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Roger Maris

Roger Maris
Maris in 1960
Right fielder
Born: (1934-09-10)September 10, 1934
Hibbing, Minnesota
Died: December 14, 1985(1985-12-14) (aged 51)
Houston, Texas
Batted: Left Threw: Right
MLB debut
April 16, 1957 for the Cleveland Indians
Last MLB appearance
September 29, 1968 for the St. Louis Cardinals
Career statistics
Batting average .260
Home runs 275
Runs batted in 850
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Career highlights and awards

Roger Eugene Maris (September 10, 1934 – December 14, 1985) was an American professional baseball player who played four seasons in the minor leagues and twelve seasons in the major leagues. Maris played right field on four Major League Baseball (MLB) teams, from 1957 through 1968.

Maris set the MLB record for home runs during the 1961 season with 61, breaking Babe Ruth's single-season record of 60 home runs in 1927. This record was challenged by then baseball commissioner Ford Frick, who said that Maris needed to break the record in 154 games instead of the current schedule of 162 games. His accomplishment of 61 home runs in a season came back to the forefront in 1998, when the home run record was broken by Mark McGwire and later that same year by Sammy Sosa.

Maris began playing in the minor leagues in 1953. He reached the major leagues in 1957 playing for the Cleveland Indians. He was traded to the Kansas City Athletics during the 1958 season, and to the New York Yankees after the 1959 season. He finished his MLB career playing for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967 and 1968. Maris was an American League (AL) All-Star from 1959 through 1962,[a] an AL Most Valuable Player in 1960 and 1961, and an AL Gold Glove Award winner in 1960. Maris appeared in seven World Series, five as a member of the Yankees and two with the Cardinals.

Early years

Roger Maris was born Roger Eugene Maras on September 10, 1934 in Hibbing, Minnesota, later Anglicizing his last name to "Maris".[1] Maris was the son of Rudolph S. "Rudy" Maras and Corrine (née Perkovich), who were both of Croatian origin.[2][3] Roger had a brother named Rudy ("Buddy") who was a year older, and who got polio in 1951.[4] The Maris' family moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1942 and to Fargo, North Dakota in 1946, where he attended Fargo Central High School. Maris' parents had a turbulent marriage and divorced in 1960; his father in Fargo died in 1992 at age 81. After Maris retired from baseball he moved to Gainesville, Florida, where his mother moved to from Fargo. Corrine died in 2004 at the age of 90.[5]

Maris transferred to Shanley High School at Fargo in 1950, and graduated from there in June 1952. He met his future wife, Patricia, in the tenth grade, while both were attending a high school basketball game.[6] Roger and Rudy Maris Jr. both participated in sports including American Legion baseball during the summers while in Fargo. In 1950, Roger led his North Dakota legion team to the state championship. He was a standout player with the Fargo-Moorhead Twins of the Northern League in 1952.[7] In football, Roger still holds the official high school record for most return touchdowns in a game, with four (two kickoff returns, one punt return, and one interception return).[8]

Maris was recruited to play football at the University of Oklahoma. He decided to go there, but after visiting the campus, he returned to Fargo where he wanted to stay the most and be near his brother who was sick with polio. He decided finally on a baseball career. In 1953, he was invited to the Cleveland Indians tryout camp where he was viewed by the Cleveland Indians general manager, Hank Greenberg (he hit 58 home runs for the Detroit Tigers in 1938). Greenberg afterwards sent a representative to Fargo to sign Maris. Maris, age 18, then signed a contract for $15,000 with the Cleveland Indians of the American League which included a $10,000 bonus from them if he made it to the major leagues.

Professional baseball

Minor league

Maris started playing for the Indians minor league organization at Fargo (Fargo-Moorhead Twins) in 1953 (after being sent to and beginning spring training in Daytona, Florida) where he was named rookie of the year in the Fargo-Moorhead Twin's Northern League, and moved to Keokuk, Iowa the next season. In the minor leagues, he showed a talent for both offense and defense. He tied for the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League lead in putouts by an outfielder with 305 while playing for the Keokuk Kernels in 1954. Meanwhile, in four minor league seasons from 1953 to 1956, Maris hit .303 with 78 home runs. In Game 2 of the 1956 Junior World Series, Maris would set a record by getting seven runs batted in.[9] With the five teams that Maris played for in the minors, the clubs' won loss records would improve from the previous season - a clear indication of Maris' talent and value.[9]

File:Roger Maris Indians.png
Maris in 1957, his rookie year with the Cleveland Indians.

