St. Louis Cardinals Fans, Unlike Yankees Fans, Knew Roger Maris' Great Value

Harold FriendChief Writer INovember 6, 2011

It was opening day. Roger Maris, who had been booed unmercifully ever since he broke Babe Ruth's single season home run record, held his breath as the public address announcer said, "Batting third, Roger Maris."

Much to his relief, the crowd let out a tremendous cheer. It wasn't at Yankee Stadium. It was at Maris' new home, Busch Stadium and it was the largest opening day throng in St. Louis Cardinals' history.

Maris tipped his cap and a few minutes later, as he trotted out to his familiar position in right field, fans in the bleachers waved to him while other shouted words of encouragement.

The St. Louis Cardinals were hosting the San Francisco Giants with Juan Marichal facing Bob Gibson. As Red Barber might ask Phil Rizzuto, "Do you think it's a pretty good match up?"

Gibson started the season by striking out Ken Henderson, Jesus Alou and Willie Mays. Marichal didn't do as well.

Lou Brock singled, stole second and went to third base on a Curt Flood single. Maris stepped into the batter's box for his first at-bat as a Cardinal. All he could do was ground out to third baseman Jim Ray Hart, moving Flood to second.

Marichal got out of the jam when he intentionally walked his old friend Orlando Cepeda, struck out Mike Shannon and got Tim McCarver to pop up.

In the top of the second, Gibson stuck out Wille McCovey and Jim Ray Hart for his fourth and fifth consecutive strike outs, but Tom Haller fouled out to break the streak.

Gibson's performance was like that of an amateur pitcher who struck out 27 consecutive batters, allowing only one foul ball. When a scout asked if he should sign the pitcher, he was told to sign the player who hit the foul ball.

Maris batted again in the second inning the two outs and the Cardinals ahead, 3-0. The Giants put three men on the right side of the infield as Roger stepped in to hit. He tugged on his batting glove, looked at the three infielders and was surprised but ready.

Roger Maris was never, never given enough credit as one of the smartest individuals to ever play the game.

The count went to one ball and one strike when Maris tried to bunt to the third base side, where there was only one fielder. He bunted it foul, but got his point across.

Marichal looked in to get the signal from Haller. The great Dominican right-hander nodded assent, went into the wind up, kicked his left leg way up into the air and delivered.

Maris punched the ball into left field for a single. Out of the corner of his eye, Maris saw that left fielder Jesus Alou was moving slowly to field the hit. Roger turned and kept running, beating the late throw for a double.

When Maris batted in the sixth inning, the Cardinals were ahead, 4-0. They put on the shift. Maris pushed a bunt up the third-base line and beat it out. He received a standing ovation when he trotted to right field at the end of the inning.

"The people were cheering for me" Maris said with some wonderment.

"It's strange hearing it. Different. I enjoyed beating the shift, because it gave us a chance for runs with Orlando Cepeda coming up behind me, but I'm really happy because it's been such a long time since I've heard a good reaction."

"I guess, too, that when I beat the shift it made me realize that they hadn't seen me when I was young and first came up, and the things I could do then."

Gibson pitched a complete game shut, striking out 13 as the Cards won 6-0.

In the third game of the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Maris struck out with two runners on in the fifth inning. The Cardinals scored six times when Roger batted for the second time. He flied out to center field to end the inning.

After the 13-4 win, Roger was amused. He hadn't been amused much with the New York Yankees.

"I made the first and last outs in that inning," he said.

"That's something I don't remember doing before, either, but the fans didn't boo me. The whole thing this week has been better than I thought it could be. My wife came here with the kids this week to see me play. Before, the only time they ever got a chance was when the Yankees went to Kansas City."

"I'm happy, and when I'm happy my wife is happy. I know that this week here meant an awful lot to her, just as it has to me. I'm crazy about this ball club, and so far I'm crazy about this city."

Hey, Albert, hear that?