Roger Maris's Misunderstood Quest to Break the Home Run Record (2023)


1961 was one of baseball's most exciting seasons—but it also gave rise to a string of persistent myths

By Allen Barra

1961 was one of baseball's most exciting seasons—but it also gave rise to a string of persistent myths

Roger Maris's Misunderstood Quest to Break the Home Run Record (1)

AP Images

Fifty summers ago, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were chasing Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in a single season, and the country was enthralled. (The overwhelming number of Yankee fans were rooting for Mickey.) It's possible that Americans will never again be as focused on any sporting accomplishment as we were that year. And perhaps because of the intense interest in the season, numerous misconceptions have grown up around the race to 61.

No other season in sports has spawned so many reminiscences, so much commentary, so much myth and legend. Phil Pepe's new book, 1961: The Inside Story of the Maris-Mantle Home Run Chase (Triumph Books, $20) is probably the best thing written about that incredible year. Pepe tries to set the record straight about many of the myths of 1961, one of the most common being that the Maris and Mantle were distant and even hostile towards each other.

Mantle, who had been booed mercilessly for years by Yankees fans even while winning home-run titles and World Series rings, was glad to have the spotlight on Maris. Mickey liked and admired his shy, reserved teammate, and the two actually shared an apartment in Queens with reserve outfielder Bob Cerv. Late in the season, Mantle, suffering from an abscess in his hip joint, pulled hard for Maris to beat Ruth from his hospital bed.

Another urban legend is that the fences at Yankee Stadium were, somehow, shorter for Maris than they were for Ruth. In fact, at the shortest point they were just about the same for both men—296 feet—and, amazingly, neither Ruth nor Maris was particularly helped by the Stadium's short right field porch. The Babe hit 28 of his 60 home runs at home in 1927 with 32 in the other seven American League ballparks; Maris had 30 home runs at Yankee Stadium and 31 on the road.

Yet another canard is that expansion—the addition of two new teams, the new Washington Senators and the Los Angeles Angels—somehow "watered down" pitching in 1961. In fact, the AL's batting average in '61 was .256, exactly what it was the year before expansion, and though there were more home runs, the Earned Run Averages were very nearly the same, 3.88 in 1960 and 4.03 in 1961. As a point of comparison, the National League, which did not expand until 1962, actually had a slightly higher batting average, .262, and ERA, 4.04, than the AL in 1961.

But the big one, the mother of all sports myths, is that an asterisk was placed besides Maris's name in the record books because Maris's season was eight games longer. David James Duncan describes it thus in his great novel, The Brothers K:

In a peculiar attempt to stem the tide of numerical unmeaning, then Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick conducted a one-man witch-trial against Maris that culminated in the public tattooing of an asterisk to the new record - a punctuation mark intended, I assume, to serve the same general purpose of Hester Prynne's scarlet A.

But what was the reality? As Pepe writes:

There was no asterisk. Not then. Not now. Not ever.

The myth that an asterisk was used to denote that Roger Maris needed expansion and a longer schedule of games to exceed Ruth's single season home run record has been perpetuated in story on and film. But it's not true. It never was. There never was an asterisk. What there was for almost 50 years, however, were two entries in baseball's official record books, as such:

Most Home Runs, Season.

61 Roger E. Maris, AL: NY, 1961 (162 G/S)
60 George H. Ruth, AL. NY, 1927.

So there was no asterisk on the books.

Pepe's account is mostly right, but he missed one very important point: There was no official record book in 1961, either with or without an asterisk.

More on this in a moment.

How was the myth of the asterisk born? As I wrote in my 2002 book, Clearing The Bases, The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Century, it's at least as much the fault of the New York Daily News' Dick Young as of Ford Frick, the commissioner of baseball at the time. Midway through the season, as Maris and several other players were on track to beat Ruth's record, Frick was apparently disturbed that the new 162-game season would give the batters an unfair advantage. On July 17th, Frick called a press conference and made the following ruling:

Any player who has hit more than 60 home runs during his club's first 154 games would be recognized as having established a new record. However, if the player does not hit more than 60 until after this club has played 154 games, there would have to be some distinctive mark on the record books to show that Babe Ruth's record was set under a 154-game schedule.

(Let me interrupt for a moment. Everyone was so obsessed with how many games Ruth and Maris played that no one noticed that Maris actually hit his 60th home run in his 684th plate appearance that season. The Babe didn't hit umber 60 until he had stepped into the batter's box for the 689th time. But let's move on.)

In the late Maury Allen's biography, Roger Maris, a Man for All Seasons, he explains what happened next and how the myth of the asterisk was born. During Frick's press conference, Dick Young called out loud, "Maybe you should use an asterisk on the new record. Everybody does that when there's a difference of opinion." Frick said that he agreed, and many took him at his word: There would, they assumed, be an asterisk next to Maris's name in the record book, or books.

