Memories of 1961: Why the Single-Season HR Record Belongs to Maris
Added by Gina Sorce on October 18, 2012.
The 2012 season marks the 51st anniversary of the infamous battle between Yankee legends, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, and their attempt to break the coveted single-season home run record held by the Babe himself.
In a sport with so many controversial accusations of steroid abuse, the single-season home run record is perhaps the most controversial record still being debated.
So, naturally, what comes to mind when I hear people refer to Barry Bonds as the single-season home run record holder?
He cheated, he cheated, and oh yeah, he cheated.
Bond’s record of 73 home runs in a single-season is tainted; therefore, the record still belongs to Roger Maris, in my eyes.
You know why? You guessed it. He didn’t cheat.
For those of you who may not know the whole story, let’s backtrack to the historic year of 1961.
Roger Maris, a shy, family man from Fargo, North Dakota, kept to himself and simply played baseball for the love of the game. Never in his wildest dreams did he plan on surpassing the Babe in the record books.
However, Maris’ teammate and competition, Mickey Mantle, lived a drastically different lifestyle. Mantle thrived for attention; he was handsome, chased by women, and an unbelievably talented athlete. Mantle lived a life of penthouses, booze and other luxuries.
The summer of 1961 is what Roger Maris is most remembered for. Maris was the first player to hit 50 home runs by the end of August. Mantle was right behind him, and finished the summer with 46. The highly publicized home run competition came to an end when Mantle was overcome by injury, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.
On September 26th, Maris tied the Babe, and on October 1st, Mantle secured his spot in baseball history when he blasted his 62nd home run of the season. Unsurprisingly, Maris was awarded the Most Valuable Player award for the 1961 season.
Maris’ record was safe until September 8, 1998, when the juiced-up Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals hit his 62nd home run of the season. As portrayed in the movie 61, Maris’ sons were in attendance that day and after crossing home plate, McGwire embraced them in the crowd. During the post game press conference, he exclaimed, “My bat is going to the Hall of Fame alongside Roger Maris’ bat, and I’m damn proud of it.”
How could McGwire even say that with a straight face? Did he inconveniently forget that he cheated? Well, on January 10, 2010 when the “Mitchell Report” turned the world of baseball upside down, McGwire came clean about using performance-enhancing drugs. “I was given a gift to hit home runs,” McGwire told Bob Costas during an interview on the MLB Network.”
Mark McGwire’s tainted record was untouched until the 2001 season, when Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants demolished major league pitching. As described by National Baseball Hall of Fame, on October 4, 2001, Bonds blasted his 70th home run of the season off of Wilfredo Rodriguez of the Houston Astros, tying McGwire’s record.
The next day, the Giants had to win; it was their last chance to defeat the Dodgers for the NL West pennant. Bonds hit number 72 that day, breaking McGwire’s record. The Giants ultimately lost the game, ending their chase for a playoff berth. Bonds finished the 2001 season with 73 home runs, setting the all-time professional single-season home run record.
But, guess what? Bonds cheated too! Shadows, a book describing Bonds’ steroid use, reported that when Bonds broke McGwire’s record, he was using two designer steroids, “the cream” and “the clear” along with insulin, human growth hormone, testosterone decanoate and trenbolone.
And that folks is why the record belongs to Maris. I rest my case.
Oh, by the way, The Yankees finished the 1961 season with 109 wins and the 19th World Series victory of franchise history.
Maris’ paycheck was $32,000, while Mantle’s salary was $75,000.
Needless to say, the 1961 Yankees had a lot more success than the 2012 Yankees who had one of the most dramatic playoff chokes in a decade. And a player with a $275 million contract has batted .107 in this postseason, rightfully landing him on the bench. Just let that sink in.
One thing is for sure: baseball isn’t the game it used to be. For a more in depth look on the 1961 single-season home run chase, I highly recommend watching the movie 61, written by Hank Steinberg and directed by Billy Crystal. You won’t be disappointed.
(All stats came from baseball-reference.com)