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Roger Eugene Maris (Born: Roger Eugene Maras)
Born: Sept. 10, 1934 in Hibbing, Minn.
Died: Dec. 14, 1985 in Houston, Texas
Debut: 1957 | Pos: OF
H: 6' | W: 204 | B: L | T: R
>> Visit the Roger Maris biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.
Imagine the thrill of breaking one of the games's greatest records of all time. Then, imagine what it would be like if the fans didn't want you to break that record. And, that will sum up Roger Maris' career.
In 1961, Roger Maris hit his 61st home run of the season and broke a record that no one thought would ever be duplicated, much less broken. Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs had stood since 1927. Historians describe that 1927 Yankees squad as one of the greatest ever. Ruth's feat of 60 home runs made that season even more memorable.
But, the character and personality of the two Yankees played a part in the controversy. Ruth loved the crowd, he loved to live it up -- on and off the field. Maris was a quiet man who was willing to be a team player to move baserunners into scoring position.
Breaking Ruth's record was not an easy task for a normal man. For Maris, the chase for Ruth's record was almost unbearable. Maris started to lose his hair as the chase wore on. He was fond of quiet moments and he liked to show little emotion. His integrity and his willingness to fight for what he thought was right irritated reporters. The fans never seemed to catch on to the type of person that Maris was.
"I'm impatient," Maris said of himself. "When I think something isn't right, I want it to be made right then and there. I don't believe in holding things in. When I'm impatient or dissatisfied I say something. "You can always do better than you're doing. You have to try all the time."
For Maris, the day he hit the 61st home run of the season must have been the beginning of some of the emptiest days of his life. Some claimed that his achievement was tainted because Maris had played in 161 games in the 1961 season. Ruth had only played in 151 games. Commissioner Ford Frick made the ruling that an asterisk would be attached to Maris' record.
The asterisk was eventually removed from Maris' accomplishment.
The 61 home runs were only a part of Maris' incredible season in 1961. Maris led the American League with 142 runs batted in and 132 runs scored. He won his second consecutive American League MVP honor and he helped the Yankees capture a championship with a World Series win over the Reds.
Maris' other honors from the 1961 season included the Hickock Belt as the best professional athlete of the year, the Catholic Athlete of the Year and the Gold Glove. In addition, few knew that Maris appeared in more World Series games in the 1960s than any other player in baseball.
In 1985, Maris died from lymph gland cancer. Prior to his death, Maris said, "I always come across as being bitter. I'm not bitter. People were very reluctant to give me any credit. I thought hitting 60 home runs was something. But everyone shied off. Why, I don't know. Maybe I wasn't the chosen one, but I was the one who got the record."
After his death, Maris did get much of the recognition he had sought in life. As Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled for the home run record in 1998, Maris' accomplishment received renewed coverage and attention. On the day that McGwire hit his 62nd home run, he stopped in the midst of his celebration to acknowledge the Maris family sitting near home plate at Busch Stadium.
Roger Maris' professional career got its start with the Indians in 1953. The team signed him out of high school and gave him a $5,000 bonus. It was enough incentive for Maris to turn down a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma.
He hit .325 in his first league at Fargo-Moorhead. Today, Fargo is the home for the Roger Maris museum. In 1954, he moved on to Keokuk where manager Jo Jo White taught him to pull. Maris responded with 32 home runs. Maris also played with Tulsa, Reading and Indianapolis before making it to the Major Leagues.
Maris made his debut with the Indians on Opening Day in 1957. He went 3-for-5 in his first start against the White Sox. The next day, he hit his first big league home run, a grand slam to win the game, in the top of the 11th. Maris hit only .235 in 1957, but he hit 14 home runs and drove in 51 RBI.
In 1958, Maris started the season with Cleveland, but was send to the Athletics alson with Preston Ward and Dick Tomanek for Vic Power and Woody Held. Between the Indians and the Athletics, Maris combined to hit .241 with 18 home runs and 80 runs batted in. In 1959, Maris played in 122 games for the Athletics, hitting .273 with 16 home runs and 72 runs batted in.
Maris was traded again in 1960. This time, the Athletics traded Maris, Kent Hadley and Joe DeMaestri to the New York Yankees for Don Larsen, Hank Bauer, Marv Thorneberry and Norm Siebern. Maris made a splash in his first game with the Yankees, hitting two home runs, a double and a single. In 1960, he hit .283 with 38 home runs and 112 runs batted in. He led the American League in slugging percentage with .581and he beat out teammate Mickey Mantle for the AL MVP honor by just three points. The Yankees lost the 1960 World Series on Bill Mazeroski's home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game, but the pieces were in place for the Yankees return to dominance.
The Yankees had two solid sluggers in the heart of their lineup. Maris usually batted third and Mantle usually hit in the cleanup spot. As the 1961 season moved along, Maris and Mantle were battling back and forth for the home run lead in the American League. In September, Mantle was sidelined with an injury and Maris was left alone in the spotlight. Maris hit home run 59 in the 155th game of the season. He hit No. 60 in the 159th game of the season. In the last game of the season, he hit his 61st home run off Tracy Stallard of the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees won the game, 1-0. A 21-year-old truck driver, Sal Durante, caught Maris' monumental home run. He sold the ball to Sam Gordon of Sacremento, a restaurant owner who displayed the ball in his eatery for awhile before giving it to Maris.
Even if the fans weren't giving Maris the respect he felt he deserved for breaking the record, other teams were. In a 12-inning game in the 1962 season, Maris drew four intentional walks. Despite the attention, Maris finished the 1962 season with 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in.
In 1963, Maris suffered an injury to his hand. He would return from the injury, but he never fully recovered his home-run hitting potential. Despite having his season cut short by injury, he hit 23 home runs in the 1963 season.
He returned to New York in 1964 and hit .281 with 26 home runs and 71 runs batted in. In 1965, things got worse for Maris. In a game in June, he felt something wrong in his right hand when he swung at a pitch. He was out of the lineup for the rest of the season and had to have surgery at the end of the year. Maris only played in 46 games that season, hitting 8 home runs and driving in 27 runs.
He returned to the Yankees lineup again in 1966. He only played in 90 games and was a pinch-hitter in 20 more. He finished the season hitting just .233 with 13 home runs and 43 runs batted in. The Yankees fell into the cellar in 1966 and the team was looking to make changes. In December of that year, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinal for utility third baseman Charley Smith.
Maris entered the Cardinals lineup as a right fielder. He hit .261 with the Cardinals in 1967 with 9 home runs and 55 runs batted in. The Cardinals, however, went from a sixth place team in 1966 to the NL Championship in 1967. Maris batted .385 in the 1967 World Series hitting a home run and driving in 7 runs.
In his last season in the Major Leagues in 1968, Maris batted .255 with 5 home runs and 45 runs batted in. He hit only .158 in the 1968 World Series for the Cardinals.
Maris retired from baseball and moved to Gainseville, Fla., with his family. Maris owned and operated an Anheuser-Busch beer distributorship with his brother, Rudy. He and his wife, Patricia, raised six children, Roger Jr., Kevin, Randy, Richard, Susan and Sandra.
Maris was honored by the New York Yankees in a ceremony in 1984 at Yankees Stadium. The Yankees retired Maris' No. 9 and erected a plaque in honor of his achievement. Maris died on Dec. 14, 1985 following a fight with cancer.