MLB: Roger Maris Overcame the Pressure, the Criticism and the Inane Questions

Harold FriendChief Writer ISeptember 17, 2011

NEW YORK - MAY 02:  The plaque of Roger Maris is seen in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium prior to the game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox on May 2, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the White Sox 12-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

"Why can't they understand? I don't want to be Babe Ruth. He was a great ballplayer. I'm not trying to replace him. The record is there, and damn right I want to break it, but that isn't replacing Babe Ruth."

Roger Maris lived under constant stress and suffocating, unrelenting pressure as he pursued Babe Ruth’s single-season home run mark. Not even Ruth endured such a situation.

The distance Maris’ home runs traveled was criticized. He would walk up to the plate, step into the left-handed hitter’s batter box, take a practice swing with his 33-ounce bat and he was ready.

There is always excitement when a home run is hit, but Maris’ home runs never traveled 500 feet.

"If I hit it just right, it goes about 450 feet, but they don't give you two homers for hitting one 800 feet, do they?"

Unlike Mickey Mantle, especially when Mickey batted from the right side, Maris rarely hit the ball to the opposite field. He could pull almost any pitch that was a strike. Virtually every one of his home runs went to right or right center field.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

In a game against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park, Maris hit his 46th home run off left-hander Juan Pizarro. After the game, a reporter asked Maris if he really wanted to break Ruth’s record.

Roger tersely replied, "Damn right."  The reporter pressed Maris—"What I mean is, Ruth was a great man."

"Maybe I'm not a great man," Maris said, "but I damn well want to break the record."

Rogers Hornsby, the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, suggested how to stop Maris.

"Throw the first two inside and make him foul them," Hornsby said, "then go outside so he can't pull. It would be a shame if Ruth's record got broken by a .270 hitter.”

When told about Hornsby’s strategy, Maris responded in his usual direct way—"They been trying that on me all year, and you see how it works."

Some of the questions were insulting.

One insensitive magazine writer asked Maris if he “fooled around” when the Yankees were on the road.

"I'm a married man," Maris said.

"I'm married myself," responded the writer, "but I play around on the road."

A disgusted Maris said, "That's your business.”

Hank Greenberg knew what Maris was going through. It was Greenberg who signed Maris for $15,000 in 1952 when he was the Cleveland Indians' general manager.

“…He says things maybe you don't say to reporters. The year I hit 58 [1938], the fans got pretty rough. Drunks called me Jew bastard and kike, and I'd come in and sound off about the fans. But the writers protected me then. Why aren't the writers protecting Maris now?"

Roger Maris withstood the pressures, set a new single season home run record and probably upset Rogers Hornsby by batting .269.

Most of today’s fans respect Roger Maris’ .269 batting average and 61 home runs more than Barry Bonds' .328 batting average and 73 home runs for all the right reasons.

Maris’ record has stood for 50 years because he was a man of integrity who set the record the right way.