Roger Maris was cheered, not booed, in 1960, his first season with the New York Yankees.
Maris won the MVP Award, batted .283/.371/.581, led the league in slugging, hit 39 home runs to finish second to teammate Mickey Mantle and batted in 112 runs.
And then along came Maris’ successful pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. It was successful because Maris set a new record, but it might have ruined the rest of his career.
At first, most of the pressure was on Mantle because the consensus was that he, not Maris, would set a new record. By July, everyone realized that it was going to remain a two-man contest.
The pressure started to build on Maris, especially since many felt he wasn’t worthy of the record. Writers felt that Maris wasn’t “Ruthian.” They thought that it would be a shame if Maris and not Mantle broke the record. Maris was “unworthy.”
Baseball Commissioner Ford C. Frick, who had been a good friend of Babe Ruth, announced that Ruth’s record had to be broken in 154 games or fewer. Maris never lost his bitter feelings about an asterisk despite the fact that it was never used.
That asterisk still ''bitters me up,'' Maris said. He felt that it made him a target. The journalists who had always been afraid to reveal how mean and crabby Mantle could be, now went after Maris. They called him a whiner, a complainer and a pop off.
On July 17, Frick held a press conference to present his ruling.
“Any player who may hit more than 60 home runs during his club’s first 154 games would be recognized as having established a new record. However, if the player does not hit more than 60 until after his club has played 154 games, there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”
At the press conference, Young spoke to Frick. “Maybe you should use an asterisk on the new record. Everybody does that when there’s a difference of opinion,” he said. What difference of opinion?
Before 1961, Maris had always cooperated with the press. Mantle often refused to speak to the press. Maris almost never refused signing autographs. It was Mantle who, depending on how he felt, often brushed off autograph seekers.
By the middle of the season, Mantle was getting the good ink. Maris was ripped in the media. The fans cheered Mantle and threw chairs, nuts, bolts and half-empty soda bottles at Maris.
Maris explained the negative impact of setting a new record.
''It drove me into somewhat of a shell," he said. "I just didn't enjoy being at the ballpark like I did. It was very difficult every day to say, 'Well, here we go again.' I mean it's almost like going into the snake pit.’
''I often wonder what my baseball career would have been had I not hit the 61. Because after that point it was no fun anymore. It's not even fun to talk about. I think a lot of times how much nicer things could have been if I got a fair shake.”
Lipsyte, Robert. "GRAPPLING WITH THE GLORY." The New York Times Magazine 31 Mar. 1985. General OneFile. Web. 5 Nov. 2011.
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