Roger Maris’s Misunderstood Quest to Break the Home Run Record

Allen Barra (Jul 27, 2011): “Fifty summers ago, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were chasing Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a single season, and the country was enthralled. (The overwhelming number of Yankee fans were rooting for Mickey.) It’s possible that Americans will never again be as focused on any sporting accomplishment as we were that year. And perhaps because of the intense interest in the season, numerous misconceptions have grown up around the race to 61. No other season in sports has spawned so many reminiscences, so much commentary, so much myth and legend. Phil Pepe’s new book, 1961: The Inside Story of the Maris-Mantle Home Run Chase (Triumph Books, $20) is probably the best thing written about that incredible year. Pepe tries to set the record straight about many of the myths of 1961, one of the most common being that the Maris and Mantle were distant and even hostile towards each other. Mantle, who had been booed mercilessly for years by Yankees fans even while winning home-run titles and World Series rings, was glad to have the spotlight on Maris. Mickey liked and admired his shy, reserved teammate, and the two actually shared an apartment in Queens with reserve outfielder Bob Cerv. Late in the season, Mantle, suffering from an abscess in his hip joint, pulled hard for Maris to beat Ruth from his hospital bed. Another urban legend is that the fences at Yankee Stadium were, somehow, shorter for Maris than they were for Ruth. In fact, at the shortest point they were just about the same for both men—296 feet—and, amazingly, neither Ruth nor Maris was particularly helped by the Stadium’s short right field porch. The Babe hit 28 of his 60 home runs at home in 1927 with 32 in the other seven American League ballparks; Maris had 30 home runs at Yankee Stadium and 31 on the road. Yet another canard is that expansion—the addition of two new teams, the new Washington Senators and the Los Angeles Angels—somehow ‘watered down’ pitching in 1961. In fact, the AL’s batting average in ’61 was .256, exactly what it was the year before expansion, and though there were more home runs, the Earned Run Averages were very nearly the same, 3.88 in 1960 and 4.03 in 1961. As a point of comparison, the National League, which did not expand until 1962, actually had a slightly higher batting average, .262, and ERA, 4.04, than the AL in 1961. But the big one, the mother of all sports myths, is that an asterisk was placed besides Maris’s name in the record books because Maris’s season was eight games longer. …”
The Atlantic
“The M&M Boys”: Summer of 1961
W – M&M Boys
SABR – October 1, 1961: Roger Maris surpasses Babe Ruth with 61st home run
W – Roger Maris
YouTube: 61st Home Run as Called by Red Barber, WPIX-TV, 10/1/1961

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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