MARIS, ROGER (1934-1985)
In 1961 Roger Maris hit sixty-one home runs and broke baseball's most-hallowed single season record. He was born in Hibbing, Minnesota, on September 10, 1934, but spent his formative years in North Dakota. As a teenager in Fargo, Maris excelled in football at Shanley High School and also starred with the town's American Legion baseball team. Although the University of Oklahoma recruited Maris to play football, he instead signed a contract to play baseball for the Cleveland Indians in 1953. Maris played for several Cleveland farm teams, including their Class C club in Fargo, before making his major-league debut in 1957.
In 1958 Cleveland traded Maris to the Kansas City Athletics, who then dealt the outfielder to the New York Yankees in December 1959. In 1961, despite facing intense media pressure as well as opposition from fans who did not want him to pass Babe Ruth's single-season mark of sixty home runs, Maris broke the record on the last day of the season. While this achievement made him famous, it proved to be a mixed blessing for Maris, because many never forgave him for surpassing the legendary Ruth. Nevertheless, over the next thirty-seven years Maris's mark was annually the subject of intense media speculation and fan excitement. This culminated in 1998, when his record was finally surpassed by Mark McGuire.
Maris's 1961 season overshadowed a very respectable career in which he hit 275 home runs, won two most valuable player awards as well as a Gold Glove Award, and played in seven World Series. Maris died on December 14, 1985, after a year-long battle with cancer.
Kent M. Krause University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Allen, Maury. Roger Maris: A Man for All Seasons. New York: Donald I. Fine, Inc., 1986.
Maris, Roger, and Jim Ogle. Roger Maris at Bat. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1962.