Happy Birthday, Roger Maris

US #3188n from the Celebrate the Century series.

Baseball player Roger Eugene Maris was born on September 10, 1934, in Hibbing, Minnesota. 

Maris’ family moved to North Dakota when he was a teenager.  There he played baseball and football in high school.  He still holds the high school’s record for the most return touchdowns in a game, with four.

Maris began his baseball career in 1953, playing for the Cleveland Indian’s minor league team, the Fargo-Moorhead Twins.  He was made rookie of the year for the Northern League that year.  He spent four years in the minor league, playing for five different teams, all of which had a better win-loss record when he was on their team.  He also scored a record seven runs in the 1956 Junior World Series.

US #3188n – Classic First Day Cover.

Maris reached the major league on April 16, 1957, with the Cleveland Indians.  He hit his first home run, a grand slam, two days later.  The following season he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics.  The Athletics then traded him to the New York Yankees in 1959. 

US #3188n – Fleetwood First Day Cover.

In his first season as a Yankee, Maris led the league in runs-batted-in with 112 and was second in home runs with 39 (one behind Mantle).  Maris also won the Gold Glove Award and was named the American League’s most valuable player.  But the accomplishment for which he is most remembered happened in 1961.

US #2046 was issued for the 50th anniversary of the first All-Star Game.

Decades earlier, in 1927, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in a single season as a New York Yankee.  That phenomenal record seemed unreachable for 34 years.  Then during the 1961 season, Maris and teammate Mickey Mantle took turns leading the league in homers.  By August, Maris was four ahead.  An injury in September put Mantle out of the race.

By October 1, the final day of the season, Maris had 60 home runs, tied with Ruth.  In the fourth inning, he faced Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.  When Maris connected on the third pitch, the stadium fell silent as the ball raced for the stands.  When the ball hit with a thump about ten rows up in the seats, the crowd let out a roar.  The baseball was caught by a fan and returned to Maris.  The ball is now on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Maris received the Hickok Belt, honored as the top professional athlete of the year.  He also won that year’s American League MVP Award.  He remained with the Yankees through 1966, making his seventh and final All-Star Game appearance.  He played two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, which included perhaps the best World Series performance of his career, before retiring in 1968. 

US #3188n – Mystic First Day Cover.

After leaving baseball, Maris joined his brother in a beer distribution business.  He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1983 and died two years later on December 14, 1985.

US #3191a honored the battle to break Maris’ record in the 1990s.

In the early 2000s, several baseball players surpassed Maris’ record 61 home runs, but because of their connections to performance-enhancing drugs, some question the legitimacy of their accomplishments.  While Maris has yet to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he has been honored with a museum in his hometown of Fargo. 

Click here for detailed stats from Maris’ career and here to view Maris’ famed 61 in ’61 homerun.   

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Wow, showing my age – I remember watching the game on TV in 1961 when Roger broke The Babe’s home run record. He and Mickey Mantle were my hero’s. Thanks for bringing back the memories!

    1. Bruce–I am a big baseball guy, although… with a few less years than you. I’m curious about something– do you remember what the dimensions of old Yankee Stadium were in ’61, when Mantle and especially Maris had their wonderful years? In particular I’m wondering what the distance was down the right field line. In the current stadium it is ridiculously short, as it was as far back as I can remember in old Yankee stadium. Seems very very beneficial to a left-handed power hitter.

  2. Billy Crystal made a movie *61 which is about Roger Maris and his 1961 baseball season. By chance the only time I attended a game in the old Yankee Stadium they were promoting the film. Billy threw out the ceremonial first pitch while flanked by some members of the Maris and Mantle families. I recommend the movie to anyone who enjoys the game. And as a young boy I followed the ‘67 World Series as Roger, Lou Brock, and Bob Gibson defeated my beloved Red Sox in seven games.

  3. Down the right field line, it was 296 but curved out to the 315 mark. And listening to the Scooter made it all the better.

  4. I use to have Roger Maris’ 1957 baseball card, along with Mantle, Bob Turley, Don Larson, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Gil McDougald and Elston Howard. My collection got sold when by a family member, along with all my other possessions when I was in Viet Nam. No sweat thoug, they did what they had to do. I still love baseball, but don’t do cards anymore. Nice stamp though!

  5. Roger had a chance to tie the Babe’s record in the same amount of games(*) at a night game against Baltimore. He needed 2 that night for the tie but he only hit 2 homers off Baltimore all year. He got one early in the game and as he came up for his final at bat the O’s replaced the pitcher. I believe it was Hoyt Wilhelm. Everyone was so conscious of what was on the line, including Roger , that when he hit the ball to an infielder it didn’t look like he was going to run it out. He did but that ended the race at Ruth that all baseball fans had been tracking for months.

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