With summer baseball right around the corner I thought it would be fitting to do a post on the famous home run race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle from 1961, After all it is the 50th anniversary!
When ever someone thinks of the New York Yankees the 1st thing that usually pops into their head is a tradition of pride and winning. This all started back in 1923 with George Herman Ruth aka “The Babe” who had 60 Home Runs in the year 1927 with the bombers. Ruth’s record was known as the greatest record in all of sports and not one person thought that it would ever be broken. Ruth played for over 22 years with three different ball clubs (Yankees,Red Sox, and Braves ) and hit 714 out of the park.
- The Babe
Then in December of 1959, the Yankees made a big time trade with the Kansas City Athletics(Who were known as the Yankees “Major league farm team). The Yankees received 7 players in the deal including big time stars in the making: Don Larsen, Hank Bauer and of course Roger Maris. All three were stars in the making and really shined while playing for the Bombers in the 60’s.
Maris had an amazing season in 1960, winning the American League’s Most Valuable Player award and led the league in Slugging percentage, RBI’ s and extra base hits. Second to Maris in MVP voting was another Yankee who had becoming a fan favorite entering his 10th season with the club.That player was Mickey Mantle who had a Hall of Fame career, winning 7 Championships , 20 All Star seasons and was the most recent player to accomplish a Triple Crown season. Mantle and Maris both came into the 1961 season with high expectations from both the media and each other.
Both Maris and Mantle started out the season slow but came on by the end of April. Once this great accomplishment was thought to be in reach both the people of New York and the harsh and overly critical media began to try to make the quest for 61 Home Runs into a competitive contest between Mantle, the “True Yankee” and Maris “The Outsider”. This constant attention and sensation with the media was not handled well by Maris who coming from North Dakota never knew this kind of media or attention for a sport existed. 46 games into the season both Maris and Mantle had 15 HR’s(1 pace off from the Babe) which again made all the critics chirp about how this record that had been untouchable for nearly 35 year would never be broken.
As the season rolled on so did the nagging injuries of the great Mickey Mantle. The Mick had been known for his injuries since 1951 and was aging a lot faster than he should have been. From his knees to his arms Mantle was practically a walking casket for 5 to 6 years of his career. At the peak of the race both players were in the mid 50’s for HR on the year when Mantle knee and hip finally gave out on him. Mantle would finish the season with a total of 54 HR and leave Maris with the quest for 61.
There was a bit of contrevesory with this record. When Ruth hit 60 back in 1927 the MLB season only had 154 games on the schedule. In 1961 the MLB and league commissioner, Ford Frick expanded the schedule to 162 games and added 2 expansion teams to the AL (Angels and Twins). Because of this a question began to arise… Would it still be a valid record if it is broken after 154 games ? To answer this question Commissioner Frick decided to put an * next to Maris’ 61 HR if he were to break the record. With this added pressure the 154th game of the Yankees season was in a series in the hometown of the Babe, Baltimore,MD against the Orioles. Maris hit 1 HR in the series giving him 59 with 8 games remaining on the schedule. Maris then struggled getting only 1 HR in his final 7 games going into the season finale against the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium. On October 1st 1961 Maris stepped up to the plate in the 4th inning of the game to face 24-year-old Tracy Stallard and the rest they say is history!
Maris had done it ! He had single handedly passed the Babe and became the record holder. And to make things even better the Yanks would go on to win the 1st of 2 back to back chamionships with Maris leading the way. Maris would go on to play another 5 seasons in the Bronx.
Till this day a true baseball fan will say that Maris still has the record even though some JUICERS may have passed him he will always live on in history as the man who passed the Babe !