How Much Better and
More Honest Roger Maris Seems Today
The stunning news (and many of us suspected it all along) of illegal,
unnatural and extraordinary body jolts, hypes and pumps for such as
Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds (did we hear Sammy Sosa?) etc., makes the
records, streaks and feats aided and abetted by these substances - -
to not over-state the point - - lose their luster,
Enter, the lustrous Roger Maris, please!
The Roger Eugene Maras (his birth name) story began on September 10,
1934 in Hibbing, Minnesota. The son of first generation Croatian
Americans, Rudy and Corrine Maras, Roger's grandfather Steve Maras had
emigrated to the United States from Croatia around 1910.
In 1939, Roger's father moved his family to Grand Forks, North Dakota
and then Fargo where the young Maras excelled in baseball, basketball
and football in high school.
Maris was recruited to play football at Oklahoma. But he signed with the
Cleveland Indians and played with Fargo-Moorhead of the Northern League.
In 1955, convinced that a spelling change would make it easier for
baseball fans to pronounce his name, Roger Maras changed his surname to
Maris. Another reason was the memory of growing up times when
mean-spirited kids called him "Mar - Ass."
After four seasons in the minors, Maris joined the Indians in 1957. In
June 1958, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics. A year later he
hit 39 home runs for KC and sent in December 1959 to New York along with
two other players for four Yankees including Hank Bauer and Don Larsen.
The 6-foot, 197-pound outfielder thought of himself as the odd man out
in Yankee pinstripes. But he fit right in as a powerful left-handed pull
hitter in the inviting environment of the right field stands at Yankee
Maris made his Yankee debut on April 19, 1960 on Opening Day in Fenway
Park against Boston and smashed two home runs, went 4-for-5, and had
four RBI's. That 1960 season he belted 39 homers, one less than league
leader Mickey Mantle and topped the AL with 112 RBIs, a .581 slugging
percentage and was awarded his only Gold Glove. He also won the first of
two straight MVP awards.
Maris began the season 1961 hitting only one homer in April. But by the
end of August, batting third in the powerful Yankee lineup, he was the
first player in history to have 50 round trippers. Of the 275 homers
Maris hit in his 12-year career, the record 61 that broke Babe Ruth's
single season home run record, came in 1961.
But Maris paid a big price: ""Every day I went to the ballpark in Yankee
Stadium as well as on the road people were on my back," he said." The
last six years in the American League were mental hell for me. I was
drained of all my desire to play baseball." Named to the All Star
team for the fourth straight year in 1962, the next year, with injuries
limiting him to just 90 games, Maris managed just 23 homers. But he
helped the Yanks take a fourth straight pennant.
His last two Yankee seasons, 1965-1966 saw playing time reduced because
of a hand injury. In December of 1966, the Yankees traded him to the
Cardinals who he helped win two pennants.
Embittered at being traded, Roger Maris stayed away from a number of
Yankee old timers' games, but in 1978 returned to Yankee Stadium. The
reception was warm. "It's like obituaries," Maris said. "When you die,
they give you good reviews."
He had the glory, but he also had the hurt of being an unliked and
unlikely hero. On December 14, 1985, Roger Maris who had homered once
every 18.5 at bats in his career and had a home run to hit ratio of
4.81, died of lymphatic cancer. He was only 51 years old.
"People just remember the 6l home runs," said Bill Skowron. "They forget
that Roger was an excellent base stealer and a superb right fielder. He
was the best defensive right fielder in the majors. He was an all-around
ball player, a humble guy, a real team player. History never gave him
# # #
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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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