Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Roger Maris: An 80th Birthday Appreciation

September 10, 1934, 80 years ago: Roger Eugene Maras is born in Hibbing, Minnesota.

There was a split in the family that led to various spellings of the name. Roger's wing of the family became "Maris."
 
He wasn't the most famous person to come from Hibbing. That would be Robert Allen Zimmerman, who also changed his name, to Bob Dylan. But he became a baseball legend.

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Roger, his older brother Rudy, and his parents moved from Hibbing to Fargo, North Dakota in 1946, and that's what he always considered his hometown. Rudy was supposed to be the great athlete in the family, but developed polio before the widespread distribution of the Salk and Sabin vaccines. Although he recovered most of his movement, his chances of athletic stardom were over.

Roger went to Bishop Shanley High School in Fargo, which had one of the best football programs in North Dakota, winning several State Championships, including while the Maris brothers were there. After them, from 1965 to 1970, they won 53 straight games, and had an unbeaten streak of 59 straight, at the time a national record. Their enrollment has seriously decreased, though, and as a result, they haven't won a State title since 1983. Roger is one of 2 Major League Baseball players produced by the school, joined in the 1990s by Texas Rangers pitcher Rick Helling.

Roger was actually recruited to play football at the University of Oklahoma by coach Bud Wilkinson. This was a tremendous honor, since Wilkinson was building what became the dominant college football program of the 1950s, eventually winning a record 47 straight games from 1953 to 1957. Wilkinson had previously contacted Oklahoma Mickey Mantle about playing there was well, and would later try to lure Oklahoma native Bobby Murcer. He didn't get any of them, but he did just fine without them.

Since there was no Major League Baseball Amateur Draft at that point, MLB teams that didn't have the resources of the Yankees or the Dodgers usually went after local guys, or guys who were local to one of their farm teams. The Cleveland Indians had the Fargo-Moorhead Hawks, who represented Fargo and, across the Red River, Moorhead, Minnesota, in their farm system, and they signed Roger. In 1956, he helped the Indianapolis Indians win the American Association Pennant. The '56 Indians also featured future Yankee pitcher Bud Daley, future All-Star Detroit Tigers pitcher Hank Aguirre, and future Yankee coach Joe Altobelli, who would manage the Baltimore Orioles to the 1983 World Championship. (The team is still called the Indians even though they're no longer a part of the Cleveland system.)

His Triple-A performance convinced the parent club that he was ready, and on April 16, 1957, Roger made his major league debut at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Batting 5th, playing left field, and wearing Number 32, he had an exceptional debut, particularly when you consider that the opposing Chicago White Sox started Billy Pierce, not just a lefthander like Roger but an All-Star pitcher: He struck out in the 2nd inning, but in the 4th, he led off with a single and scored; he led off the 6th with another single, flew out in the 8th, and led off the 11th with another single, going 3-for-5. But the White Sox won in 11 innings.

Although he only batted .234 that first season, he hit 14 home runs and had 51 RBIs, not bad at all for a 23-year-old kid playing as, essentially, his team's 4th outfielder, and hitting in the vast confines of what was often called "Cavernous Cleveland Stadium." The next year, given Number 5, he still wasn't hitting for a high average, but the Kansas City Athletics wanted him, and they sent Vic Power and Woodie Held, 2 pretty good players, to the Indians for Roger and 2 guys you don't need to know about.

Kansas City's ballpark was also called Municipal Stadium, and was also kinder to pitchers than to hitters, but Roger blossomed there. Wearing Number 35 for the A's, he finished the '58 season with 28 homers and 80 RBIs. In 1959, given the Number 3 (in a retroactive irony, Babe Ruth's number with the Yankees), he was named to the All-Star team, and batted .273 with 16 homers and 72 RBIs.

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That got the Yankees' attention. On December 11, 1959, in the last of the many lopsided trades between the Yankees and the A's under the regime of Arnold Johnson, the A's owner who was a good friend of Yankee co-owner Del Webb (to the point that the trades between the two of them were sometimes called "incestuous"), the Yankees sent All-Star right fielder Hank Bauer, former World Series hero pitcher Don Larsen, quality outfielder Norm Siebern and perhaps their top prospect, 1st baseman Marv Throneberry -- the same Marvelous Marv who would become a symbol of the early Mets' ineptitude, but he did contribute a little to the Yankees' 1958 title -- to the A's for Roger, reserve infielder Joe DeMaestri, and a nondescript 1st baseman named Kent Hadley.

