Looking back in time through the eyes of a 10-year-old kid growing up a Yankee fan in New York, I have fond memories of the summer of 1961 and the great home run chase.
And this kid remembers July 25, 1961, 50 years later. That was the night the home run chase became real.
On 7/25/61, Roger Maris hit four home runs in a twi-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, two in each game, to become the fastest player to reach 40 home runs.
The fireworks began in the second inning when Maris hit a two-run shot off the right field foul pole off Chicago’s Frank Baumann to tie teammate Mickey Mantle for the home run lead with 37. Mantle immediately broke the tie with a home run off the left field foul pole for his 38th.
Mantle was done for the night, but Maris was just warming up. He hit another home run in the eighth inning of the opener against former Yankee Don Larsen, “the imperfect man who pitched the perfect game” and part of the trade that brought Maris to the Yankees prior to the 1960 season. The Bombers won 5-1 as Whitey Ford ran his record to 18-2 and Luis Arroyo recorded his 20th save.
In the nightcap, Maris, pictured below, hit a solo shot in the fourth and a three-run blast in the sixth, for his 39th and 40th home runs of the season. Elston Howard also homered in the second game and Clete Boyer homered twice as the Yanks won 12-0 behind the shutout pitching of Bill Stafford. The sweep edged the Yankees a half-game ahead of the Detroit Tigers.
25 Games Ahead of Babe’s Pace
“Roger is running away from Babe Ruth like a scared kid in a graveyard,” wrote Dick Young of the New York Daily News. “With 40 homers, Rogers is 25 games ahead of Ruth’s pace….Oh, Clete Boyer had two homers and now is only 80 games behind Ruth.”
Maris finished the day with four home runs and eight RBIs. Mantle would retake the home run lead in early August before Maris got hot again. Roger passed the Mick for good when he blasted his 46th home run of the year – against the White Sox — on August 15.
Mantle wound up with a career high 54 home runs that season, his body breaking down over the final weeks of the season. Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record of 60, set in 1927, with his 61st home run against the Boston Red Sox on the final day of the season.
Nearly 50 years later, Maris (162 games) and Ruth (154 games) continue to hold the American League single season record.
And if you discount the steroid-juiced and hyper-inflated home run marks of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Roger Maris is still baseball’s all-time single season home run king.