It started innocently enough, and it wasn't even reported in the newspapers.
On Sunday, June 20, 1965, in the second game of a twin bill against the Minnesota Twins, Roger Maris, sliding into home plate, jammed his right hand against the home plate umpire's shin guard.
No one, not even Roger, realized the seriousness of the injury.
Roger was in the Yankees' lineup the next few games, but in the nightcap of a double-header against the Kansas City Athletics, he was forced to leave the game.
Roger did not return until August 18 as a pinch hitter. He missed 49 games.
A Bone Chip
1965 was not a good year for Roger Maris. The injuries started early, limiting him to only 40 games started.
During the third week of the season, Maris pulled a hamstring and missed 26 games. Then came the wrist injury sliding into home plate on June 20.
Roger didn't start another game after June 28. It was eventually discovered that a bone chip was causing the problem. Rest did not help, forcing surgery at the end of September.
Two Healthy Seasons
In 1960, Roger's first year with the Yankees, he slid hard into second base during a game near the end of the season, bruising his ribs. It cost him 15 games.
The next two seasons, 1961 and 1962, were Roger's only healthy ones as a Yankee.
In 1963, he missed almost the entire second half of the season with back problems, playing only 90 games. He missed 20 games in 1964 with leg injuries.
In 1966, Roger complained that his hand was sore as he struggled at the plate, batting only .233 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI. The Yankees questioned Roger for complaining.
It Was Over Between the Yankees and Roger
In Dec. 1966, the Yankees traded the player who still holds the American League single-season home run record to the St. Louis Cardinals for a nondescript third baseman with the equally nondescript name of Charlie Smith.
It was an insult to Roger, who left New York a very angry individual.
After the trade, it was discovered that Roger had played most of 1966 with a broken hand that the members of the medical community responsible for his well-being had not properly diagnosed.
Roger Maris was a fine baseball player, but not a great one.
He could run, throw, field, and hit, but for one season, he was a great player.
"Everything clicked for me. My swing was in a perfect groove. If I had hit under the ball a fraction of an inch more, a lot of those homers would have been pop-ups. If I'd hit a fraction of an inch higher, a lot would have been grounders or gone into fielders' gloves. Instead, I was hitting the ball perfectly."
Roger’s good friend, Mickey Mantle, has become synonymous with injuries and what might have been.
Roger Maris and 61 home runs have also become synonymous, but fans and the media rarely remember how often Roger was injured.
Mention 1963 and Mickey Mantle to baseball fans. The response is usually, “Oh, yes, Mickey caught his foot in the outfield fence in Baltimore and missed most of the season.”
Bring up 1963 and Roger Maris, and invariably the response is that Roger had a bad season, which he did. He hit the same .269 in 1963 that he hit in 1961, but with only 23 home runs because his playing time and efficiency were limited by injuries.
Roger Maris has become much more of a fan favorite in recent years. His record is appreciated more today than a few short years ago for obvious reasons that do not need elaboration.
Daley, Arthur. “Sports of the Times: Man With an Asterisk.” The New York Times. 12 December 1966, p. 73.
Durso, Joseph. “Angels’ 4 in 8th Down Yanks, 7-3; Maris Pinch-Hits in Return.” The New York Times. 19 August 1965, p. 25.
Koppett, Leonard. “Maris, Starter in Only 40 Games Last Year, Retains $75,000 Yankee Salary.” The New York Times. 7 January 1966, p. 22.