Guest Post- 1961 vs. 2022: Some Thoughts
by Robert Seidenstadt
September 19, 2022
Aaron Judge is having the most remarkable of seasons. We all know the
numbers whether they are the counting numbers or the analytics, he is in a class
all by himself. We are all rooting for Judge and each home run brings more
praise, excitement and drama. And that’s the way it should be.
But it was a different story in 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61 home runs. Mickey
Mantle and Roger Maris were engaged in a head-to-head battle to beat Ruth’s
record throughout the summer. On September 8th Mantle hit his 52nd home run;
Maris had 55. But Mantle got hurt, missed some games, and hit only two more
home runs for the rest of the season.
That left Maris in a solo chase for the record. But it was not only the “record” that Maris was up against.
1. Many people were rooting for Mantle, not Maris to break Ruth's record. Mantle
was a “true” Yankee. He was signed by the Yankees as a teen-ager and played
his entire career with the Yankees. If anyone was going to beat Ruth’s record it
just had to be a Yankee and what better exemplar of a Yankee than Mickey
Charles Mantle. Although Maris was on the Yankee team, he was considered an
interloper. He was not a product of the Yankee farm system and was traded to
the Yankees only in 1960. Did we know Maris’s middle name? No. Did Maris
have a nickname like “The Mick”, “The Scooter” (Philip Francis Rizzuto), “Joltin”
Joe” (Joseph Paul DiMaggio) , “Yogi” (Lawrence Peter Berra), “Whitey” (Edward
Charles Ford) or “Babe” (George Herman Ruth)? No. How could he possibly be
a true Yankee? No middle name. No nickname. Not a “Yankee.” Case closed.
Strike One against Maris.
2. Let’s give the record an asterisk. What’s an asterisk? Who thought of that?
When Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927, the season was 154 games long.
With the beginning of the expansion era in 1961, the season went to 162 games.
As Maris was getting closer and closer to 60, Ford Frick, the Commissioner of
Baseball decreed that if Maris broke the record beyond the 154th game of the
season it would be entered into the record book with an asterisk (*) implying that
Ruth’s record was not really broken.
Strike Two against Maris.
There are fans rooting against Maris...
Baseball legislates against Maris...
But Maris did not strike out. He persevered. On the last day of the season, with
23,154 fans in attendance, he hit his 61st home run.
Good for you, Roger Maris.
Good for you!
Post script: Roger Maris’s middle name was Eugene and the asterisk was
removed from the record books in 1991. Maris died in 1985.