When Maris beat the Babe.

There are many heroes in the history of the New York Yankees. That can only be so when a team has reached the pinnacle of their sport 27 times. No other team has achieved that kind of greatness in all professional sports. The only team to beat that score in sports is the Kilkenny hurling team who has won the championship in the Irish sport of Hurling 37 times. But they are not a professional team in that their players are not paid for their efforts.
But the Yankees are a professional sports team, in the most intense arenas of all, the city of New York. No other city can have a claim to the number of greats as that gleaming metropolis. Even those who have gone to coach and run other teams in other cities such as Vince Lombardi, and Al Davis, have become greats in their respective sports.
Sadly when there are so many who are lauded for their sporting endeavours, there are those who get overlooked and forgotten. Such is the case with Roger Maris, who seems to have fallen through the cracks of memory. It is my desire to try at least to play a small role in bringing him to the fore.
Why? That is a good question, with a simple answer. He beat the Babe despite a lot of abuse from the fans and media.
On the last day of the 1961 season, Sunday October 1st, against the Red Sox, Maris comes to the plate. It is the bottom of the fourth, nobody is on, one out, and there is no score. This is Maris’ second at bat of the game. Tracy Stallard the Boston pitcher throws a fast ball pitch, knee high to the outside of the plate. Maris takes a swing and despatches the ball to the rightfield stands. That faithful day saw him break a record that for many was unbreakable, and boy did they let him know it. He was chasing Babe Ruth’s single season home run tally, and he was successful as Maris racked up a score of 61 home runs.
It should have been a moment to savour, one which the fans went wild over. They had seen a record broken, one which had been set by a true giant of the sport and a Yankee legend. But it wasn’t such a joyous moment. Not for Maris anyway. He had come under increasing pressure from the media, and under attack from the fans. Can you imgaine that it was possible that he was booed by Yankee fans who resented that he was going to better Babe Ruth’s record. All of this robbed the joy of the game from Maris. He began to fall apart, his hair fell out, he grumbled and cussed at reporters, he took to drinking.
It was so bad that one reporter wrote in 1963 that Maris had “proved to be an unsatisfactory hero.” Little wonder then that once he retired from playing baseball in 1968 he ceased to have a whole lot to do with the game he had loved.
Roger Maris was one of the finest hitters of the game, and yet sadly he has become a forgotten one. Micky Mantle, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gherig are names that rightfully fall off the tongue. They were not only the best in the history of the franchise, but also in the history of the game itself. Maris never gets the mention he deserves. Rightfully this has changed however. The Yankees have begun to give him the due credit and recognition he deserved. The number 9 he wore was retired in 1984 the year before he died, the sad thing was that his number was retired decades after his last game as a Yankee. When you think of the others, their jersey numbers were retired much sooner. It is testimony to the fact that he was all too often overlooked, and was only recognised by later generations. Let’s do our part to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Let’s do our best to make sure that this Yankee legend is spoken of with the same reverence as other greats. It is the least he deserves. Because in the Pantheon of Yankee heroes, Roger Maris is the most human of them all.


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