(Johnson died before the 1960 season could begin, and insurance executive Charlie Finley bought the team, and slammed the door on any more deals with the Yankees. He also began the process of rebuilding the team, and the process of moving them, finally choosing Oakland after failing to convince Kansas City, Dallas, Louisville, Miami and Seattle to build him a new ballpark.)

This was a great trade. Bauer and Siebern were pretty much done. Except for helping the San Francisco Giants win the 1962 National League Pennant, so was Larsen. Throneberry had some power but the stories about his atrocious fielding and boneheaded baserunning with the Mets are only a slight exaggeration. Hadley played 55 games for the Yankees in 1960 and never played in the majors again. DeMaestri was a spare part, probably best known as the guy who took over at shortstop in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, after a bad-hop ground struck Tony Kubek in the throat. Essentially, the Yankees traded 3 good players who were done, and 1 who wasn't going to pan out, for Roger Maris.

Roger was an ideal new right fielder for the Yankees. He was 12 years younger than Bauer, but was a better fielder, and unlike the righthanded Bauer, who had the vast left and center field "Death Valley" to hit into at the pre-renovation original Yankee Stadium, Roger was lefthanded, and could aim at the "short porch" in right field: 296 feet to the pole, 344 to straightaway right. With 3 retired for Ruth, he was given Bauer's Number 9.

Roger's new teammates liked him, because he was a decent man who came to play every day. But, while he liked the Midwestern sensibilities of Kansas City -- he thought it reminded him of a larger, warmer version of Fargo -- New York was not his kind of town. So many people, so many reporters. He didn't like answering personal questions. It didn't help that his parents were divorcing when he arrived, and the family had other secrets as well. (The name changes weren't just about the children and grandchildren of Croatian immigrants trying to sound "more American.")

Typical of the way the New York media reacted to him was by asking the kind of question that the Cleveland and Kansas City media wouldn't have thought to ask: "Who's your favorite singer?" He thought it was a ridiculous question to ask of a ballplayer. It wasn't as if he was a young singer coming up, getting asked, "What singer do you most want to be like?" Who was his favorite singer? "I don't have one." The sportswriter asked, "How about if I just put down Frank Sinatra?" Roger said not to do that, because it wouldn't be true. (As if the truth ever stopped a sportswriter, especially in New York.)

Roger did not move his family east to New York, keeping them in the house they'd bought in suburban Kansas City. He had married Patricia, his high school sweetheart, and eventually had 6 children. He didn't want them growing up in the hustle and bustle of New York, although he missed Pat terribly.

In 1960, his first season with the Yankees, Roger batted a career-high .283, hit 39 homers, falling just short of the American League lead by Mickey Mantle, and led the AL with 112 RBIs and a .581 slugging percentage. He also won a Gold Glove, the only one he would win. (The Gold Gloves started in 1957, and Mantle also won only 1.) The Yankees won the Pennant, and Roger was named the AL Most Valuable Player.

So far, so good. And while the New York media didn't love him the way it loved quote machines Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, neither did they suggest he was unworthy of the MVP, the All-Star berth, or the Gold Glove.

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Then came 1961. Roger got off to a slow start, and late in April, manager Ralph Houk tinkered with the batting order, putting Roger 3rd and Mickey 4th. That did the trick: Mickey kept hitting well, and Roger, who couldn't be walked (intentionally or "unintentionally") for fear of bringing Mickey up with a man on base, saw better pitches to hit, and did he ever hit them. By the All-Star break, both men had over 30 home runs, and Ruth's record of 60 home runs in a season was in doubt.

This was the first season of a 162-game schedule, due to the expansion of the AL from 8 to 10 teams, after over 50 years of a 154-game schedule. Thus, Commissioner Ford Frick, who had been a good friend of the Babe's, said that the record books would have 2 separate entries for single-season records, in the event that such a record needed more than 154 games to be broken. (This also became an issue the next season, though with much less fuss: Ty Cobb stole 96 bases with the 1915 Detroit Tigers, but Maury Wills of the Los Angeles Dodgers stole 104 -- but didn't get his 97th until after 1954 games.)

All the while, the New York media wouldn't let up, bothering Roger from the moment he walked out of his car as he arrived at the Stadium until the moment he got back into his car after the game. He was being bothered at home. Fans who didn't want to see Ruth's record broken booed him.

They would have preferred Mickey as the record-breaker, since Mickey was a career Yankee. (They must have forgotten that the Babe was not. This may have been the first-ever "True Yankee" debate, symbolized later by Thurman Munson & Reggie Jackson, and more recently by Derek Jeter & Alex Rodriguez.) The point was made that Roger was a .270 hitter, whereas the Babe hit .342 lifetime. They brought up the extra games and the addition of pitchers due to expansion.

Had the Babe lived, he would have been 66 years old, hardly an old man. I've got to believe that he would have said, "Anything that's good for baseball, and anything that's good for the Yankees, is good for me. If this kid can break my record, it'll help the Yankees win, and it's getting people talking about baseball, so I'm fine with it." Alas, he had died in 1948, and the writers never figured out that attacking Roger did nothing to protect the Babe's legacy.

It got so bad that Roger was getting death threats in the mail, and at least one telephoned threat to kidnap his children. It got so bad that his hair started falling out. (Yes, this has been well-documented, it's not a legend.) Still, the media kept treating him like dirt, partly because he was threatening the sacred record of the beloved Babe, partly because, unlike the Babe and the Mick, he wasn't the kind of man who liked a lot of attention.

(For the record, when Hank Aaron approached Ruth's career record of 714 home runs in 1973, Roger was the only man who had an understanding of what Hank was going through, although in Roger's case there wasn't a racial aspect to it. By then living in Florida, where the closest MLB team was Hank's Atlanta Braves, Roger took his kids up there to see Hank play, and praised him for his great career and his courage in standing up to the abuse. Hank, of course, got to 715 early in the 1974 season, and finished with 755, which stood until 2007 when it was broken, with "help," by Barry Bonds, who raised it to the current record of 762.)

In the 154th game, he hit his 59th home run, but that was it. He got to 60, and then, on October 1, 1961, in the last game of the season, against the Boston Red Sox, Roger provided the only run of the game, hitting a home run off Tracy Stallard in the 4th inning, into the right-field stands near the Yankee bullpen, about 375 feet. Phil Rizzuto had the call, on WPIX-Channel 11.

One of my favorite trivia questions is, "Who played right field for the Yankees the day Roger Maris hit his 61st home run in 1961?" The easy answer is, "Roger Maris," but that's wrong. Mickey Mantle was sick, and Roger was playing center field that day. The right fielder? Backup catcher Johnny Blanchard.

Still alive from this game, 53 years later: For the Yankees, Yogi Berra, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, Hector Lopez, Jack Reed and Luis Arroyo. Whitey Ford and Ralph Terry are still alive, but did not play in this game. For the Red Sox: Stallard (who, as far as I know, has never given an interview about the home run), Chuck Schilling (a Brooklyn native, and no relation to Curt), Frank Malzone (a Bronx native), Don Gile, Russ Nixon, and rookie left fielder Carl Yastrzemski.

Roger batted .269 that season, but his 61 home runs, 141 RBIs and 366 total bases all led the AL. In spite of his relationship with the New York writers, the Baseball Writers Association of America voted him MVP again. The Yankees won the World Series, beating the Cincinnati Reds in 5 games, and Roger hit another homer in the series.

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The rest of his career was an anticlimax. How could it not be? He and Mickey both appeared in the kid-friendly movie Safe at Home. (If you've never seen it, don't bother: It stinks.) Along with Yogi, they appeared in the Yankee dugout with Cary Grant and Doris Day for the film That Touch of Mink. (That one's a bit better, but the scene lasts less than one minute, so if you're a baseball fan, and not necessarily a Cary Grant or Doris Day fan, you might not be interested.)

Roger hit 33 home runs in 1962. Had he hit the same 39 homers in '61 that he'd hit in '60, dropping to 33 wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows. But coming down from 61 to 33 made a lot of people say words to the effect of, "See? We told you he wasn't worthy of breaking Babe Ruth's record!"

Oh no? In his first 5 seasons as a Yankee, Roger played in 5 World Series. The Babe's first 5 seasons as a Yankee? 3.

