Jul 6, 2009

Masterpiece Moments Monday: Roger Maris

Presented here is Roger Maris in a moment of true baseball glory, shadowed by his surrounding circumstances and the vagaries of the events of future time. This, of course, is a depiction of the launching of the 61st home run in 1961, breaking Babe Ruth's record.

Picture the home run chases of the '90s. Remember the media fawning over Ken Griffey,Jr, Matt Williams, and any other player that came within shouting distance or on pace to break the record? The record was held from 1961-1998 (37 years), which was longer than Ruth holding the 60 HR record (34 years). But Maris was not Ruth, and his detractors constantly reminded him of it.

Mickey Mantle was the beloved Yankee, who underwent a home run chase of his own that year, finishing with 54 HR. Maris was not comfortable in New York, preferring the Midwestern sensibilities and less harsh demeanor of the Kansas City fans. His taciturn personality was seen as a detremit; he was not bigger than life like Ruth was when he was setting the standard for home runs in a season. His hair fell out as the pressure mounted for him to not pass the Babe.

He tied Ruth in the 158th game of the season and passed him in the 162nd. In a move of utter disrespect for the feat, Commissioner Ford Frick placed an asterisk in the record books next to the number because it had not come in less than 154 games, the previous length of a regular season until 1961. The asterisk then became the symbol of illegitimate records.

Maris never approached the heights of that season, losing his power by the age of 30 due to injuries. Maybe he would have been more satisfied if he knew how much his record meant to baseball fans in later years.

The question is raised then, what record deserves an asterisk? Is there such a thing as an illegitimate record? How long will Maris hold the non-steroid suspicious single season home run record and does it still matter?

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