Roger Maris leaves behind a record without an asteriskGail M. Williams September 27, 2022 0 COMMENTS
In 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a single season by hitting 61.
People didn’t want him to break the record. They were either reluctant to let the Babe’s legend die, or they wanted it to fall to Maris’s teammate, the ever popular Mickey Mantle.
Roger had a bad name among sportswriters. A taciturn man, he was known in the world of journalism as “bad copy.”
Aaron Judge is not particularly good copy. However, he seems affable, is always rooting for his teammates, can hit for average, hit with power, field, throw and run. His stats are impressive, especially the one that states he is 6’7 and weighs 282 pounds.
You wouldn’t expect a guy that big to tear up the base paths. Yet Judge is said to be most proud of the fact that he has stolen 16 bases so far this season.
Judge hit his 60th home run on Sept. 20, tying Babe Ruth’s record in 147 games. Members of the Maris family were at the game, and they have been on hand since then waiting to congratulate Judge for tying and possibly breaking their father’s record.
Judge says the real record belongs to Barry Bonds with 73, and he is technically correct. National Leaguers Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have all hit more home runs than Roger Maris. However, their records are tainted due to their use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The three National League batting champions are conspicuously absent from Hall of Fame membership.
But then, so is Roger Maris, who, at this writing, still holds the American League record. Roger was known to be a chain smoker, but it’s doubtful whether he had access to performance-enhancing drugs. Some say his stats don’t merit Hall of Fame status. Others say his record-breaking 61 home runs alone should have gained him entrance.
In North Dakota, however, Roger Maris’s legacy doesn’t depend on Hall of Fame membership.
In 1983, Maris was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He responded by organizing the annual Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament to raise money for cancer research and treatment. The tournament was held in Fargo, where Maris began his sports career playing football and baseball for Fargo Central High School and for Shanley High School.
The golf tournament was attended by stars such as Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. Roger himself was able to attend the first one, two years before his death at the age of 53.
I was working as an intern at the Fargo Forum at the time of the first tournament, and overheard a sportswriter say cynically that the golf tournament would never last after Roger was gone.
“His sons will never keep it up,” he said.
He was wrong. Although the Maris children grew up in Gainesville, Fla., they honor their father by continuing the golf tournament. It has been an institution for 38 years and continues to draw celebrity players like Kent Hrbek and Paul Molitor.
The Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo opened in 1990. Now the Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center, it is continually expanding and improving, largely due to the generosity of donors.
And I think, perhaps, it’s a better legacy than 61 home runs.