3. On the Yankees and Cardinals, he wore number 9. The Yankees retired the number on Old-Timers' Day, July 21, 1984, and dedicated a plaque in Maris' honor to hang in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. The plaque calls him "A great player and author of one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of major league baseball." Maris was on hand for the ceremony and wore a full Yankee uniform. His teammate Elston Howard, who had died in 1980, was also honored with the retirement of his number (32) and a Monument Park plaque that day. It is likely that the Yankees had waited to retire the number 9 until third baseman Graig Nettles, who had worn it since 1973, left the team following the 1983 season.

Maris owned the Budweiser distributorship in Gainesville, Florida in the 1970s and 1980s. He coached baseball at Oak Hall High School which named its baseball field for him. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1983. In response he organized the annual Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament to raise money for cancer research and treatment. Maris died in December 1985 at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas. A Roman Catholic, he was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fargo, North Dakota. He remains a hero in his hometown of Fargo. Tributes include Roger Maris Drive, the free admission Roger Maris Museum, and The Roger Maris Cancer Center, the fund raising beneficiary of the annual golf tournament, and the 61 for 61 Home Walk & Run. There is also a movement to have Maris inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 2001, the film 61* about Maris and Mantle's pursuit of the home run record was first broadcast. Many of the unpleasant aspects of Maris' season were addressed, including the hate mail, death threats, and his stress-induced hair loss. In addition, the film delved into the relationship between Maris and Mantle, portraying them as friends more than rivals. Mantle was depicted defending Maris to the New York media, and Maris was shown trying to influence the hard living Mantle to look after himself better. Maris was played by Barry Pepper, while Thomas Jane played Mantle.

In 2005, in light of accusations of steroid use against the three players who had, by then, hit more than 61 home runs in a season (Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds), the North Dakota Senate wrote to Major League Baseball and "urged" that Roger Maris' 61 home runs be recognized as the single season record.[1]

Maris is a recipient of the state of North Dakota's Roughrider Award. The Roger Maris Museum, dedicated to the life and career of Maris, is located at the West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ - National football records
  2. ^ "October 1, 1961 Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Box Score and Play by Play". Sports Reference, LLC via Retrosheet. Retrieved on 2008-11-02. 
  3. ^ "2008 Complete Baseball Record Book - Regular Season (page 23)" (PDF). Sporting News. 2008-03-05. Retrieved on 2008-10-19. 


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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