Major league

Cleveland Indians (1957–58)

Maris made his major league debut on April 16, 1957 with the Cleveland Indians. Two days later, he hit the first home run of his career, a grand slam off Tigers pitcher Jack Crimian at Briggs Stadium in Detroit.[9] He finished his rookie season with 14 home runs. In 1958, after playing in 51 games and hitting 9 home runs, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics.

Kansas City Athletics (1958–59)

Maris was traded to the Kansas City Athletics with Dick Tomanek and Preston Ward for Vic Power and Woodie Held. He played in 99 games and hit 19 home runs. In 1959, he hit 16 home runs and represented the A's in the 1959 All-Star Game (played in second game) in spite of missing 45 games due to an appendix operation.

In the late 1950s, Kansas City frequently traded their best young players to the New York Yankees – a practice which led them to be referred to as the Yankees' "major league farm team"[10] – and Maris was no exception. In a seven-player deal in December 1959, he was sent to the Yankees with Kent Hadley and Joe DeMaestri in exchange for Marv Throneberry, Norm Siebern, Hank Bauer, and Don Larsen.[11]

New York Yankees (1960-66)

Maris hit a single, double, and two home runs in his first game as a Yankee outfielder in 1960. In his first season with the Yankees, he led the American League in slugging percentage, runs batted in, and extra base hits. He hit 39 home runs, one home run behind teammate Mickey Mantle. He won the American League's Most Valuable Player award and was recognized as an outstanding defensive outfielder with a Gold Glove Award. He was named to the American League All-Star roster (played in two games) and finished the 1960 season with a .283 batting average. The Yankees won the American League pennant, the first of five consecutive pennants, but lost a seven-game World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates culminating in Bill Mazeroski's dramatic walk-off home run.


In 1961, The American League expanded from 8 to 10 teams. In the expansion draft, the newly created Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators [12] were restricted to drafting players from AL rosters. The perceived result was that American League team rosters had become watered down as players who would otherwise have been playing at AAA if not lower were now in the AL. The Yankees, however, were left mainly intact. In order to maintain a balanced schedule, AL owners extended the season from 154 games to 162 games.[13] On January 23, 1961, an Associated Press reporter asked Maris whether the schedule changes might threaten Babe Ruth's single-season home run record; Maris replied, "Nobody will touch it... Look up the records and you'll see that it's a rare year when anybody hits 50 homers, let alone 60."

File:M&M Boys 1961.png
Maris (left) with Mickey Mantle in 1961.

Yankee home runs began to come at a record pace. One famous photograph lined up six 1961 Yankees, including Mantle, Maris, Yogi Berra, and Bill Skowron, under the nickname "Murderers Row", because they hit a combined 165 home runs the previous season (The title "Murderers Row," originally coined in 1918, had most famously been used to refer to the 1927 Yankees). As mid-season approached, it seemed quite possible that either Maris or Mantle, or perhaps both, would break Ruth's 34-year-old home run record. Unlike the home run race of 1998, where both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were given extensive positive media coverage in their pursuit of Maris' record, sportswriters in 1961 began to play the "M&M Boys" against each other, inventing a rivalry where none existed, as Yogi Berra has told multiple interviewers.

Five years earlier, in 1956, the New York press had been protective of Ruth when Mantle challenged Ruth's record for most of the season. When Mantle fell short, finishing with 52, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief from the New York traditionalists. The New York press had not been kind to Mantle in his early years with the team; he struck out frequently, was injury prone, was a true "hick" from Oklahoma, and was perceived as being distinctly inferior to his predecessor in center field, Joe DiMaggio. Mantle, however, over the course of time (with a little help from his friend and teammate Whitey Ford, a native of New York's Borough of Queens), had gotten better at "schmoozing" with the New York media, and consequently gained the favor of the press. This was a talent that Maris, a blunt-spoken Upper Midwesterner, never attempted to cultivate. Maris was perceived as surly during his time on the Yankees.

More and more, the Yankees became "Mickey Mantle's team" and Maris was ostracized as an "outsider" and "not a true Yankee." The press at that time seemed to be rooting for Mantle and belittling Maris. Mantle, however, was felled by a hip infection causing hospitalization late in the season, leaving Maris as the single remaining player with the opportunity to break Ruth's home run record.

From left to right, the bats used to hit Babe Ruth's 60th homer in 1927, Roger Maris' 61st in 1961, and Mark McGwire's 70th and Sammy Sosa's 66th in 1998.