Roger broke his hand early in the 1965 season, one of several injuries that caused the Yankees to fall apart that year and tumble from the top to the middle of the League, and the next year to the bottom. Except Yankee management told him the injury was something less severe, and publicly suggested that he was faking the extent of the injury. This caused a breach between Roger and the Yankee management of the time that never healed, even after the hand did.

After the 1966 season, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for 3rd baseman Charley Smith. Even-up. How good was Charley Smith? He batted .239 lifetime, and hit 69 home runs in 10 seasons. To put that another way: He hit as many home runs between September 8, 1960 and April 22, 1969 (his first and last days in a major league game) as Roger Maris hit between August 6, 1960 and October 7, 1961.

Roger helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 1967. He wanted to retire after that. Cards owner Gussie Busch, who owned Anheuser-Busch, offered Roger a deal: Play one more year for me, and then I'll give you the next Anheuser-Busch beer distributorship that comes up.

Roger agreed, knowing that, at the time, those distributorships could make a man a lot more money than playing baseball could. The Cardinals won the Pennant again, but lost the World Series to the Detroit Tigers. On October 10, 1968, Game 7 was played at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis, and Mickey Lolich pitched the Tigers to a 4-1 win over Bob Gibson and the Cardinals. In his last game, Roger played right field, batted 7th, and, as he had with the Yankees, wore Number 9. He grounded to short in the 2nd, struck out in the 5th, and popped up to short in the 7th.

He finished his career with a .260 batting average, 275 home runs and 851 RBIs. Decent totals, but not those of an all-time great.

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Gussie Busch kept his word: Not only did he offer Roger the next distributorship that came up, but it was in Gainesville, in warm-weather Florida. Knowing that his beloved Kansas City could get nearly as cold in the winter as his hometown of Fargo, Roger took it, and the family, led by brother Rudy Maris and son Roger Maris Jr., ran it until 1997, at which point Gussie's son Augie Busch restructured the company and screwed the Maris family out of millions, only a fraction of which they later regained in court.

Roger sent his sons to Oak Hill Academy, a Catholic prep school in Gainesville. After George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, he tried to convince Roger to come back to Yankee Stadium. He refused. He must have heard that, on Mickey Mantle Day in 1969, when his name was mentioned, the crowd booed. Finally, George asked what it would take to get Roger to come back? Roger told him that Oak Hill's baseball field could use resodding and some lights. George said, "Done!" and wrote a check for $25,000.

On April 13, 1978, the Yankees played their home opener against the Chicago White Sox. Before the game, Mickey and Roger were introduced together. This time, the chant of Roger's name went up, not Mickey's. The idea was to bring them out together, so that the cheers for Mickey would drown out the boos for Roger. There were no boos: All cheers, and as much for Roger as for Mickey. Together, they went out to Monument Park, and raised the 1977 World Championship flag.

Roger returned for Old-Timers' Day every season from 1978 to 1984. On July 21, 1984, the Yankees retired his Number 9 and Elston Howard's Number 32, and dedicated Plaques for them for Monument Park. (Ellie had died in 1980, and his wife Arlene accepted on his behalf.) Roger, in uniform, gave a short speech, telling of how nice the new Yankee regime and the new Yankee fans had been to him. A Roger Maris Museum had also been dedicated in his hometown of Fargo, at the West Acres Regional Shopping Center. Roger said he would allow it as long as admission was free. It still is.

He was already battling cancer. He appeared again the next Opening Day, but never came to another ballgame. He died on December 14, 1985, at the age of just 51, at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, a hospital run by the University of Texas in Houston. (In 2008, Bobby Murcer would also die there.) Roger was survived by both of his parents, his brother, his wife, and all 6 children. Two of whom, Randy and Kevin, now coach the baseball team at St. Francis High School in Gainesville.

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When Roger was building his 61 in '61, it seemed that the vast majority of the baseball media, and the baseball fans they influenced, didn't want him to break the record.

So, in the spirit of the great 2005-07 ESPN series The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... , I've decided to look at both sides of the story.

The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame the Media for Being Hard On Roger Maris

5. Maris Didn't Help. True, it wasn't exactly in his nature to open up, but he certainly could have done better than to answer questions with things like, "How the fuck do I know?" and, "None of your fucking business," and, "Don't ask me about that fucking record."

