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
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
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
"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.
# # #
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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.
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