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Put Roger Maris in the Baseball Hall of Fame

 

GYP  Job:  Why Not Roger Maris in the Hall of Fame?

The  latest voting in the Veterans Committee Hall of Fame elections last week was  outright ridiculous. No one got in - -and there are so many qualified players  being shafted not the least of whom was Roger Maris. In this day and age of  "juiced" records, steroid enhancing accomplishments, the man who "first" broke  Babe Ruth's season home run record is not being treated well. He finished with  a mere 16 votes.

Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, one of the voters, said it  would be "awfully hard" for anyone from the 25-player ballot to get into the  Hall.

"And maybe that's the way it should be," Seaver said.

The  way it was for Roger Maris back in 1961 when he was going for the record was  that Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled that an asterisk would to be  affixed to Maris' mark because it was achieved in 162 games, rather than the  154-game season teams played in 1927 when Ruth broke his own record.  Perhaps that was what "poisoned" the waters for Maris for all time for he was  a heck of a ball player and the "first who broke one heck of a  record.

"When Roger Maris was going for the home run record he would  eat only bologna and eggs for breakfast," his friend Julie Isaacson  recalled.  "Every morning we would have breakfast together at the Stage  Deli.  We had the same waitress, and I'd leave her the same five dollar  tip every time.  After, I would drive Roger up to the Stadium."

In  1956, Mickey Mantle had smashed 52 home runs for the Bronx Bombers and here  were many who saw him as the man to break Babe Ruth's season record of 60.  Mantle was the favorite, Maris who had come to the Yankees in a trade with  Kansas  City was the outsider, the loner.

In 1961, Maris did not  homer in his first ten games, but by the  end of May had a dozen. There  were 27 by the end of June. By the end of July Maris had 40 home runs -  and was six ahead of Ruth record total that had stood since 1927.

"My  going off after the record started off such a dream," the Yankee outfielder  said. "I was living a fairy tale for awhile. I never thought I'dget a  chance to break such a record."

Reporters lined up by the Maris locker  in ballparks all over the American League. "How does it feel to be hitting so  many home runs? Do you ever think of what it means?"

"How the hell  should I know," Maris, short-tempered, surly, shot back. There were all kinds  of commercial capitalizations. An enterprising stripper went by the name of  Mickey Maris. The sales of M&M candy skyrocketed - a tip of the cash  register to the "M &M Boys" who had not endorsed the 
confection.

Newspapers printed endless stories and charts  comparing Mantle and Maris, Maris and Ruth, Ruth and Mantle, etc., ad nausea.  Over-reaching journalists invented stories that bickering and animosity  existed between Mantle who earned $75,000 that season and Maris, paid $42,000.  The stories were completely untrue.  "Roger," Mantle  insisted, "was one of my best friends. The two shared a Queens apartment with  Bob Cerv.  The three young Yankee outfielders rode in Maris' open  convertible back and forth from Yankee Stadium. 
 

Media  scrutiny was unrelenting. Photographers insisted on pairing Mantle and Maris  together in all kinds of posed shots. Maris was irked; Mantle was  bemused.  "We've taken so many pictures together," he smiled, "that I'm beginning to feel like a Siamese twin."

Against his former Kansas City  teammates on August 26th in his 128th game of the '61 season, Maris mashed  Number 51, eight ahead of the Ruth pace. It  was about that time that  Commissioner Ford Frick ruled that an asterisk would be placed next to Maris'  name in the record books if he broke the Babe's record.

The "Mick"  managed but one home run from September 10 on - Number 54,   With  Mantle a shell of himself and no longer a factor in the home run race, with  the Yankee having clinched their 26th pennant,  the pressure was now  totally on Roger Maris.

Maris had 58 home runs on September 18 when the  Yankees came to Baltimore for a four game series; controversy and media's  glare came along. His chance  to "officially" break Ruth's record was  restricted by the Ford Frick edict to the first three games. They fell within  the l54-game schedule.  Accomplishments after that date, the ruling read, would  be designated by an asterisk.   

In a twi-night  doubleheader, games l52 and l53, Maris was shut out. On September 20, a night  game, Maris faced Milt Pappas of the Orioles. It was a media circus with  reporters from all over the country converged on the scene.  But there  were only 21,000 or so in the stands.

