Roger Maris 1961 #002
by William Szczepanek
Roger Maris earned his position in the Golden Age of Baseball Hall of Fame primarily from the fact that he broke Babe Ruth's home run record. Maris' record received the famous asterisk from commissioner Ford Frick since it took Maris more games to tie and break the record. This Maris card is one of the few cards to reach the Baseball Card Hall of Fame for a player who himself did not get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
That is not to say that Maris did not have a great career, hitting .260 lifetime with 275 home runs over 12 seasons, twice leading the league in RBIs and winning the MVP Award in those years, 1960 and 1961. A Gold Glove right fielder Maris could field and throw with the best of them.
But, Maris will always be remembered for 1961 and the home run race between he and Mickey Mantle. There was probably no one in the country rooting for Maris to break Ruth's record outside of Maris' immediate family and some who like rooting for the underdog. The record was for Mantle to break and no one else. Mantle was the heir to the throne beginning with Ruth, then Gehrig, then DiMaggio. Maris would receive only grief. The fans booed him, the press made life miserable by hounding him. His family's lives were threatened. Maris was the bad guy and Mantle was the good guy. Mantle suffered in 1956 when he alone attacked Ruth's record, but his treatment was nothing like what Maris received.
I can't imagine what it would be like to be seeking a world record and have everyone in the world rooting against you. I remember the season well as a twelve year old. I was not a Yankee fan but watched the papers closely as they posted the daily home run totals. I was led by the press to root for Mantle rather than the somewhat unknown Maris, who just happened to be the previous year AL MVP. I was not happy when Maris broke the record and understood the asterisk, because for a long time before 1960 the regular season was 154 games. To suddenly play 162 games and have records broken seemed unfair. If you really want to take everything into consideration Maris only had 59 home runs after the 154th game and the Bonds, McGwire and Sosa's records were tainted by steroids. I think it would be unlikely that any of them would have broken the record, leaving Babe Ruth as the current home run champion based on games played.
Maris still holds the record for most home runs in a season in the American League. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have all broken the record in the National League. Their records were achieved with much support from the fans, particularly in the cities their teams represented. And while the records are now questioned by many because of steroid use, they are still the records and the players have profited greatly from these achievements. People look back with fondness on the Maris record and its historical significance. It is unfortunate that Maris did not live long enough to appreciate it, dying in 1985 at age 51 of Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"As a ballplayer, I would be delighted to do it (break Babe Ruth's single season home run record) again. As an individual, I doubt if I could possibly go through it again." - Roger Maris