Maris was unlikely home run king
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
61st homer in game 162
By Nick Acocella
Special to ESPN.com
Oct. 1, 1961 - Bye-bye, Babe. One Yankees rightfielder replaced another as the player to hit the most home runs in a season.
Thirty-four years after Babe Ruth belted 60 homers, Roger Maris passed the Babe's mark with No. 61 on the season's final day. In the fourth inning, in Game 162, Maris homered into the Yankee Stadium rightfield seats off Boston Red Sox rookie Tracy Stallard.
Maris didn't like to take curtain calls, but his teammates wouldn't let him down the dugout steps. Smiling broadly, the usually unemotional player waved his cap to the cheering crowd of 23,154. Not until he took four bows did his teammates allow him to sit down.
The historic homer was caught by Sal Durante, a 19-year-old truck driver from Coney Island. Durante, whose reward was $5,000 from a Sacramento restaurant owner, was delighted just to meet the new home-run champion. Maris said Durante should collect the bounty.
"The boy is planning to get married and he can use the money, but he still wanted to give the ball back to me for nothing," said Maris. "It shows there's some good people left in the world after all."
Odds 'n' EndsMaris learned to pull the ball from former Detroit outfielder Jo-Jo White, his manager at Keokuk.
Maris was traded by Cleveland with Dick Tomanek and Preston Ward for Kansas City's Woodie Held and Vic Power on June 15, 1958.
In his first game for the Yankees, in 1960, Maris hit two homers, a double and a single.
Asked what he thought of Maris, Casey Stengel, his manager in 1960, gave him points for running, sliding, bunting, fielding and throwing. "So, I add up my points," he said, "and I've got five for him before I even come to his hitting. I would say this is a good man."
In Game One of the 1960 World Series, Maris became the seventh player in history to homer in his first Series at-bat.
Sam Gordon, the restaurateur who posted the bond for the 61st homer,
displayed the ball for a while, then gave it to Maris.
Maris 61st homer also gave him the AL RBI title, 142 to Jim Gentile's 141.
Typical of the press reaction to Maris' accomplishment was the
Milwaukee Journal's Oliver Kuechle's assessment: "Maris' failure to break Babe Ruth's record of 60 homers in 154 games evokes no regret here. If the record is to be broken, it should be done by someone with greater baseball stature and greater color and public appeal. Maris is colorless. He is not more than a good big-league player. He is just average in the field and often surly. There just isn't anything deeply heroic about the man."
In 1961, Maris actually hit 62 homers, but lost one when the game in which he hit it was rained out.
Only two of Maris' homers came off pitchers new to the American League in that expansion year.
His 13 homers against the White Sox in 1961 has been topped only by Lou Gehrig's 14 against Cleveland in 1936.
Maris struck out only 67 times in 1961 for an incredible strikeout to homer ratio of slightly more than one-to one.
In the 1962 Official Record Book, Maris didn't receive an asterisk for his achievement but he was forced to settle for second billing as Commissioner Ford Frick got his way. "For Most Home Runs in One Season," the first line read: "154 games, Babe Ruth, 60, 1927." A second line said: "162 games, Roger Maris, 61, 1961."
It would not be until 1991 that baseball officially made Maris the single-season home-run champion.
With Mickey Mantle hitting fourth behind him, Maris was not
walked intentionally once that season.
But on May 22, 1962, Maris was walked intentionally four times in a 12-inning game. Only Andre Dawson has had as many as five free passes in a game and that was in a 16-inning contest.
In June 1965, Maris broke a bone in his right hand. No one told him of the fracture until after the season. Although he underwent surgery after the season, he was never again a serious power threat.
Maris wanted to retire after the 1966 season, but, when he told Ralph Houk of his decision before the end of the season, the manager convinced him to wait to make the announcement. The Yankee front office assured him it had no plans to trade him and would let him retire, but in December he was dealt to St. Louis.
Maris played in seven World Series in the 1960s, the most of any player in the decade.
He batted .217 with six homers and 18 RBI in 41 Series games.
The Roger Maris Museum is located in Fargo, N.D., where Maris grew up.
Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories