Monday, October 1, 2012

Rant #814: 61 Is the Magic Number

Baseball is the greatest game in the world.

It is a six-month, 162-game, almost daily grind that takes a lot out of not just the players, but fans, too.

And the pennant races this year are a testament to how great the game continues to be.

In my neck of the woods, my beloved Yankees and the Orioles are flat out tied after 159 games, and the next three games are likely to determine who wins the division and who is one of the two wild card teams in the American League.

That aside, let's go back 51 years to 1961, when there was no talk of a "wild card" and there were only two divisions in Major League Baseball, the American League and the National League.

And there was absolutely no room for failure. If you did not have the best record in your league, you did not go to the World Series.

And then there was Roger Maris ...

Maris was an excellent addition to the Yankees team during that era. Coming to the Bronx Bombers via a trade, Maris fit in well with the homer happy team, and he could actually do it all; he was also an excellent outfielder and base runner.

But 1961 was something else altogether.

Both Maris and Mickey Mantle were challenging fellow Yankee Babe Ruth's all-time single season home run record that year.

It was neck and neck all year, as the "M and M Boys" were hitting homers at a record pace.

Mantle was injured towards the end of the season, so it was left to Maris to try to battle the Babe.

And today, 51 years ago, Maris did it, hitting his 61st home run to eclipse Ruth's prior single-season record.

It was an incredible accomplishment, even all these years later.

There were no steroids, no strength boosters like they have today.

Maris did all of his damage with just cigarettes and beer.

The record was looked down upon at the time because Ruth hit his 60 homers in 154 games, while it took Maris 162 games in an expanded season to hit his 61.

But looking back, how stupid was that argument?

And it is even more stupid when you take into account that supposed steroid users Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have since beaten that mark ... but with the help of substances that helped them to do this.

Maris is not in the Hall of Fame, which is a slight that really boggles the mind.

Sure, that one season stands out, but in the early 1960s, he was one of the best players in the game.

I think there remain some people who believe that his record is as tainted as the more than 60 homer seasons Bonds, McGwire and Sosa had.

But that is ridiculous.

Maris did what he did in the season that he played in. How is that the same as taking power boosters?

I don't get it, I really don't.

Roger Maris had a fabulous career aside from that season--he won the American League MVP Award twice--but funny, I think his career was somewhat obscured by those 61 home runs.

People forget about how good he was aside from those homers and that season.

And that is a shame.

He is one of several players from that era--among them Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva--who you have to scratch your head and say, "How are they not in the Hall of Fame?"

Here's to Roger Maris. He had a Hall of Fame season in what should have been a Hall of Fame career.

Maybe one day it will be.

I will be taking the day off tomorrow for some medical tests, but I will be back on Wednesday.

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