On top of his lack of popular press coverage, Maris' chase for 61 homers hit another roadblock totally out of his control: along with adding two teams to the league, Major League Baseball had added eight more games to the schedule. In the middle of the season, baseball commissioner Ford Frick (one of Babe Ruth's closest friends) announced that unless Ruth's record was broken in the first 154 games of the season, the new record would be shown in the record books as having been set in 162 games while the previous record set in 154 games would also be shown. It is an urban legend that an asterisk (*) would be used to distinguish the new record, sparked by a question given to Commissioner Frick from New York sportswriter Dick Young.

Nash and Zullo argued in The Baseball Hall of Shame that Frick made the ruling because the former newspaper reporter had been a close friend of Ruth's. Furthermore, Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby – himself a lifetime .358 batter – compared Ruth's 1927 batting average of .356 to Maris' .269 clip of 1961 and said, "It would be a disappointment if Ruth's home run record were bested by a .270 hitter". (Hornsby, however, was not easy to impress; while scouting for the Mets, the best report he could muster for any current player was "Looks like a major-leaguer." The assessment referred to Mickey Mantle.) Maris downplayed the challenge, saying, "I'm not trying to be Babe Ruth; I'm trying to hit sixty-one home runs and be Roger Maris." This sentiment would be echoed in 1973–1974, when Hank Aaron, in pursuit of Ruth's career home run record, said, "I don't want people to forget Babe Ruth. I just want them to remember Henry Aaron."

Maris had 59 home runs after the Yankees' 154th game and failed to beat Ruth's 60 home runs within the original season length. Maris hit his 61st home run on October 1, 1961, in the fourth inning of the last game of the season, at Yankee Stadium in front of 23,154 fans.[14] Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard gave up the record home run, which was caught by fan Sal Durante in the right field bleachers. No asterisk was subsequently used in any record books; Major League Baseball itself then had no official record book, and Frick later acknowledged that there never was official qualification of Maris' accomplishment. The Guinness Book of World Records did however differentiate the two records as distinct and separate for a number of years. However, Maris remained bitter about the experience. Speaking at the 1980 All-Star Game, Maris said, "They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing. Exactly nothing." Despite all the controversy and criticism, Maris was awarded the 1961 Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year, and won the American League's MVP Award for the second straight year. It is said, however, that the stress of pursuing the record was so great for Maris that his hair occasionally fell out in clumps during the season. Later, Maris even surmised that it might have been better all along had he not broken the record or even threatened it at all.

File:Maris Kennedy.gif
Maris signs a baseball for President John F. Kennedy in the 1962 season.

In 1962, Maris made his fourth consecutive All-Star team appearance[15] and his seventh and final All-Star game appearance (1959–62, two All-Star games were played per season). His fine defensive skills were often overlooked. He made a game-saving play in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series against the San Francisco Giants. With the Yankees leading 1-0 and Matty Alou on first, Willie Mays doubled toward the right-field line. Maris cut off the ball and made a strong throw to prevent Alou from scoring the tying run; the play set up Willie McCovey's series-ending line drive to second baseman Bobby Richardson, capping what would prove to be the final World Series victory for the "old" Yankees.

In 1963, he played in only 90 games, hitting 23 home runs. Maris was again injured in Game Two of the 1963 World Series after only five home plate appearances.

In 1964, he rebounded, appearing in 141 games, batting .281 with 26 home runs. Maris hit a home run in Game 6 of the 1964 World Series.[6] But in 1965, his physical problems returned, and he had off-season surgery to remove a bone chip in his hand. In 1966, the Yankees' and Maris' fortunes continued to decline as he played most of the season with a misdiagnosed broken bone in his hand. The oft-injured Maris was questioned by the organization, media and fans.[7] He was traded on December 8, 1966 to the St Louis Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals (1967–68)

Maris was traded by the Yankees to the St. Louis Cardinals for Charley Smith. Maris played his final two seasons with the Cardinals, helping to win the 1967 and 1968 pennants. He was outstanding in the 1967 World Series, hitting .385 with one home run and seven RBIs. It was the best performance of his seven career World Series.[16] Maris hit his 275th and final regular season home run on September 5, 1968. It was his 25th career two-run homer.[17]

Later years and death

Maris and his brother owned and operated Maris Distributing in the 1970s and 80s, the Budweiser beer distributorship in Gainesville, Florida (and Ocala, Florida), where he moved after retiring from baseball after the 1968 season. Gussie Busch, who owned both the Cardinals and Anheuser-Busch, got Maris started into the beer business. Maris also coached baseball at Gainesville's Oak Hall High School, which named its baseball field after him in 1990.

