This Date In Baseball History: Roger Maris died of non-Hodgkin- lymphoma at the age of 51. I have always found the Roger Maris story to be a very sad one and it shouldn’t have been one [outside of his death at a young age.]
Roger Maris began his career in Cleveland and then was moved on to the Kansas City A’s before being traded to the Yankees in 1960. He was an immediate hit with the Yankees winning the AL MVP Award in 1960. In 1961 Maris and his teammate Mickey Mantle both made an assault on Babe Ruth’s cherished record of 60 home runs in a season. Late in the season they were running neck and neck when Mantle was sidelined with a abscessed hip he got from a flu shot. Mantle would finish with 54 home runs. The pressure was on Maris. The press in New York had favored Mantle all along in the home run race- saying Maris wasn’t a ‘true Yankee’ and that the Yankees were Mantle’s team. They even created a ‘feud’ between the two that didn’t exist. It was a miserable time for Maris. He broke the record with 61 home runs- a record which would last for nearly 40 seasons.
Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick- an old Ruth lacky would make a big deal out of the fact Ruth hit 60 in a 154 game season and Maris in a 162 game season and suggesting an asterisk should be placed by Maris’s 61. Maris would later say he wish he had never broken the record. Maris said in 1980- “They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing. Exactly nothing.”
Maris didn’t enjoy playing in New York City- he didn’t like the attention. He would finish his career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967-68. Overall he was a pretty good ballplayer. He was an all-star 1959-62, a 2 time MVP, a fine all around outfielder he won a Gold Glove in 1960. The Yankees have retired his #9.
At Maris’s funeral- the pallbearers were former teammates- Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Clete Boyer, Bill Skowron, Whitey Herzog, Mike Shannon and Bob Allison. Bobby Richardson gave the eulogy.
My favorite Maris story- the winter after he hit 61- he goes home and his best friend Whitey Herzog who lives nearby is building a home. Every day Maris showed up with his lunch pail and helped Herzog build his house. An acquaintance of mine met Maris back in the late 70’s on a hunting trip- said Maris was just a regular guy- you wouldn’t know from how he acted towards everyone that he was Roger Maris. Just another guy.