4. Maris' Teammates. They didn't try to deflect the media's attention from him. If Mantle, or Berra, or Ford had stood up and told the media, "Hey! Back off! He's answered your questions a thousand times, leave him alone!" they might have listened. None of them did.

3. The Only Game In Town. The Dodgers and Giants had moved. The Mets, at this point, existed only on paper. From 1958 to 1961, the Yankees were the only MLB team in New York.

This was complicated further by the teams in the other sports. The football Giants didn't start up until September, and, while they were very good (they would reach the NFL Championship Game), their biggest star, Frank Gifford, was taking a year off to recuperate from an injury. Even so, at the time, the NFL was not nearly as big as baseball. The Jets? They were still the New York Titans, they were playing in the AFL, and nobody was much interested in paying attention to them. And college football had long since ceased to be a major factor in the Tri-State Area, and wouldn't start until September anyway. (Rutgers did go 9-0 that year, but New Brunswick, New Jersey is not The Bronx, as Fordham is.)

The Knicks? Their season was over in the spring, it wouldn't start again until the fall, and, at the time, they were terrible. The Rangers? Same deal as with the Knicks. The Nets, the Islanders, the Devils? They didn't exist yet. Major prizefights? None were held in New York that summer. Horse racing? The Belmont Stakes was held in June, but the Triple Crown was not on the line, and summer racing Upstate at Saratoga was hardly the same kind of draw as a Yankee Pennant race and the record chase.

Essentially, for New York City's 7 daily newspapers, the various suburban papers, and the 6 TV channels (WCBS-2, WNBC-4, WNEW-5, WABC-7, WOR-9 and WPIX-11 -- WNET-13 hadn't started up yet), the Yankees, to paraphrase Vince Lombardi, weren't everything, they were the only thing.

Speaking of those papers...

2. Seven Newspapers. The Times, the Daily News and the Post are still around. But, back then, there was also the Herald Tribune, the Journal-American, the World-Telegram & Sun, and the Mirror. Of those latter 4, the 1962-63 newspaper strike killed the Mirror outright, and badly wounded the other 3, indirectly leading to their folding, all in 1966.

Then there were the suburban papers. The Staten Island Advance may have been in The City, but it's usually treated as a "suburban" paper. In Westchester, the Journal News. On Long Island, Newsday and the now-defucnt Press. In New Jersey, the Newark-based Star-Ledger, the Hackensack-based The Record, and the Jersey City-based Jersey Journal are still around; the Newark Evening News and the Hudson Dispatch are not. In Fairfield County, there was (and still is) the Connecticut Post. And that's not counting papers further out, like the Home News and News Tribune (now merged into the Home News Tribune) in Middlesex County, New Jersey, or the Somerset County-based Courier-News, or the Jersey Shore's Asbury Park Press, or the capital city's Times and Trentonian, or the New Haven Register. They all had guys covering the Yankees, and they all needed a story.

1. The Story. Hitting more home runs in a single season than any player ever had? Including the great Babe Ruth? Hell, yeah, that's a big story. Maybe the press could have been more cooperative with Roger, but, at the same time, he could have been more cooperative with him.

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But to suggest that he wasn't worthy of breaking the record, well, that's just plain stupid. Especially when you consider that, after 53 years, he's still the single-season record-holder in the American League; while, in the National League, the 3 guys who've surpassed him -- Mark McGwire with 70 in 1998 (and 65 in 1999), Sammy Sosa with 66 in 1998 (and 63 in 1999), and Barry Bonds with 73 in 2001 -- all had "help."

The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Roger Maris for Breaking Babe Ruth's Record

5. Records Are Not Sacred. For all the talk about how baseball is "a religion," how ballparks are "cathedrals," and how there are "baseball gods" who want certain things to happen, no record is sacred. It wasn't sacred for Ruth when he surpassed Ned Williamson's 27 home runs of 1884 or Roger Connor's 138 in a career. Nor were those records sacred when Roger hit Number 61 or when Hank Aaron hit Number 715. Or when McGwire hit Number 70 or Bonds hit Number 73 and Number 756.

It's a number. It's a very impressive number. But it wasn't special just because Babe Ruth is the one who did it. The Babe did a lot of things. It hurt his reputation not one bit when Maris and Aaron broke his records.

4. He Had a Pennant to Win. The Yankees won 109 games that season, but the Detroit Tigers won 101, and the Pennant wasn't clinched until that 154th game in Baltimore, on September 20. The Tigers were still close to the Yankees about a week before. And, clearly, what Roger was doing on the field helped.

