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Roger Maris 61 in ’61: A Record That Stands Alone

Posted on October 01, 2011 by Dean Hybl

It was 50 years ago that Roger Maris blasted a record 61 home runs in a single season.

It was 50 years ago today, October 1, 1961, that New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris broke what many thought was an unbreakable record by swatting his 61st home run of the season. Though his mark has now technically been eclipsed on six occasions by three different players, the accomplishment is still considered to be something special and now that there is testing for performance enhancing drugs might never again be topped.

Though Maris had been the American League MVP in 1960, no one expected him to threaten Babe Ruth’s hallowed mark of 60 home runs in a single season.

In the 33 years since Ruth had hit 60 home runs in 1927 the 50 home run plateau had been reached only 10 times with Jimmie Foxx in 1932 and Hank Greenberg in 1938 coming the closest with 58 home runs each.

The way Maris started the 1961 season, no one could have predicted that he would finish the campaign by breaking Ruth’s record.

Maris hit only one home run in 15 games during April and through the first 28 games of the campaign had only three homers.

Then on May 17th he started a streak of four straight games with a home run and then added five more home runs the rest of the month to enter June with 12 home runs.

Maris wasn’t the only Yankee who entered June with double digits in home runs. Mickey Mantle blasted seven homers in each of the first two months to enter June with 14 home runs.

In June, Maris slugged 15 homers and Mantle 11 to give both players totals near the pace of Ruth as the season neared its mid-point.

When the Yankees played their 81st game on July 8th, Maris had 32 home runs and Mantle 29 to put both players in range of the record.

Maris blasted four home runs in a double header against the Chicago White Sox to give him 40 for the season and people started to discuss the possibility that Ruth’s record could be in jeopardy.

When Maris then went eight straight games without a home run and ended up having one homer in a 16 game stretch, the attention started to shift to Mantle, who was still blasting long balls.

Though some depicted them as rivals, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were actually roommates during the 1961 season.

Will Anyone Ever Hit 61 or More Home Runs in a Season Again?

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On August 11th Mantle blasted his 44th home run while Maris ended his one homer in 16 game stretch with his 42nd home run.

That game was the first of six straight in which Maris had a home run and when he hit two home runs in the sixth of those games, it was apparent that he was back in the swing and again within range of the record.

Maris hit his 50th home run in the 125th game of the season on August 22nd. Mantle took a little longer as his 50th home run came on September 3rd when he blasted two homers against Detroit.

However, Mantle missed seven games due to injuries during September and ended the season with a career-high 54 home runs.

For Maris, the media pressure was starting to take a toll. He didn’t have a cushy relationship with the New York media even before he started to threaten Ruth’s record and the constant pressure as he continued to stay on pace made it even worse.

What made things even worse was that 1961 was the first season in which Major League Baseball would have a 162 game season, instead of the previous 154 game season. MLB Commissioner Ford Frick ruled that to completely erase Ruth’s record, the home run mark would need to be eclipsed within the 154 game schedule.

If the record were passed after game 154, it would be listed in the record book with an asterisk.

Maris continued to be hot in September and hit his 58th home run in his 151st game on September 17th. However, Maris didn’t blast another home run until his 154th game and then hit his 60th home run in his 158th game on September 26th.

He didn’t home again until October 1, 1961, the final day of the regular season, when Maris hit a Tracy Stallard blast into the left field bleachers in the fourth inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox.

The 1-0 Yankees victory was their 109th of the season on their way to winning the World Series while the Red Sox finished with a 76-86 record. Even though it was a Sunday afternoon and Maris was shooting for a record, attendance for the game was listed at 23,154, but pictures from the game make it appear that many of those fans came dressed as empty seats.

That was in stark contrast to 37 years later when even though the St. Louis Cardinals were well out of the playoff race they played to full houses for much of the season as Mark McGwire charged toward and then easily eclipsed the Maris’ record.

Maris hit another home run in the World Series as the Yankees defeated the Cincinnati Reds in five games.

The following season, Maris hit 33 home runs and was an All-Star, but he struggled with injuries over the next several seasons and in December 1966 was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Though he hit only 14 home runs during his two seasons in St. Louis, Maris did help the team to a pair of trips to the World Series. He had a home run and seven RBI as they defeated Boston in seven games during the 1967 series.

He retired after the Cardinals lost to the Tigers in seven games during the 1968 World Series.

Perhaps still scarred by how he was treated during the 1961 season, Maris didn’t return to New York for many years. Maris finally received his due from New York fans and the franchise on July 21, 1984 when his number was retired and he received a tremendous ovation on Old-Timers’ Day.

Unfortunately, Maris was unable to maintain his rekindled relationship with New York fans as he passed away from cancer just a year later. Six years after his death the asterisk was finally removed from his home run record.

Though there is officially no asterisk next to the current record of 73 home runs established by Barry Bonds in 2001, many still consider the real home run record to be the mark that Maris set 50 years ago today.

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