Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fifty Years Ago: Roger Maris Began the Chase for 60

Roger Maris was a simple guy, and a fine ballplayer.  A good bat, excellent defensively, and one of the best at breaking up a double play, he won the 1960 American League Most Valuable Player award but began 1961 on a homerless streak that stretched to today, April 26th.

Marty Noble takes us through that day via MLB.com.

Most of you know the rest of the story.  Maris hit 61 home runs during that season, while Mickey Mantle (the people's choice) fell out of the race with an injury that limited him to 54 dingers.

If you've seen Billy Crystal's movie (61*), or have read enough about it, you know that Mantle was the popular guy while Maris was seen as aloof and shy.  A very difficult guy to get a quote from.

Roger would stay with the Yankees through the end of 1966 and was traded to the Cardinals for Charley Smith (which was like essentially sending him away in exchange for a bucket of balls).  For the next decade, Maris would go about his life, but not with any fondness when it came to his time in New York.  George Steinbrenner had a lot to do with resolving that, asking Maris and Mantle to raise the 1977 World Series banner.  Eventually, Steinbrenner would move to have Maris's uniform number nine retired in 1984.

Time has been kind to Roger Maris.  A man who initially wasn't viewed well is now seen - in the eyes of many - as being the true single season home run king.  It's funny to think about that, since then-commissioner Ford Frick regarded the 61 home runs as a fraud, since Maris didn't reach 60 home runs in 154 games - the amount of time that it took Babe Ruth in 1927.

Roger Maris's odyssey began on this day in 1961.  He died in 1985 at the age of 51.

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