Roger Eugene Maris
(September 10, 1934 – December 14, 1985) was an American right fielder in
Major League Baseball who is
primarily remembered for hitting 61 home
runs for the New York Yankees
during the 1961
This broke Babe Ruth
single-season record of 60 home runs (set in 1927
) and set a record
that would stand for 37 years.
Maris played with four teams during a 12-year Major League career,
appearing in seven World Series
winning three World Championships.
The son of
Croatian immigrants, he was born
Roger Eugene Maras (he later changed his last name
to Maris) in Hibbing,
Minnesota. He grew up in Grand
Forks and Fargo, North Dakota where he attended Shanley High School.
A gifted athlete, Maris participated in
many sports while in Fargo, and excelled at football. He still
holds the official high school record for most kickoff return
touchdowns in a game with four.
At an early age, Maris exhibited an independent, no-nonsense
personality. Recruited to play football at the University of
Oklahoma, he arrived by bus in Norman and found no one from
the university there to greet him.
He turned around and went
back to Fargo.
In 1952, Maris joined the Reading
, the AA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. Even in the
minor leagues, Maris showed 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 Keokuk Kernels
1954. Meanwhile, in four minor league
seasons (1953–1956) Maris hit .303 with 78 home runs.
Maris made his major league debut in 1957 with the Cleveland Indians
. The next year, he was
traded to the Kansas City
with Dick Tomanek
for Vic Power
. He represented the A's in the All-Star Game
1959 in spite of missing 45 games due to an appendix
Kansas City frequently traded its best players to the New York Yankees
– which led them to be
referred to as the Yankees' "major league farm
" – and Maris was no exception, going to the New York
Yankees in a seven-player trade in December 1959
, with Kent
and Joe DeMaestri
, Norm Siebern
and Don Larsen
, his first season with the
Yankees, he led the league in slugging percentage
, runs batted in
, and extra base hits
and finished second in home
runs (one behind teammate Mickey
) and total bases (four behind Mantle). He was recognized
as an outstanding defensive outfielder with a Gold Glove Award
, and also won the American League
's Most Valuable Player
The Yankees won the American League pennant, but lost a seven-game
to the Pittsburgh Pirates
thanks to Bill Mazeroski
's dramatic home run.
Roger Maris' #9 was retired by the
Yankees in 1984.
In 1961, the American League expanded from 8 to 10 teams, generally
watering down the pitching as more teams meant that players who
usually would've been still at AAA or lower were now in the majors,
but leaving the Yankees pretty much intact. Also the season was
extended from 154 games to 162 games. Yankee home runs began to
come at a record pace. One famous photograph lined up six 1961
Yankee players, including Mantle, Maris, Yogi
, and Bill Skowron
, under the
nickname "Murderers Row
," because they
hit a combined 165 home runs that year. The title "Murderers Row",
originally coined in 1918
, had most
famously been used to refer to the Yankees side of the late 1920s.
As mid-season approached, it seemed quite possible that either
Maris or Mantle, or perhaps both, would break Babe 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 the home run record, sportswriters in
1961 began to play the "M&M Boys
against each other, inventing a rivalry where none existed, as Yogi
Berra has testified in recent interviews.
Five years earlier, in 1956
had already challenged Ruth's record for most of the season and the
New York press had been protective of Ruth on that occasion also.
When Mantle finally fell short, finishing with 52, there seemed to
be a collective sigh of relief from the New York traditionalists.
the New York press been all that 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.
course of time, however, Mantle (with a little help from his
teammate Whitey Ford, a native of New
York's Borough of Queens) had gotten
better at "schmoozing" with the New York media, and had gained the
favor of the press.
This was a talent that Maris, a
blunt-spoken upper midwesterner, never attempted to cultivate; as a
result, he wore the "surly" jacket for his duration with the
So as 1961 progressed, the Yanks were now "Mickey Mantle's team"
and Maris was ostracized as the "outsider", and "not a true
Yankee." The press seemed to root for Mantle and to belittle Maris.
But Mantle was felled by a hip infection late in the season,
leaving Maris as the only player with a chance to break the
On top of his lack of popular press coverage, Maris' chase for 61
hit another roadblock totally out of his control: along with adding
two teams to the league, Major League Baseball had added 8 games to
the schedule. In the middle of the season, Baseball commissioner
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, probably invented by New York
sportswriter Dick Young
that an asterisk would be used to distinguish the new record.
