While my favorite baseball player isn’t uncommon, he was far from flashy (it’s Hank Aaron). I also really loved reading about the 1960’s Yankees, who were insanely flashy. Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra were bigger than the game. They lived in a stratosphere of baseball (and NYC history) that was unparalleled.
Naturally, my favorite player was Roger Maris (to be fair…I later found out that Maris was in like three movies, which is kind of flashy).
In 1961, many people felt that Maris “took” Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. During that season Roger lost his hair, received death threats, and got booed by his hometown fans. Keep in mind, Maris was one season removed from being the American League MVP (he would repeat in 1961). The Yankees were on their way to another World Series and for one of their best players, it was the worst time of his entire life. Everyone reading this probably knows that story, or at the very least has seen that movie.
If he wouldn’t have hit that 61st home run and gotten that horrific asterisk, baseball history may have forgotten Roger entirely. He was a quiet, solid ballplayer who never had a bad word to say about anyone. A family man, who was playing ball to feed that family. There was nothing terribly flashy about Roger. A simple crew cut, a few hand rolled cigarettes, and he was good to go. He wasn’t dating starlet’s, making flashy appearances out on the town, or saying anything inflammatory to anyone. In 1961, he was doing nothing more than breaking one of the most hallowed records in all of baseball.
Pretty low-key stuff (insert sarcasm).
I’m not going to talk about that season though. I’m going to share a quick tale from 1962. During the follow-up season, Roger broke another record: Four Intentional Walks in One Game. At the time, that had not happened in modern baseball. Andre Dawson now holds the record, with five. The run off of 1961’s fireworks was that pitchers and teams were very afraid of Maris.
Here’s my favorite part: Roger Maris had been intentionally walked zero times in 1961. Not once. While on his quest to break one of the most sacred records in all of baseball, he was not issued a single intentional walk. To be the number three hitter on the Yankees and not get one free base…? How could that possibly be? Then it hit me…(I’m a bit dim, you see).
It was because he hit in front of Mickey Mantle. From zero to four in a single game? It’s the only thing that made sense. Poor Rog was overshadowed by a man who was bigger than the game!!! This went deeper than just walks. There was no chance for a farm kid from Fargo, North Dakota, to compete with “The Mick”.
New York was often referred to as “Mickey’s Town” during the late 50’s and early 60’s. While Roger was reticent to embrace the spotlight, Mickey basked in it. Everything made sense to me after I discovered Maris’ intentional walk record. Suddenly, I knew why he wasn’t a household name. I knew why it seemed so difficult in the early 90’s to find a lot of information about him. The unofficial king of baseball was in the lineup, right next to him. How did he respond? By having one of the greatest slugging seasons the game had ever seen.
Most of us would have crumbled under that pressure, but most of us aren’t Roger Maris.
Roger Maris was a very good baseball player, who had two outstanding seasons under incredible duress, and won three World Series Championships. From everything I read, it doesn’t seem like he ever really cared about the Hall of Fame, he was just happy to get the chance to play baseball. Well, at least for the first few years. After he broke that record, Roger played for six more years and faced ridicule in almost every city. In later interviews, he said that those final six years of his career made him hate playing baseball. That gives me pause. I cannot imagine taking that kind of abuse for simply achieving greatness. It’s a kind of burden very few of us can even understand. My heart and mind are just not strong enough.
Then again, I am not Roger Maris.
The Hall of Fame has repeatedly overlooked Roger Maris. Sure, he is kind of in there…his bat rests in Cooperstown, but how could the man who beat Babe Ruth’s storied record, not be in the Hall? But if I am being honest…I am thrilled about it. This is one of the greatest honors of my life! Knowing that Roger Maris’ family entrusted Shawn and I to do right by him, is something I take incredible pride in.
In my heart, I believe that his name belongs in Cooperstown. My heart also knows that if it wasn’t for their blind spot, I would not have had the honor to re-visit Mr. Maris and pay him this very sub-par homage.
I did so much research for this and had so much fun re-learning all of these things I found as a kid.
Turns out, I still think Ford Frick was an asshat, Mickey Mantle is a touch over-rated and Whitey Ford is wildly underappreciated in the “Greatest Pitcher of All Time” conversation. Also, turns out that I absolutely adore Roger Maris. If you have kids and you want to teach them how to handle adversity, Roger’s story is about as good as it gets. It is an honor to induct him in to The Hall of Very Good.
He deserves so much more.
The Hall of Very Good™ Class of 2017 is presented by Out of the Park Developments, the creators of the wildly popular baseball simulation game Out of the Park Baseball. Out of the Park Developments has made a generous donation to The Hall.