Maris was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1983. In response, Maris organized the annual Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament to raise money for cancer research and treatment.

Maris died at age 51 on December 14, 1985 at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas. A Roman Catholic, he was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fargo, North Dakota. Fellow major league player Ken Hunt was interred several feet away from Maris in 1997.[18]

MLB stats, awards, achievements, and records

Maris (left) receiving a Fraternal Order of Eagles Award with Wilma Rudolph (right)
File:Roger Maris Plaque.jpg
Roger Maris plaque in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.


Years Games PA AB Runs Hits 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO OBP SLG BA Fld%
12 1463 5847 5101 826 1325 195 42 275 850 21 652 733 .345 .476 .260 .982


  • American League All-Star (4 awards): 1959, 1960 (2 games), 1961 (2 games), 1962 (2 games)
  • American League Most Valuable Player (1960–1961)
  • American League Gold Glove (Outfielder, 1960)


  • Major League single season home run champion (1961–1998)
  • American League leader in home runs, runs scored, and total bases (1961)
  • American League leader in RBIs and extra base hits (1960, 1961)
  • American League leader in slugging average (1960)
  • American League leader in fielding average as right fielder (1960, 1964)
  • National League leader in fielding average as right fielder (1967)
  • American League pennant team (1960–1964)
  • National League pennant team (1967, 1968)
  • World Series champion team (1961, 1962, 1967)


  • American League: Single-season home runs (61, 1961)

Other awards and honors

Roger Maris's number 9 was retired by the N.Y. Yankees in 1984.

Maris received The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award (1961)[19]

A Roger Eugene Maris plaque dedication and #9 retirement ceremony in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium was held on July 22, 1984 (Old Timers' Day). The inscribed plaque which is subtitled "Against All Odds", calls Maris, "A great player and author of one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of major league baseball." Maris participated in the ceremony in front of his plaque wearing a Yankee number 9 uniform. Elston Howard (#32), a teammate of Maris, was honored with Maris.[20]

The United States Postal Service issued a "Roger Maris, 61 in 61" commemorative stamp on September 17, 1999.[citation needed]

On September 22, 2011, the Yankees celebrated the 50th anniversary of Roger Maris' single-season home run record at Yankee Stadium.[citation needed]

Hall of Fame candidacy

Sportswriter Greg Hansen criticized baseball writers for excluding Maris from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, writing that there were many Hall of Fame outfielders who had never won two MVP awards and that no one else had ever hit 61 home runs in a season. "To show you what an injustice this is to the man, Maris finished just ahead of Harvey Kuenn, for crying out loud."[21] Hansen wrote that Maris had resented the media's intrusion on his privacy; he said that Maris's tense relationship with the media had affected the voting.[21]

Around the same time, Maris commented that he knew he would never get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. "I'll leave the Hall of Fame to the geniuses that vote on it. I will never get in. I have always known that. I will not argue with you about why or why not I should be elected. It's like getting burned. You never get rid of the scars," he said.[21]

Maris was never elected to the Hall of Fame. In 2011, George Vecsey of The New York Times called Maris "a terrific player for a few brief years."[22] He wrote that while Maris had two seasons where he played at Hall of Fame caliber, and while Maris played in an era that was not influenced by performance-enhancing substances, he did not believe that Maris had career statistics worthy of induction.[22]

The Baseball Hall of Fame established a Golden Era Committee in 2010 to vote on the possible Hall of Fame induction of previously overlooked candidates who were active in baseball between 1947 and 1972. The committee votes every three years on ten candidates from the era selected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America's (BBWAA) Historical Overview Committee; Maris did not appear on the ballots of the Golden Era Committee in 2011 or 2014.[23][24]


Maris remains a baseball hero in his hometown of Fargo and was a recipient of the State of North Dakota's Roughrider Award. Tributes include Roger Maris Drive, The Roger Maris Cancer Center at Sanford Hospital in Fargo, the fund raising beneficiary of the annual golf tournament, the 61 for 61 Home Walk & Run, which is held in conjunction with the 61 for 61 radiothon on KPFX (aka "107.9 The Fox") which also raises money for the Maris Cancer Center,[25] silent auctions, and more. In 1984, The Roger Maris Museum opened at the West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo. The museum is dedicated to the life and career of Roger Maris, is open during normal mall hours and has no admission fee.

