Maris Reinstatedby Bill Tuomala
On the last day of the 1961 season, Sunday October 1st, Roger Maris hit his sixty-first home run to break the then-standing record of sixty home runs in a season. Maris's number of 61 has since been passed by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. But Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire took steroids and it's obvious that Sammy Sosa did also. Their records are fraudulent. We here at Exiled on Main Street will now only recognize Roger Maris as the single-season home run leader.
We also like Maris because he was one of the three best right fielders of his day - up there with Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline. He had a gun for an arm. Compare him to Sosa, a crappy right fielder; Bonds, who loafs after fly balls in left; and McGwire, who played first base because he was too slow to play any other defensive position.
Aside from Maris's pure on-the-field accomplishments (and his being a North Dakota boy doesn't hurt his standing with us at all), the reason we celebrate him over today's juiced-up power hitters is that he remains the more compelling figure. Yep, we choose Maris partly because he makes for better writing material. David Halberstam's chapter on him in October 1964 is a fine a portrait of an athlete you'll read. His chase of Babe Ruth's record in 1961 is fascinating - he was a rural boy in New York City, the fans were cheering for Mickey Mantle instead of him, the commissioner of baseball was an old buddy of Ruth's and laid down the infamous "asterisk" ruling; yet Maris pushed on and on until the record was his.
And then look at Mark McGwire. One word describes him as I look back on 1998: Dork. At some point, he whined and described himself as "a caged animal" due to the media circus. A circus, yes, but one that was carefully managed by the St. Louis Cardinals. Compare that to Maris being left out to dry by the Yankees in 1961, where the pressure got so bad they he began to lose hair and even demanded a day off late in the season before he had knocked out 61 home runs.
Or compare their respective breakings of the home-run record. Here's Mickey Mantle on the just-doing-my-job Maris: "When he hit, he came into the dugout and they were all applauding. I mean, this is something that's only happened once in baseball, right? And the people were all applauding. They wanted him to come back out. He wouldn't come out, so the players had to push him back out. They forced him to come out and take a bow. That's the kind of guy he was."
What did Mark McGwire do? He crossed home plate, then picked up and hugged his fucking kid. Whatta dork! There's no room for children on the field in major league baseball, and there should be no room for chemically-enhanced, poor-fielding bores. Goodbye McGwire, Bonds, and Sosa. Welcome back Roger Maris, our true single-season home run champion.