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Roger Maris--An Authentic Hero
on March 21, 2010
Maury Allen wrote a prior biography of Roger Maris in 1986, and now Tom Clavin and Danny Peary have written the definitive biography of baseball's "reluctant hero." Like several other individuals Maris has become more appreciated with the passage of time. Maris had people who would be remembered favorably and unfavorably in his career. Minor league manager Dutch Meyer punished Maris for a poor throw to third base by having him repeatedly make long distance throws to third base until Maris told him enough was enough. Kirby Farrell and Harry Craft would be remembered favorably along with Jo Jo White who taught him to pull the ball.
I graduated from high school in June of 1961 and vividly remember that memorable season when Maris challenged Ruth's home run record. Unlike today when players hold post-game press conferences the Yankees provided no protection for Maris as he was inundated with questions from all sides regarding his opinions on baseball and non-baseball related matters. Yankee publicist Bob Fishel said he never thought of having a press conference at the time following a game. It was baseball commissioner Ford Frick who taught the youth of America the meaning of the word "asterisk" when he proclaimed that Ruth's record must be broken in 154 games. Frick was a close friend of Ruth's and acted as a ghost writer for him. The authors correctly mention the unfortunate incident that took place in 1960 in Detroit involving someone who threw the back of a chair from the right field stands at Maris following a controversial home run by Bill Skowron. The movie 61* incorrectly mentions it as happening in 1961. I know it was in 1960 because I was sitting in the second deck above the Yankees' bullpen for that game.
Roger Maris spent two happy years with the St. Louis Cardinals during the seasons of 1967-1968 which brought the team two pennants and one World Championship. Following his career Maris was reluctant to return to Yankee Stadium because he felt the Yankees had lied to him prior to his departure from New York. George Steinbrenner convinced him to return to Yankee Stadium on Opening Day of the 1978 season when both Maris and Mantle would be introduced together. It proved to be a rewarding experience for Maris and he returned regularly after that as long as his health permitted. Maris said he suffered from physical ailments later in life due to playing with reckless abandon during his playing career by breaking up double plays and running into outfield walls. He said if he had to do it over again he would have been more careful with his health. Unfortunately years of smoking five packs of Camel cigarettes a day for several years did their damage ultimately causing damage to his throat. He quit smoking during the mid-1970s and passed away from cancer on December 14, 1985.
Maris won consecutive MVP awards in 1960 and 1961 and his defensive play is often overlooked in evaluating his qualifications for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, politics often plays a part as to who is elected and Maris was never one to be a self-promoter. It irritates me to know that when Mark McGuire broke Maris's home run record when he knew he was on steroids he still had the audacity to go to the box seats in St. Louis to hug members of the Maris family knowing he had passed Maris illegally.
I especially enjoyed reading this book because the year 1961 has special memories for me since my Detroit Tigers were a significant part of the pennant race that year. Maris never intended to denigrate Babe Ruth, but obviously he would want the record. The problem among Yankee fans was if anyone was to break the Babe's record (and they weren't sure anyone should) the wrong man was breaking it. They believed it should have been Mantle and not this interloper from North Dakota.
Whether you remember these historic years from the 1960s or not any self-respecting baseball fan needs this book in their library.