3. Mickey Mantle. By hitting behind Roger, and ensuring he got Roger better pitches to hit, Mickey made it possible. And he always went out of his way to say what a great player and a great guy Roger was. From the moment Roger hit Number 61, Mickey spent the last 34 years of his life saying, "That was the greatest feat I ever saw in baseball." He also went out of his way to say that Roger was a better person than he was, a better husband, a better father. He said he had hoped his 4 sons would grow up like Roger. (They didn't, for reasons that I won't get into at this time.)

2. Maris Had It Tougher Than Ruth. Yes, Roger had the 8 extra games. But, in 1961, Roger had 698 plate appearances. The Babe had 691. Those 8 extra games didn't even amount to an average of 1 extra plate appearance per game!

They said that the pitching had been diluted by expansion. This gets canceled out by the fact that Roger, unlike the Babe, had to face black and Hispanic pitchers. The talent pool was not diluted -- if anything, it was deeper than before.

And while the Babe had to face legal spitballs, he didn't have to face the knuckleball except on a few occasions. Roger did, and he also had to face screwballs, forkballs (the precursor to the split-fingered fastball), and the early 1960s could have been called the golden age of the slider, a pitch the Babe rarely saw. Maybe Roger saw some bad pitchers, but the average pitcher was probably better in his time.

What about the ballparks? In some cases, the teams they faced in the AL were playing in the same stadiums: New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Washington. But the Indians were playing in League Park in 1927, with a 290-foot right-field foul pole; in 1961, they were playing in Municipal Stadium, where a 320-foot pole but a 390-foot straightaway right field. The Athletics were playing in Shibe Park in Philadelphia in 1927 (322), and in Kansas City Municipal Stadium in 1961 (353). The St. Louis Browns played in Sportsman's Park in 1927 (310), and by 1961 were the Baltimore Orioles, playing in Memorial Stadium (309 down the line, but 380 to straightaway right). No question about it, the ballparks favored Ruth.

The media loved the Babe, and he loved them back. And he loved living in New York, with all that it had to offer him. This was not the case with Roger: He was mistreated by the media, and Kansas City was far closer to being his kind of place.

Don't even talk about the travel. Yes, the Babe had those 18-hour train rides from New York to Chicago, 24-hour train rides to St. Louis. But those trains stayed on the ground. No flying for him. And he never had to turn his watch back more than an hour, while Roger, flying to Los Angeles for the first season of play for the Angels, had to turn his back 3 hours. Jet lag affects athletes, too, and that's something the Babe never had to worry about.

1. He WAS Good Enough. Don't forget, Roger didn't exactly come out of nowhere. He was already an All-Star when the Yankees got him -- otherwise, they wouldn't have gotten him. He had already won the 1960 AL MVP before he started out on the record-breaking season. The 1961 season was his 3rd as an AL All-Star. And he was only 27 years old: He should have had a great career ahead of him.

Instead, he said, years after the fact, "It would have been better if I had never hit those 61 home runs. It gave me nothing but headaches."

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But in the last few years of his life, as he got his due, Roger began to enjoy the attention. He saw that he had earned their respect, not just for doing what he did, but how he got through it.

Roger is never going to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball-Reference.com, on their Hall of Fame Monitor, where 100 is a "Likely HOFer," Roger comes in at 89, a bit short. On their Hall of Fame Standards, where 50 represents the "Average HOFer," Roger comes in at 22, well short. Of their 10 Most Similar Batters to him, none has ever been seriously considered for the Hall.

But that doesn't matter. The Yankees, at least under George Steinbrenner's rule, considered him worthy of a place in their holy Monument Park.

 
In 2001, 40 years after the season involved, the film 61*, directed by lifelong Yankee Fan Billy Crystal, premiered. Roger was played by Barry Pepper. Billy's daughter, Jennifer Crystal Foley, played Pat Maris. Tom Jane played Mickey Mantle. Like the McGwire-Sosa record chase of 1998, it helped spur new interest in Roger.
 
 
Roger deserved to still be alive today, 80 years after he was born. He should be remembered for who he was, not just for a number in a record book, or a plaque in a park. Roger Maris was an All-Star baseball player, and he was a Hall of Fame person.

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