|Born: September 10, 1934|
|Died: December 14 1985 (aged 51)|
|Batted: Left||Threw: Right|
|April 16, 1957
for the Cleveland Indians
|September 29, 1968
for the St. Louis Cardinals
|Career highlights and awards|
Roger Eugene Maris (September 10, 1934 – December 14, 1985) was an American right fielder in Major League Baseball. He was best known for his years as a member of the New York Yankees, where he won back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards in 1960 and 1961. Along with Mickey Mantle, he was part of the "M & M" boys who challenged the single season home run record of Yankee immortal Babe Ruth in 1961. After Mantle became injured, Maris went on to break the record on the last day of the season, hitting his sixty-first home run off Tracy Stallard. The record that would stand for 37 years. Although Maris was successful in breaking the record with his 61 home runs in one season, he ensured constant media attention and fan criticism during that season and throughout his career.
Roger Maris was born on September 10, 1934 in Hibbing, Minnesota. His father was a Croatian immigrant working for the Great Northern Railroad who moved the family to North Dakota in 1942. He grew up in Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota where he attended Shanley High School. A gifted athlete, Maris participated in many sports with his older brother Rudy while attending Shanley High School. He played baseball through the American Legion program because his school didn't have a team, and led the American Legion team to a state championship. Roger also excelled at football, and basketball due to his blazing speed. He broke the record for scoring four touchdowns on kickoff returns in a single game against Devil's Lake High School.
At an early age, Maris exhibited an independent, no-nonsense personality. He was recruited to play football in Norman, Oklahoma for the University of Oklahoma by Bud Wilkinson, but turned it town to play baseball. He signed a deal with the Cleveland Indians for $15,000, and played four years of minor league ball in their farm system in Tulsa, Reading, Indianapolis, and Fargo.
While 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 hitting .235, with 14 home runs and 51 RBIs (runs batted in).
The next year, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics, and finished his second year with 28 home runs, and 81 RBIs. His third year would be a successful one for Maris as he represented the A's 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. He was traded with two other A's for Don Larsen, Hank Bauer, Norm Siebren, and Marv Throneberry.
In 1960, his first full 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 Mickey Mantle) and total bases. He was recognized as an outstanding defensive outfielder with a Gold Glove Award, and also won the American League's Most Valuable Player award.
In 1961, the American League expanded from 8 to 10 teams, generally watering down the pitching, but leaving the Yankees pretty much intact. 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' teams of the late 1920s, which included such prolific home run hitters as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Tony Lazzeri. 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, in which the competition between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa was given extensive positive media coverage, sportswriters in 1961 began to play the "M & M Boys" (Maris and Mantle) against each other, inventing a rivalry where none existed, as Yogi Berra has testified in recent interviews. Many in the sport and especially the media revered the memory of "The Babe" and openly rooted against Maris and Mantle. Other openly rooted for Mickey Mantle because he was a longtime Yankee and a more established star.
But this wasn't the first time a Yankee player was under a close watch. 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 considered by some as a "hick" from Oklahoma, and was perceived as being distinctly inferior to his predecessor in center field, the elegant 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.
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 leg infection late in the season, leaving Maris as the only player with a chance to break the record.
Maris had to endure tons of reporters in the Yankee Clubhouse to interview the star. It became so packed that it became difficult for other players to reach their locker. While some thought that the reporters were giving positive press to Maris, they continued to scrutinize the ball player in the papers. It seemed that everyday the press would change their story on the player sometimes calling him "home-loving" while at others calling him selfish and "hot-headed."
When Maris continued to get closer to breaking the record, the home run questions grew to a frantic pace. He would be asked hundreds of times daily if he thought he could break the record. "You can believe me or not- I don't care-but I honestly don't know" (Plimpton 2001).
On top of his lack of popular press coverage, Maris' chase for 61 hit another roadblock completely 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, an old friend of Ruth's, 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 with an asterisk–as having been set in 162 games while the previous record set in 154 games would also be shown.
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, In Ruth's record year he hit .356; Maris, .269, which brought other complaints. Rogers Hornsby—a lifetime .358 batter—compared the averages 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)
In the last game of the season, a sparsely attended contest between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox in New York got a major jolt in the fourth inning. Maris stepped to the plate for the second time to face Tracy Stallard, a 24-year old right hander. The pitcher threw a knee high fastball towards the outside corner of the plate, and the ball was crushed into the right field bleachers by Maris. The home run call by former Yankee shortstop, Phil Rizzuto ("Holy Cow, he did it") is almost as famous as the home run.
Despite the commissioner's statement, no asterisk was subsequently used in any record books. In fact, 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. 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 Mark McGwire of the National League's Saint Louis Cardinals broke it by hitting 70 in 1998. That record would stand only three years, broken in 2001 by Barry Bonds, although both achievements are currently under a cloud of suspicion; both players are suspected of using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Maris remains the American League record holder as of the 2006 season.
In 1962, Maris made his fourth consecutive and final All-Star game appearance. His fine defensive skills were often overlooked, but he still won the MVP for the year with 30 home runs, and 89 RBI's. He made a game-saving play in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series, holding a runner at third with a strong throw and thus preventing the San Francisco Giants from scoring the tying run, and setting 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, he played in only 90 games but still hit 23 HR's and 89's RBI's. He was known in the 1963 season for his antics after missing a ground ball hit in a nationally televised game. After the error 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. Although he was no longer a power hitter, he helped 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.
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 was diagnosed with 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 in Houston, Texas at the age of 51. 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 hair falling out. Maris was played by Barry Pepper.
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.
Roger 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, where he is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery. Gil Hodges is buried in a cemetery of the same name in Brooklyn, New York.
Maris and Dale Murphy are the only two-time MVP's who are not in the Baseball Hall of Fame while eligible for induction as of 2007. The two have similar lifetime averages (batting, on-base, and slugging), however Murphy's cumulative totals are significantly better. Furthermore, even if one agrees with the argument that, because of steroid accusations against those who broke it, Maris' 61 homers remains the "legitimate" record, his lifetime totals of fewer than 300 HR's and 900 RBI's are simply not Hall-worthy, nor is his poor .260 average, especially for an offense-oriented position such as outfielder.
Roger Maris endured great pressure by the New York media and fans throughout his career. While some would fold under the pressure, Maris blocked himself from it and hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth's record. Throughout his career, he played in seven World Series while hitting six home runs with 18 RBI's. He was named MVP two times, hit 100 RBI's in a season three times, but is still not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, something that has been debated over the years. Even though his biggest fans can't believe he isn't in the Hall of Fame, they can say that he was the home run king of baseball for the 38 years his record stood.
All links retrieved July 28, 2019.
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