Roger Maris, Fargo's finest, gets a boost

  • Article by: PAMELA HUEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2010 - 8:03 PM

Fans of Roger Maris are hoping the longtime North Dakotan might get a long-awaited Hall of Fame call.

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Yankees outfielder Roger Maris in 1961.

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There may yet be vindication for Roger Maris. ¶ Nearly 50 years after the Fargo, N.D., slugger broke Babe Ruth's single-season home run record with 61 in '61 for the Yankees, those who loved him and those who appreciate him think it's high time Maris finally gets his due. ¶ The debate over whether Maris belongs in the Hall of Fame has raged for more than 35 years. But a new book makes a compelling case for his induction and the return of his home run crown in light of Mark McGwire's admission of steroid use. ¶ The bulked-up McGwire broke Maris' record with 70 home runs in 1998. Barry Bonds, who is under federal indictment for allegedly lying to a grand jury regarding steroid use, broke that record with 73 home runs in 2001.

"Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero" by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary recounts Maris' life from his birth in Hibbing, Minn.; to his days as a star athlete at Fargo's Shanley High School and ballplayer for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins; to his agonizing years in New York as he battled the media and endured the taunts and boos of Yankees fans who didn't want him to break the Babe's record or surpass Mickey Mantle in the home run race; to his fulfilling years with the Cardinals, and finally to his death from cancer in 1985 at 51.

He is portrayed as a sometimes abrasive but always honest Midwesterner who had a good sense of humor, loved his family, was devoted to his team, played his heart out and was much more than a one-year wonder.

As the writers conduct their publicity tour this summer, they say they are hearing from a growing legion of fans who want to see Maris in Cooperstown. But Clavin also said he hears from radio callers who want to keep the debate going, calling Maris "red-neck Roger" and saying his lifetime stats aren't worthy of the Hall.

Peary, in a July 12 online piece for Bleacher Report, said Maris' chances of getting into the Hall might improve when former Cardinals and Royals manager Whitey Herzog is inducted on Sunday.

“Roger’s dear friend, who was his teammate, neighbor and hunting buddy, has stated that he considers Maris the best player not in the Hall. The hope here is that he … will spearhead a campaign to get Maris elected over the flimsy objections of the powerful writers who have kept him out all these years,” Peary wrote.

Clavin said it will take some high-profile advocate to change the minds of those writers. The camera-shy Maris family has been reticent to make the case, he said.

In the book's last chapter, however, one of Maris' six children, Richard Maris, holds out hope that Major League Baseball will have a change of heart on the single-season record. "We feel baseball is going to do the right thing in the end. They're going to do their investigation, and they're going to make a correction."

There is one place where there's no debate: Fargo, home of the Roger Maris Museum, the Roger Maris Cancer Center and the Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament.

Last winter, two highway billboards went up in Fargo proclaiming "Fargo's Roger Maris" as the legitimate home run king. The signs are the work of Newman Outdoor Advertising.

Company exec Russ Newman said he has received hundreds of positive comments and just might put up more.

"He's our boy -- Fargo's golden boy. We want to promote this legend into the Hall of Fame," Newman said.

Maris' career stats are proudly posted at the museum in Fargo's West Acres mall. Among them: 275 career home runs; two-time AL MVP and seven World Series appearances.

Said Maris once of the Hall of Fame: "If you ask the average fan, 'Is Roger Maris in the Hall of Fame?' he'll say yes. The bat I used to hit the 61st home run and the ball are there. That's one thing they cannot take away ... the display is already in Cooperstown."

PAMELA HUEY

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