The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is not just an honor but an accomplishment that has inducted the very famous and most honorable players within the past century.
The Hall of Fame includes the names of players such as George “Herman” Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Henry “Hank” Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson, Phil Rizzuto, Jackie Robinson, Nolan Ryan and so many more.
The names in the National Baseball Hall of Fame are names that have been passed on from one decade to the next. The reason the Reggie Jacksons, the Jackie Robinsons and the Mickey Mantles are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame is because they defined the game of baseball, they defined professional athletes and they defined the sport that is called “America’s Pastime.” Every player inducted in the Hall of Fame deserves to be in Cooperstown and will have their name live on forever.
There is one player in baseball history that has yet had his name enter the doors of Cooperstown’s Museum of Baseball Heroes.
Fifty years ago, one man beat the odds, became bigger than the game and would eventually have his name be chased for 30 years. In the 1961 season, one Yankee broke the single-season home run record with a total of 61 home runs. Little did that Yankee know that 30 years later that record would be broken again by a St. Louis native named Mark McGwire. In 2001, San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds would break the record held by McGwire.
But before Bonds, there was McGwire and before McGwire was a baseball hero who has yet to be honored by the Hall of Fame. In the words, of the late Bob Sheppard, “Now batting for the Yankees, right fielder, No. 9, Roger Maris.”
For anyone who knows the legend of Roger Maris, there’s only one question: Why is he not in the Hall of Fame?
Fifty years ago, history was made for Major League Baseball. It was the season that would be told from decade to century to generation. Major League Baseball decided to have a total of 162 games for one season, and it will be one of the most dramatic, motivating and life changing seasons of a generation.
For 35 years, one player held the single-season home run record: the late, great George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Ruth would be later become one of the most, if not the only, iconic baseball figure in MLB history. But when the 1961 season occurred, the late Babe Ruth handed the crown of the single-season home run king to another Yankee named Roger Eugene Maris. Roger Maris will forever be associated with the 1961 season.
When it comes to Maris, fans forget that Roger didn’t just have one miraculous season, but he had a miraculous baseball career.
Roger Eugene Maris started his baseball career in 1957 when he was selected to join the Cleveland Indians. He would play for the Indians for two years before being traded to the former Kansas City A’s. Maris would spend another two years with Kansas City but then in 1959, he was once again traded to another team. The Yankees decided to trade with the A’s in exchange for Maris, and the A’s received six Yankees players, including honorable mentions Hank Bauer and Don Larsen.
In 1960, Maris' career had just begun.
In the 1960 season, Maris and the Yanks would make it to the World Series but fell short losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1960, Roger Maris would have the first defining moment of his career. He led the league in runs batted in, slugging percentage and extra base hits. Maris finished second in the total bases and most home runs category, falling one short of Yankees teammate and longtime friend Mickey Mantle.
It would be Maris who would emerge victorious in 1960. Maris earned a Gold Glove Award for his unbelievable defense and would later receive the 1960 American League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Then came the legendary 1961 season.
In 1961, the American League extended from eight to 10 teams, and the season went from 154 to 162 games. Immediately sports writers and fans were buzzing about one thing: Will anyone break the famous single season in baseball history, Babe Ruth’s 60 home run record?
Some people, including Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, who were favorites to break the record, believed it could happen. But boy, did sport writers and the duo known as the M&M boys think wrong. Unfortunately, only one man would break the record, as Mantle’s health became a problem, and Maris chased Babe Ruth alone. Since the commissioner at the time, Ford Frick, decided that Ruth’s record would not be broken unless broken in the same amount of games Ruth hit 60. And so Frick installed an asterisk.
Roger would not break Ruth’s record in 154 games, but he would then “break” the record on the final game of the season. Roger Eugene Maris was the new home run king, and the season just kept getting better for Roger. The Yankees would also win the 1961 World Series against the Reds, capturing another one of their 27 championships in team history. Roger Maris won his first.
After having a miraculous 1961 season, Maris entered the 1962 season as the American League’s Most Valuable Player again. And in 1962, he would contribute to the Yankees reaching the World Series. He made a game-saving catch in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series, and the Yankees would win again.
But in 1963, the Yanks fell to the Dodgers in the Fall Classic, and Maris' time with the Yanks would start to end. The Yanks fell again in 1964 to the Cardinals in seven games. Maris’ health was not in the best condition, so eventually the Yankees traded their star right fielder to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967.
In 1967, Maris would reach the top again, winning his third World Series. In 1967, Maris hit .385 with one home run and seven RBI in the postseason. In 1968, he helped the Cardinals reach the pennant again but failed to capture the World Series. Then after 1968, Roger hung up his cleats.
The Yankees right fielder finished his career with a total batting average of .260. He had a total of 275 home runs and 850 runs batted in. Maris was also a seven-time All Star. He won three out of six World Series, received one Gold Glove and was a back-to-back MVP in 1960 and 1961.
Twenty-three years after his miraculous 1961, Roger Maris had his No. 9 retired by the Yankees on “Old-Timers' Day” along with the late Elston Howard. The only other player to wear Maris’ number was Yankees third baseman Craig Nettles. In 1987, Ford Frick’s asterisk was lifted, which gave Roger Maris the honor of holding the crown of the single-season home run king.
Maris never knew the record belonged to him due to his death in 1985.
Since his playing days ended, Roger Maris was known as the home run king for 36 years of baseball. No one will ever forget the 1997 season when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire would “dish it out” to become the new single-season home run king. McGwire would break it first, and then four years later Sammy Sosa would become the next king. Roger had to chase a bigger name than McGwire.
Fifty years ago, baseball would be changed forever. With a new season emerged a new home run king. Roger Maris is the only man to hold the single-season home run record longer than anyone in baseball. His bat resides in the Hall of Fame, but he does not.
What separates Roger Maris from Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra and other great Hall of Famers? A lot of things do, but they all have one thing in common: They made the game what it is today.
They made history. They made themselves legends. As did Roger Maris. Roger Maris should’ve been in the Hall of Fame years ago. Now 50 years later since that historical season, baseball fans are still waiting for his name to be there with the Robinsons, Berras, Mantles and many more.
Forget the average, forget the other years, just know this: Maris helped define the game of baseball, which is an achievement that deserves an award.
Roger Maris Hall of Fame class…2012? Who knows.