According to Nash and Zullo in The Baseball Hall of Shame,
Frick made the ruling because, during his days as a newspaper
reporter, he had been a close friend of Ruth's. Furthermore,
--himself a lifetime
.358 batter—compared the averages (In Ruth's record year he hit
.356; Maris, .269)--and said, "It would be a disappointment if
Ruth's home run record were bested by a .270 hitter." (Hornsby's
old-time bias was well-known. Scouting for the Mets, the best
report he could muster for any current player was "Looks like a
major-leaguer". That was his assessment of Mickey Mantle.) Maris
couldn't understand such a perspective; he said, "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 record,
said, "I don't want people to forget Babe Ruth. I just want them to
remember Henry Aaron.")
Maris failed to reach 61 in 154 games (he had only 59 after 154
games). He hit his 61st on October 1
, in the fourth inning of the last game of
the season, a contest between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox
at Yankee Stadium in front of
23,154 fans. Tracy Stallard
pitcher who gave up Maris's 61st home run. No asterisk was
subsequently used in any record books—Major League baseball itself
had no official record book, and Frick later acknowledged that
there never was official qualification of Maris' accomplishment.
However, Maris remained bitter about the experience. Speaking at
All-Star game, he said of
that season, "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, Maris was awarded the 1961 Hickok Belt
for the top professional athlete of
the year, as well as winning 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.
Maris' major league record would stand three years longer than
Ruth's did, until National Leaguer
broke it by hitting 70 in
1998. The record is currently held by Barry
(also a National Leaguer) who hit 73 home runs in 2001.
Maris remains the American League
record holder through the 2009 season.
Roger Maris' 61 home runs
Note that Maris, a left-handed batter, hit 12 of his 61 home runs
off left-handed pitchers.
Remainder of career
, Maris made his fourth
consecutive and final All-Star game appearance. His fine defensive
skills were often overlooked. He made a game-saving play in the
ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1962
against the San
. 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.
Injuries slowed him the next four seasons, most notably in 1965
, when he played most of the season
with a misdiagnosed broken bone in his hand. Despite real injuries,
he began to acquire yet another "jacket" by the New York Press -
the tag of "malingerer".Now encumbered with an injured image as
well as body, he was traded by the Yankees to the St. Louis Cardinals
after the 1966
season for Charley Smith
. The Yankees questioned Maris'
courage and Maris left angry.
Maris was well-received by the St. Louis fans, who appreciated a
man with a straightforward Midwestern style even if the New York
press did not, while Maris himself felt much more at home in St.
Louis. He played his final two seasons with the Cardinals, helping
them to pennants in 1967
with a World Series victory
in 1967 (he hit .385
with one home run and seven RBIs in the post-season). Gussie Busch, head of the Cardinals and of
Anheuser-Busch, set Maris up with a beer distributorship after he
Awards, honors, and life after baseball
On the Indians, he wore uniform number 32 in 1957
and 5 in 1958
; the Athletics first gave him uniform
number 35, but in 1959
number 3. On the Yankees and Cardinals, he wore number 9.
Yankees retired the number on Old-Timers' Day, July 21, , and
dedicated a plaque in Maris' honor to hang in Monument Park at
The plaque calls him "A great player and
author of one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of
major league baseball." Maris was on hand for the ceremony and wore
a full Yankee uniform. His teammate Elston
, who had died in 1980, was also honored with the
retirement of his number (32) and a Monument Park plaque that day.
It is likely that the Yankees had waited to retire the number 9
until third baseman Graig Nettles
had worn it since 1973
, left the
team following the 1983 season.
owned the Budweiser
distributorship in Gainesville, Florida in the 1970s and 1980s.
He coached baseball
at Oak Hall High School
named its baseball field for him. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma
in 1983. In response,
he organized the annual Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament to
raise money for cancer research and treatment. Maris died in
December 1985 at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston,
, he was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fargo, North
Dakota. He remains a hero in his hometown of Fargo. Tributes
include Roger Maris Drive, the free-admission Roger Maris Museum,
and The Roger Maris Cancer Center, the fund raising beneficiary of
the annual golf tournament, and the 61 for 61 Home Walk & Run,
which is held in conjunction with the 61 for 61 radiothon on
107.9 The Fox 
also a movement to have Maris inducted into the Baseball
Hall of Fame.
In 2001, the film 61*
about Maris and
Mantle's pursuit of the 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
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 "urged"
that Roger Maris' 61 home runs be recognized as the single season
Maris was a recipient of the state of North Dakota's Roughrider Award
. The Roger Maris Museum
, dedicated to
the life and career of Maris, is located at the West Acres Shopping Center
- Pietrusza, David, Matthew Silverman & Michael Gershman, ed.
(2000). Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia.
- 1968 Baseball Register published by The Sporting News