October 1, 2011 is the 50th anniversary of one of the most remarkable and under appreciated accomplishments in major league baseball history.
It is the anniversary of New York Yankee outfielder Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s single season home run record of 60. Maris hit number 61 off of Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard on October 1, 1961.
From the moment that Maris broke the record his accomplishment was downgraded. One could say it still is. There are many reasons why this has happened.
From the beginning, Maris’ 61 home runs spawned controversy. 1961 saw the American League expand their season to 162 games. Before then teams only played 154. This was the number of games it had taken Ruth to set his record in 1927. So the debate was what constituted a season, the 154 games that Ruth played or the 162 Maris played.
The issue was settled when Commissioner Ford Frick ruled that if anyone surpassed Ruth’s record within 154 games then it would be a new record. If the record was surpassed in 155 or more games then it would be a new single season record, but modified by an asterisk to denote that it had taken more than 154 games to do it.
Since Maris broke the record in 162 games an asterisk was placed by it and stayed there for 30 years. To many this confirmed that Ruth’s 60 was still the record.
Maris’ record was not truly recognized until St. Louis Cardinal first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa both made a run at it in 1998. By this time Maris was deceased having passed away in 1985. Not only did McGwire and Sosa break the record they shattered it as McGwire hit 70 and Sosa 66. By the time that they were done, Maris was only a footnote to history.
He became even more of one when Sosa went on to post three 60 plus home run seasons and San Francisco Giant outfielder Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s record with 73 in 2001. Though it was later revealed that all of these records may have been set while McGwire, Sosa and Bonds were allegedly taking performance enhancing drugs an asterisk has never been placed by any of their accomplishments.
Only Roger Maris got one.
Saturday October 1, 2011 should be a day where baseball celebrates one of the greatest accomplishments in the games history. An entire week should have been dedicated to it.
Instead Roger Maris is somewhat the forgotten man.
And a golden anniversary will not get the recognition it so rightfully deserves.