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On This Date in Sports October 1, 1961: 61 in 61

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Roger Maris of the New York Yankees hit his 61st home run, setting a new single-season record. The record is given an asterisk, as Babe Ruth's 60 home runs is still recognized s the record since the 1961 season saw the schedule increased from 154 to 162 games. The record home run comes off Tracy Stallard as the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox 1-0 in the Bronx. The asterisk would be lifted in 1991. The record would stand for 37 years before it was topped by Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Soda of the Chicago Cubs in 1998. 


Roger Maris was born on September 10, 1934, in Hibbing, Minnesota. Raised in Fargo, North Dakota, Maris was a two-sport star before signing with the Cleveland Indians in 1954. Making his debut in 1957, Maris showed early power as he hit 14 home runs, but his .235 average led the Tribe to trade him one year later to the Kansas City Athletics. Splitting the season between Cleveland and Kansas City, Maris hit 28 homers in 1958. After making the All-Star team in 1959, Maris was traded to the New York Yankees.

The Kansas City Athletics never posted a winning season in 13 seasons between playing as the Philadelphia Athletics and Oakland Athletics. They had the unfortunate reputation as the unofficial farm club of the New York Yankees. The Yankees previously had a minor league team in Kansas City, and the A's were a regular trading partner with the Yankees, rarely getting anything in return. On the verge of stardom, Maris was sent to the Yankees along with Joe DeMaestri and Kent Hadley to the New York Yankees for Hank Bauer, Don Larsen, Norm Siebern, and Marv Throneberry.

Led by Casey Stengel, the Yankees' dynasty was never more powerful than it was in the 1950s. From 1949-1958, they appeared in nine of ten World Series, winning seven. The lone season they missed the Fall Classic in 1954, they won 103 games. The Yankees struggled through most of the 1959 season, posting a record of 79-75 as they looked to make some upgrades to reinvigorate the team heading into 1960. The acquisition of Roger Maris for Hank Bauer and Don Larsen, both past their prime, filled the bill as the Yankees won the pennant as Maris won the American League MVP in 1960, with 39 home runs. 


The Yankees fell short in the World Series, losing in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Bill Mazeroski's home run. This led to the firing of Casey Stengel, as Ralph Houk took the reins in 1961. With expansion, in the American League came an expanded schedule as the season now was 162 games from 154. 

Despite winning the MVP, Roger Maris was unpopular in New York as he was often shy and standoffish to the press, creating bad blood that would come to a head in the 1961 season. Ralph Houk wanting to get the most out of his lineup, batted Roger Maris in front of Mickey Mantle, creating the most powerful 1-2 punch in baseball history. The Yankees hit a record 240 home runs in 1961 as Mantle and Maris combined for 115 home runs. Both sluggers nicknamed the M&M Boys were ahead of Babe Ruth's pace, leading commissioner Ford C. Frick to declare that the record needed to be set with 154 games to be regarded as the official record. 

By September, the spotlight turned to Roger Maris, as Mickey Mantle was hospitalized with an abscess on his hip following a penicillin shot. Needing two home runs in Baltimore, Maris failed to reach 60 home runs by Frick's deadline, hitting one as he had 59 through September 20th. It had been a stressful season, as he began losing his hair over the extra press coverage. The press coverage wained as the deadline was not met. Maris meanwhile hit his 60th home run off Jack Fisher of the Orioles on September 26th. 

The final game had a disappointing crowd of 23,154 as Roger Maris hit his 61st home run in the fourth inning against Tracy Stallard. The Yankees would win the game 1-0 as the ball was caught by Sal Durante. Durante offered the ball back to Maris but was encouraged to sell it by the Yankees' slugger. He sold the ball to a restauranter for $5,000. Eventually, the ball found its way to the Hall of Fame. Over the next three decades, as no player approached 61, the asterisk took on less weight and eventually was removed in 1991. Sadly Roger Maris was not alive to see it, dying after a battle with cancer in 1985.