In 1977, Maris was inducted into the North Dakota American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame.[26]

In 2001, the film 61* about Maris and Mantle's pursuit of the major league's single season home run record was first broadcast. Many of the unpleasant aspects of Maris' season were addressed, including the hate mail, death threats, and his stress-induced hair loss. In addition, the film delved into the relationship between Maris and Mantle, portraying them as friends more than rivals. Mantle was depicted defending Maris to the New York media, and Maris was shown trying to influence the hard-living Mantle to look after himself better. Maris was played by Barry Pepper, while Thomas Jane played Mantle.

In 2005, in light of accusations of steroid use against the three players who had, by then, hit more than 61 home runs in a season (Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds), the North Dakota Senate wrote to Major League Baseball and that Roger Maris' 61 home runs are being recognized as the single season record.[27] Newman Signs Inc., which holds the naming rights to Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo, continues to use billboard signage to declare Maris is the "legitimate home run king."[28]

Appearances in other media

Maris and Mantle starred in a 1962 film, Safe at Home!, playing themselves.[29] That year, Maris, Mantle, and Yankee teammate Yogi Berra also made appearances in the film, That Touch of Mink, starring Cary Grant and Doris Day.[30]

In 1980, Maris, Mantle, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, and other former Yankee players made appearances in the film, It's My Turn. starring Michael Douglas and Jill Clayburgh.[31]

See also


  1. ^ MLB held two All-Star Games in 1959, 60, 61, and 62.


  1. ^ "How Much Better and More Honest Roger Maris Seems Today". 
  2. ^ Karlgaard, Rich (April 10, 2006). "Roger Maris Belongs in the Hall". 
  3. ^ "Top 10 Championship Teams: No. 4, 1961". January 20, 2010. 
  4. ^ The Bismarck Tribune (October 15, 2005) [1] Retrieved Nov. 23, 2014
  5. ^ Roger Maris's mother dead at 90 -
  6. ^ Mickey Mantle America's Prodigal son by Tony Castro
  7. ^ North Dakota Studies (October 15, 1968), Sports News 1968, "Maris Retires from Baseball After Final Successful Season" [2] Retrieved November 23, 2014
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c Clavin, Tom; Peary, Danny (2010). Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-8928-0. 
  10. ^ Jeff Katz,The Kansas City A's and the Wrong Half of the Yankees: How the Yankees Controlled Two of the Eight American League Franchises During the 1950s, Maple Street Press, 2007, ISBN 0-9777436-5-9
  11. ^ Reading Eagle - Google News Archive Search
  12. ^ The Washington Senators that took the field in 1961 were an expansion team, having replaced the original Senators franchise that had re-located to Minnesota and become the Minnesota Twins.
  13. ^ The National League expanded in a similar manner to the American League in 1962, one year after the AL expansion.
  14. ^ "October 1, 1961 Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Box Score and Play by Play". Sports Reference, LLC via Retrosheet. Retrieved November 2, 2008. 
  15. ^ Sportsdata: Midsummer Classics: Celebrating MLB's All-Star Game, 1959–1962, "all players who were named to the AL or NL roster were credited with one appearance per season."[3]
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Baseball-Reference.Com: The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award [4]
  20. ^ "The Man Who Beat The Babe". Waycross Journal-Herald. July 24, 1984. p. 6. Retrieved April 18, 2012. 
  21. ^ a b c Hansen, Greg (February 1, 1977). "Roger Maris". Evening Independent. Retrieved December 3, 2014. 
  22. ^ a b Vecsey, George (August 20, 2011). "50 years later, Maris's 61-homer season looks even better". The New York Times. Retrieved December 3, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Golden Era Committee candidates announced". Baseball Hall of Fame. Retrieved December 3, 2014. 
  24. ^ Bloom, Barry. "Santo, Hodges among 10 on Golden Era ballot". Retrieved December 3, 2014. 
  25. ^ 61 for 61
  26. ^ The American Legion Department of North Dakota, Baseball Hall of Fame, Roger Maris [5]
  27. ^ Associated Press (April 4, 2005). "North Dakota Senate backs Maris resolution". 
  28. ^ Bob Von Sternberg (February 5, 2010). "Billboards tout the 61 in '61 clubbed by Maris, "Fargo's golden boy"". Star Tribune. 
  29. ^ Lieber, Leslie (April 29, 1962). "Mantle and Maris Bat Out a Movie". 
  30. ^ IMDb Pro : That Touch of Mink Business Details
  31. ^ IMDbPro

External links

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