The man they called "Rajah"  lined solidly to right field his first time up. In the third inning, Maris  caught a Pappas pitch and blasted it almost 400 feet into the bleachers in  right field - home run Number 59! He had passed Jimmie Foxx and Hank  Greenberg.  But it was in game #155 - past the Frick asterisk proscribed  time. Maris had three more chances that night to tie the Babe Ruth record. But  he struck out, flied out and grounded out.

Number 60 came at Yankee  Stadium off  Baltimore's Bill Fisher on September 26.

It came down  to the final three games of the 1961 season. It was Yankees-Red Sox. It was  Maris-Ruth. The player they called "Rajah" was shut out in the first two games  by Boston pitchers determined not to be the one to be linked with him in the  record books.

It was October 1, 1961, a tired, bedraggled Maris faced  24-year-old Red Sox right-hander Tracy Stallard who got the powerfully built  Yankee out in his first at bat.

In the fourth inning, Maris came up  again.

Five days later on September 26 in Game Number 158 for the  Yankees in the third inning - Jack Fisher of Baltimore threw a high curve  ball. "The minute I threw the ball," Fisher moaned, "I said to myself, that  does it. That's Number 60."

The record tying home run pounded onto the  concrete steps of the sixth row in the third deck in Yankee Stadium.The ball  bounced back onto the field and was picked up by Earl Robinson, the Oriole  right fielder who tossed the ball to umpire Ed Hurley who gave it to Yankee  first base coach Wally Moses who rolled it into the Yankee dugout. The ball  and Maris, running out the 60th home run, arrived in the dugout of the Bronx  Bombers at bout the same time.

Maris picked up the ball and barely  looked at it; cheering fans kept calling for him to come out and take a bow.  Finally, Maris emerged.  Standing sheepishly on the top step of the  dugout, he waved his cap. An especially interested onlooker was Mrs. Claire  Ruth, widow of the Babe.

In the Yankee bullpen in right field   the pitchers and the catchers watched as the action played out. A $5,000  reward had been promised to the one who caught the ball.

" I told  them,' Maris said, "that if they got the ball not to give it to me. Take the  $5,000 reward."  

Stallard retired Maris in his first at  bat. The 23,l54 roaring fans at Yankee Stadium were quieted.  In the  fourth inning, Maris came to bat again.  "They're standing, waiting to  see if Maris is gonna hit Number Sixty-one." The voice of Phil Rizzuto  broadcast the moment.  "We've only got a handful of people sitting out in  left field," Rizzuto continued, " but in right field , man, it's hogged out  there. And they're standing up. Here's the windup, the pitch to Roger. Way outside, ball one...And the fans are starting to boo. Low, ball two. That one  was in the dirt. And the boos get louder...Two balls, no strikes on Roger  Maris. Here's the windup. Fastball, hit deep to right! This could be it!   Way back there! Holy Cow, he did it!  Sixty-one for Maris! "

The  ball traveled just 360 feet went over outfielder Lu Clinton' head and slammed  into box 163D of section 33 into the sixth row of the lower deck in right  field. And a melee broke out as fans scuffled and scrambled, fighting for the  ball and the $5,000 reward.

Roger Maris trotted out the historic home  run. A kid grabbed his hand as he turned past first - Maris shook hands and  then did the same thing with third base coach Frank Crosetti as he turned past  third base and head home. His Yankee teammates formed a human wall in front of  the dugout, refusing to let him enter. Four times he tried to no  avail.  Finally, Maris waved his cap to the cheering crowd of 23,154 fans that gave  him a standing ovation. His teammates finally let him into the  dugout.

"He threw me a pitch outside and I just went with it," Maris  would say later. "If I never hit another home run - this is the one they can  never take away from me."      

"I hated to see  the record broken," Phil Rizzuto said. "But it was another Yankee that did it.  When he hit the 61st home run I screamed so loud I had a headache for about a  week." Yankee fans and baseball fans should be screaming loud now - perhaps  the guys on the Veterans Committee will hear  you.

#  #  #

You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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