Next up in my ongoing “Turn Back the Clock” series is a “10th Anniversary” card for the record-breaking year Roger Maris had for the awesome 1961 New York Yankees team, who dominated baseball and stampeded straight to a World Championship:
A big part of the Yankees march towards greatness was the incredible tandem Roger Maris, the previous year’s Most Valuable Player, and legend Mickey Mantle who took home the MVP in 1956 and 1957.
Together they would go on to hit 115 home runs between them, a record at the time, along with the rest of the team hitting another 125 homers for a record 240 homers for one team in any given season (again, since broken).
As we all know by now, the drama surrounding what should have been a wonderful time got to the point where the league stepped in and declared that should Maris break the record AFTER his 154th game, it would go down with an asterisk, since the current record holder at the time, Babe Ruth, hit 60 homers in eight less games.
I remember reading how the pressure got so bad for Maris that he began losing hair as he dealt with not only the league, but hardcore fans who felt that Mantle should have been the one to break the record and not him, since Mantle was a NYC idol to so many.
Nevertheless, after Mantle was hobbled by injuries, curtailing his own home run record pursuit (ending up with 54 homers), Maris became the focus and on October 1st, against the Boston Red Sox and pitcher Tracy Stallard on the final game of the season, he connected for the record, unmatched in Major League ball until both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both passed him in 1998.
It’s still somewhat of an oddity that Maris did break the record when you look at his career overall. Although a very good player in his prime between 1958 through 1964, that 1961 season was truly a break-out year that he never managed to come close to again.