Roger Maris - 50 Years Ago

Fifty years ago, today, Roger Maris did the unthinkable. He broke the most famous single season baseball record of all time. He did it at the same ballpark in front of many of the same fans. Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in 1927 had stood for 34 years. In 1961, Long-time Yankee Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were chasing Ruth's record. The newspapers would compare the running totals of Mantle, Maris & Ruth, game by game, as the season progressed. Most of the fans were rooting for Mantle or for Ruth - rooting for Ruth would mean not wanting a new record. Maris was a recent addition to the Yankees and he was booed. This is true. I was ten years old and I watched most of the games on TV. Things were different, then. The games were broadcast in black and white on WPIX, Channel 11 in New York. There were two main sponsors, Ballentine Beer, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (Winston, Camel & Salem cigarettes.) There were three announcers for radio and TV - Mel Allen, Red Barber and Phil Rizzuto.

As I was saying, Mantle had the strongest following. A late season injury took him out of the lineup long enough to kill his hopes of breaking the record. You would have thought that Yankee Stadium would be packed with a sellout crowd on October 1, 1961. It was not. Fewer than half the seats were filled. I have a link to a short YouTube clip of Maris hitting his 61st home run of the season. Phil Rizzuto has the call - Click Here.

There are other YouTube videos with Red Barber calling the action. As I remember it, Rizzuto was on TV when this happened. Red Barber may have been on radio.

The sad fact is that Maris did an amazing thing in 1961 and his team's fans were not giving him the support or respect that he deserved. Maris did this despite a four to five pack a day cigarette habit. He never lived to see his record broken by players who either admitted or are suspected of using performance enhancing drugs.

To this day, I have never seen any sporting event to compare with the magic of a humble Roger Maris and his 61 in 1961.   ...50 years ago, today.

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