Remembering Roger Maris, 50 years later

  • Article by: PAMELA HUEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 23, 2011 - 9:37 AM

On the last day of the 1961 season, the slugger from Fargo who was born on Minnesota's Iron Range had broken baseball's most sacred record -- 60 home runs by Babe Ruth in 1927.

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Roger Maris in 1961.

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On October 1, 1961, Boston rookie righthander Tracy Stallard faced New York's Roger Maris with two out in the fourth inning. "Here's the windup," reported radio broadcaster Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto. "Fast ball hit deep to right. This could be it. Way back there. Holy Cow! He did it! 61 for Maris!" ¶ On the last day of the 1961 season, the slugger from Fargo who was born on Minnesota's Iron Range had broken baseball's most sacred record -- 60 home runs by Babe Ruth in 1927.

A half century has passed since the Yankees' M & M boys -- Maris and Mickey Mantle -- held their home run derby, fixating a nation in an era before steroids. The Yankees will honor Maris' accomplishment with a ceremony prior to Friday night's game against the Red Sox. The slugger triumphed despite the taunts of fans and a relentless, unforgiving and Ruth-biased New York media. An injury-riddled Mantle stalled at 54.

In the upper-deck stands behind home plate that autumn day, Pat Maris sat with other Yankee wives. For good measure, she had said a prayer to St. Jude that morning, and her prayer was answered. She watched her husband round the bases as the crowd cheered -- no fist pumping, just a business-like jog. She remembers how his teammates had to push him out of the dugout to tip his hat.

"You could feel the excitement," Pat Maris said last week from her Gainesville, Fla., home. "It was the last day of the season. We were all hoping that he would hit it. ... When he did, it was a big blur. Everybody stood on their feet, cheered and watched it go out."

But it was a stressful time. Commissioner Ford Frick ruled that Maris needed to break Ruth's record in 154 games or he would have an asterisk by his name denoting the new, expanded 162-game season. (In the end, there never was an asterisk.) Pat Maris almost didn't make it to Yankee Stadium for that final game to see her Fargo Shanley High School sweetheart play.

The growing family lived in Raytown, Mo., a Kansas City suburb, while her husband shared a New York City apartment with Mantle and teammate Bob Cerv. She had given birth to their third son and fourth child, Randy, in late August.

"He was the only one who came early so somebody must have been helping me out," she said.

After the game, Pat Maris waited for her now very famous husband.

"He was always the first one at work and the last one to leave," she said.

Pat Maris and her six grown children, who plan to be in Yankee Stadium Friday night, celebrated the 50th anniversary at the annual Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament in Fargo in June. The slugger died of cancer in 1985 at 51, and the tournament raises money for the Roger Maris Cancer Center.

After all the laudatory remarks, jokes and a 50th anniversary cake, sportscaster Bob Costas made a passionate case -- via video -- for Maris' inclusion into the Baseball Hall of Fame .

"He is the legitimate single-season home run king just as Hank Aaron is the legitimate career home run king. His record has stood now for 50 years, and I don't see anybody approaching it without using steroids anytime soon."

Pamela Huey • 612-673-7044

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