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Roger Maris Hits 61st Home Run

It was on this date in 1961 that a shy baseball player from Fargo stunned the sports world in one of the most anticipated games ever played. Roger Maris hit his 61st home run, breaking the record set by Babe Ruth for the most home runs in one season.

Maris came to the Yankees in a trade after the 1959 season. He did well. In 1960 he hit 39 home runs and led the league in RBIs. He won a Gold Glove and the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award. But it was the following year that Maris became a household name when he and teammate, Mickey Mantle, each looked they had a shot at beating Babe Ruth’s record.

Mantle enjoyed the focus and became a media darling, but Maris was uncomfortable with the limelight. When an injury took Mantle out of the running, Maris was left alone in the spotlight, and he struggled with the attention. The Babe was a legend for Yankees fans, and many openly rooted against Maris, even though he, too, was a Yankee. But he continued hitting home runs, with his record breaking 61st happening on the final day of the season.

In a 1998 article, writer Jon Young recounted a personal memory of the event when his dad took him to see the Yankees on that fateful Oct. 1st … Jon’s birthday.  Being a young child, he had trouble seeing Roger Maris when he came to bat, because everyone in the bleachers around them stood in anticipation. Jon didn’t see it, but during Roger’s second at-bat, Jon knew by the crack of the bat and the reaction of the crowd that the Babe’s record was breaking.

The crowd squeezed in around Jon, shoving and pushing, with Jon’s dad in the very center. Arms were flying, pulling, and tugging. Policemen converged from three directions and gradually pulled apart the mass. As the chaos came to an end and Jon’s dad returned to his seat, he presented Jon with the baseball. Years later, shortly before his death, Jon’s dad told him, “We saw a man become a hero that day.”

Maris’s home run record stood for 37 years before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both broke it in 1998. Fans today continue to lobby for the induction of Roger Maris into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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