Roger Eugene Maris (September 10, 1934 – December 14, 1985) was an American Major League Baseball right fielder. He is primarily remembered for hitting 61 home runs for the New York Yankees during the 1961 season. This broke Babe Ruth's single-season record of 60 home runs (set in 1927) and set a record that would stand for 37 years.
During a 12-year baseball career, Maris played from 1957-1968 for four different teams, appearing in seven World Series and winning three of them.
The son of Croatian immigrants, he was born Roger Eugene Maras (he later changed his last name to Maris) in Hibbing, Minnesota. He grew up in Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota, where he attended Shanley High School. A gifted athlete, Maris participated in many sports while in Fargo, and excelled at football. He still holds the official high school record for most kickoff return touchdowns in a game, with four.
At an early age, Maris exhibited an independent, no-nonsense personality. Recruited to play football at the University of Oklahoma, he spent less than one semester on campus. He returned to Fargo and signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians.
In 1953, he played for the Indians organization at Fargo-Moorhead and moved to Keokuk the next season. 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 Kernels in 1954. Meanwhile, in four minor league seasons (1953–1956) Maris hit .303 with 78 home runs. In Game 2 of the 1956 Junior World Series, Maris would set a record by getting seven runs batted in. With the five teams that Maris played for in the minors, the clubs’ won loss records would improve from the following year.
Maris made his major league debut in 1957 with the Cleveland Indians. On April 18, 1957, Maris hit the first home run of his career. It came at Briggs Stadium in Detroit and was a grand slam off Tigers pitcher Jack Crimian. The next year, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics with Dick Tomanek and Preston Ward for Vic Power and Woodie Held. 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"Template:Citation needed – and Maris was no exception, going to the Yankees in a seven-player trade in December 1959, with Kent Hadley and Joe DeMaestri for Marv Throneberry, Norm Siebern, Hank Bauer, and Don Larsen.
In 1960, his first season with the Yankees, he led the league in slugging percentage, runs batted in, and extra base hits and finished second in home runs (one behind teammate Mickey Mantle) and total bases (four behind Mantle). He was recognized as an outstanding defensive outfielder with a Gold Glove Award, and also won the American League's Most Valuable Player award. The Yankees won the American League pennant, but lost a seven-game World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates thanks to Bill Mazeroski's dramatic home run.
- Main article: 1961 Major League Baseball season
In 1961, the American League expanded from 8 to 10 teams, generally watering down the rosters as more teams meant that players who usually would've been still at AAA or lower were now in the majors, but leaving the Yankees pretty much intact. In addition, the season was extended from 154 games to 162 games. On January 23, 1961, an Associated Press reporter asked Maris whether the schedule changes might threaten Babe Ruth's single-season home run record; Maris replied, “Nobody will touch it…Look up the records and you’ll see that it’s a rare year when anybody hits 50 homers, let alone 60.”
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 165 home runs that year. The title "Murderers Row," originally coined in 1918, had most famously been used to refer to the 1927 Yankees. 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, where both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were given extensive positive media coverage in their pursuit of the home run record, sportswriters in 1961 began to play the "M&M Boys" against each other, inventing a rivalry where none existed, as Yogi Berra has told multiple interviewers.
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 a true "hick" from Oklahoma, and was perceived as being distinctly inferior to his predecessor in center field, 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 hip infection late in the season, leaving Maris as the only player with a chance to break the record.
On top of his lack of popular press coverage, Maris' chase for 61 hit another roadblock totally out of his control: along with adding two teams to the league, Major League Baseball had added eight games to the schedule. In the middle of the season, baseball commissioner Ford Frick 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 as having been set in 162 games while the previous record set in 154 games would also be shown. It is an urban legend that an asterisk would be used to distinguish the new record, sparked by a question to Commissioner Frick from New York sportswriter Dick Young.
Nash and Zullo argued in The Baseball Hall of Shame that Frick made the ruling because the former newspaper reporter had been a close friend of Ruth's. Furthermore, Rogers Hornsby - himself a lifetime .358 batter—compared the averages (In Ruth's record year he hit .356; Maris, .269) and said, "It would be a disappointment if Ruth's home run record were bested by a .270 hitter." (Hornsby was not easy to impress; while scouting for the Mets, the best report he could muster for any current player was "Looks like a major-leaguer." The assessment referred to Mickey Mantle.) Maris downplayed the challenge, saying, "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 Hank 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.")
With 59 home runs after the Yankees' 154th game, Maris failed to reach the arbitrary mark. He hit his 61st on October 1, 1961, in the fourth inning of the last game of the season, at Yankee Stadium in front of 23,154 fans. Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard gave up the record home run. No asterisk was subsequently used in any record books—Major League Baseball itself then 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. Speaking at the 1980 All-Star game, he said, "They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing. Exactly nothing." Despite all the controversy and criticism, Maris was awarded the 1961 Hickok Belt for the top professional athlete of the year, and won 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 National Leaguer Mark McGwire broke it by hitting 70 in 1998. Sammy Sosa also broke Maris's record that year, hitting 66. The record is currently held by Barry Bonds (also a National Leaguer), who hit 73 home runs in 2001. Maris' 61 home runs are now the seventh-highest single-season total, and remain the American League record. On January 11, 2010, McGwire admitted to using steroids the year he broke Maris' record. Sosa and Bonds have also been suspected of steroid use.
Remainder of careerEdit
In 1962, Maris made his fourth consecutive and final All-Star game appearance. His fine defensive skills were often overlooked. He made a game-saving play in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series against the San Francisco Giants. With the Yankees leading 1-0 and Matty Alou on first, Willie Mays doubled toward the right-field line. Maris cut off the ball and made a strong throw to prevent Alou from scoring the tying run; the play set 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.
In 1963 he played in 90 games, hitting 23 home runs. Maris was again injured in Game Two of the 1963 World Series after only five plate appearances. He rebounded in 1964, appearing in 141 games, batting .281 with 26 home runs. Maris hit a home run in Game 6 of the 1964 World Series. Physical problems were most notable 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."
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 for Charley Smith. The Yankees questioned Maris' courage, and Maris left angry.Template:Citation needed
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, helping 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, head of the Cardinals and of Anheuser-Busch, set Maris up with a beer distributorship after he retired.
Awards, honors, and life after baseballEdit
The Yankees retired Maris' number 9 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.
Illness and deathEdit
In 1983, Maris was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. In response, he organized the annual Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament to raise money for cancer research and treatment.
Maris died in December 1985 at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas. A Roman Catholic, he was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fargo, North Dakota. He remains a hero in his hometown of Fargo and was a recipient of the state of North Dakota's Roughrider Award. Tributes include Roger Maris Drive and The Roger Maris Cancer Center, the fund raising beneficiary of the annual golf tournament, and the 61 for 61 Home Walk & Run, which is held in conjunction with the 61 for 61 radiothon on 107.9 The Fox. 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 stress-induced hair loss. In addition, the film delved into the relationship between Maris and Mantle, portraying them as friends more than rivals. Mantle was depicted defending Maris to the New York media, and Maris was shown trying to influence the hard-living Mantle to look after himself better. Maris was played by Barry Pepper, while Thomas Jane played Mantle.
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. Newman Signs Inc., which holds the naming rights to Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo, ND, continues to use billboard signage to declare Maris is the "legitimate home run king."
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