Wish We Were There: Roger Maris' 61 in '61

1961, the first year that the major leagues added eight games to the schedule, from 154 to 162. The Yankees had earned the title of best record in the major leagues, at 109-53. It was the third coming of the “Murderers’ Row” (Originally the 1918 Yankees of Gilhooley, Peckinpaugh, Baker, Pratt, Pipp, and Bodie; the second being the 1927 Yankees with Combs, Ruth and Gehrig). This “Murderers’ Row” led the Yankees to a World Series title over the Cincinnati Reds.

This third coming has been debated as possibly the best of all time, consisting of Boyer, Skowron, Howard, Mantle, Berra and Maris. Both Mantle and Maris would prove that season that same-team rivalries do exist and that it was one hell of a ride.

The “M&M Boys” (Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris), had gained more and more media attention as the 1961 season progressed. Maris, who was shown as an outsider around Mantle, who was loved by all, stayed in hot pursuit of Mantle throughout the season. Maris had even been claimed that he was “not a true Yankee.”

Though this criticism and lack of greater press coverage continued, Maris still stayed focused on hitting home runs. A hip infection in September forced Mantle to fall out of the chase for Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in one season. He finished with a total of 54. This left Roger Maris as the only man who could possibly break the 34-year-old record.

To add to the controversy, then MLB Commissioner Ford Frick proclaimed that unless Maris were to break Ruth’s record in 154 games (the amount it had taken Ruth), and would break the record in the remaining eight games, the number would forever have an asterisk next to it. Of course this added tension to Maris’ pursuit.

Maris had hit 59 home runs through 154 games, seeming to make the season now worthless. However Maris continued his chase. He entered game number 162 with 60 home runs, which had tied the record.

Now imagine. Sitting in the packed right field grandstand with everyone else on their feet. The 2-0 pitch from Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard, you see, is a fastball and it’s coming your way. How could you not wish to be part of such great history? Hell, I wish I could have even been listening live to the live broadcast and hear Phil Rizzuto hail his famous phrase:

“Hit deep to right! This could be it! Way back there! Holy Cow, he did it! Sixty-one for Maris!”

Just the thought could make you shiver. In the end, Roger Maris’ record was shown in the record books without an asterisk. He won MVP in that 1961 season. His record stood until 1998, when a man named Mark McGwire (who admitted to using steroids that very same season) and Sammy Sosa (who is presumed to have used illegal substances) both broke Maris’ record. Sosa hit 66, and McGwire held the record of 70 home runs until 2001 when another man named Barry Bonds hit a whopping 73 home runs (Bonds is also assumed to have taken performance enhancers during the time).

To many, Roger Maris is still the single-season home run king.

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One Response to Wish We Were There: Roger Maris' 61 in '61

  1. Greg Demeo says:

    Another well written article by Dan Reiner. I too "shiver" at the thought of how great Maris and Mantle were in 1961. But I also know that Maris was great in 1960, 1962, etc. Unfortunately, not enough baseball fans realize how great Roger was throughout his career. His career was plagued by the pressures of an unfair press, fans, etc. but in spite of that he had a great career. Some of his numbers were impacted by injuries but anyone that saw him play and scrutinizes his career can see that he was a great ball player.

    The typical response by many is "I thought that Roger Maris already was in the Baseball Hall of Fame". Sadly he is not in the HOF. But he should be. Write a letter to the Veterans Committee of the HOF and let's get him in the HOF as soon as possible.