On this date in 1961, North Dakota native Roger Maris stepped up to the plate. A hush came over the crowd. Would the great Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs be broken? Spectators were on the edge of their seats, as they just might witness sports history.
Roger Maris joined the New York Yankees in 1960. He played on the famed lineup known as “Murderer’s Row.” The lineup including Maris, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Bill Skowron hit 165 home runs in one season.
The baseball owners had extended the season in the American League from 154 games to 162 that season. A reporter asked Maris if the Babe’s record might be in danger because of the extended season. Maris replied that it was very doubtful. It was a rare year when anyone hit 50 homers, let alone 60.
Breaking the revered Babe’s record was not popular with fans. In 1956, Mickey Mantle came close. But fans seemed relieved when he finished with 52. Mantle learned how to deal with the tough fans of New York, but Maris was never able to master that skill. The Yankees were seen as Mantle’s team. Fans jeered at Maris for being an outsider. And he faced another challenge. Commissioner Ford Frick announced that unless the record was broken in the first 154 games, the new record would appear with an asterisk.
Mantle and Maris were neck and neck for the home run crown. Then Mantle was hospitalized late in the season. Maris was the only player with a chance to break the Babe’s record. The team’s last game that year was in Yankee Stadium against the Boston Red Sox. Maris stepped to the plate in the fourth inning in front of 23,154 fans and hit the record-breaking home run. The Yankees won the game, 1-0. Maris was named the top professional athlete of the year, and he was American League MVP for the second straight year. He played in seven World Series and finished his career with 275 home runs.
Maris was bitter about the experience. He said fans acted as if he did something wrong in breaking the record. He said that all he had to show for his 61 home runs was “exactly nothing,” and that it might have been better if he had never broken the record. Over twenty years later, on July 22, 1984, the Yankees retired number 9 and unveiled a plaque to honor Roger Maris.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Baseball Almanac. "http://www.baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats12b.shtml" http://www.baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats12b.shtml Accessed 7/16/14