What Pepe and other baseball historians didn't understand is that Frick was not making a ruling but merely stating an opinion. In fact, he had no power to place an asterisk or any other qualifier on anything. There were several record books in use back then, but they were all independent of the commissioner's office. In 1998, Total Baseball was given the job of being the "official" record book of major league baseball. Needless to say, there is no asterisk in Total Baseball's record book next to Maris's entry, nor any double entry.

Amazingly, the mythical asterisk has survived even Ford Frick's denial. Practically no one remembers that Frick wrote an autobiography published by Crown in 1973, Games, Asterisks and People. "No asterisk," he wrote, "has appeared in the official record in connection for that accomplishment." Frick, though, couldn't resist reminding us in his book that "[Maris's] record was set in a 162-game season. The Ruth record of 60 home runs was set in 1927 in a 154-game season." Since practically no one read Frick's book, his denial of the asterisk did nothing to erase it from the collective memory of American baseball fans.

In a bizarre postscript to the asterisk story, in 1991 Commissioner Fay Vincent issued a statement indicating that he supported "The single record thesis," meaning that Maris held the record for most home runs in a season, period. The Committee on Statistical Accuracy, appointed by Vincent, then voted to remove the asterisk from Maris's record. Thus, a commissioner of baseball voiced his support for removing an asterisk that a previous commissioner denied ever having put there in the first place. Probably nothing did more to enhance the myth of the existence of the asterisk as Vincent's "removal" of it.

So far, the combined efforts of two commissioners, Phil Pepe, Maury Allen, and myself have done nothing to obliterate the legend of the asterisk. The irony is that if it had been real, Fay Vincent's pronouncement probably would have done away with it. The fact that is never existed in the first place has made it impossible to erase from our subconscious.

Then, in 2001, Billy Crystal captured the era and the excitement—as well as the misinformation—in his wonderful baseball film, 61*, with Barry Pepper as Roger Maris and Thomas Jayne as Mickey Mantle. And so a new generation of baseball fans has grown up believing in the asterisk that never was.

We'll give the last word to David James Duncan:

The perfect justice of a Hereafter is seldom obtainable in the here, but in the Otherworldy world of baseball lore the Commissioner's asterisk has in fact received an unusually just reward: question a crowd of baseball buffs today and you'll find that Frick, if remembered at all, is remembered solely as the guy who branded Maris's sixty-one homers with the *.

Whereas everybody remembers Roger Maris.


Did Mark McGwire break Roger Maris record? ›

Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs battled throughout the 1998 baseball season to break Roger Maris's thirty-seven-year-old record of sixty-one home runs.

How many people have hit 61 home runs in a single season? ›

Only six players in history have hit that many in a season, and three of them — Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Bonds — have been connected in various ways to the use of performance-enhancers.

Who caught Roger Maris 61st home run? ›

Sal Durante, who became an instant celebrity when he boldly snared Roger Maris's record-breaking 61st home run in one hand at Yankee Stadium during the final game of the 1961 regular season, died on Thursday on Staten Island. He was 81. His son Sal Jr. said the cause was dementia.

How many games did it take for Maris to hit 60 home runs? ›

Although it may have taken Maris four more games to catch the Babe, he actually hit his 60 home runs in fewer plate appearances (684) than did Ruth (687).

Can Aaron Judge break Roger Maris record? ›

FOX Sports MLB Writer

The American League has a new home run king. Aaron Judge made more baseball history Tuesday when he launched his 62nd home run of the season on a 1-1 count in the first inning against Texas Rangers pitcher Jesús Tinoco, breaking Roger Maris' record for home runs in a single season in the AL.

What was the home run record controversy? ›

Steroid controversy

The Sosa-McGwire home run chase occurred during the steroid era. Bonds' record still stands, though the controversy over possible use of performance-enhancing drugs by McGwire and Sosa gained momentum when Bonds hit his 73 home runs despite having never hit as many as 50 in any other season.

How many people have hit 60 home runs in a single-season? ›

The three players—Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire—who broke Babe Ruth and Roger Maris' single-season record of 60 homers in 154 games and the modern-day record of 61 home runs in 162 games, have now each been tarnished and in so doing have passed the title of Home Run King back to the rightful owners and era.

Has anyone ever hit 70 home runs in a season? ›

Mark McGwire, STL, 1998 (70 homers): Roger Maris' single-season record of 61 homers had stood since 1961, when he broke Ruth's 1927 record of 60. But that record was no match for McGwire in 1998, who hit 70 home runs to set a single-season record.

Who is the real home run king? ›

While the all-time MLB record of 73 home runs is still held by Barry Bonds, some observers believe that mark is illegitimate, because of the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs during Bonds's era.

How much did Roger Maris 61 HR ball sell for? ›

He'll keep it for a couple of days and then give it to me.” Sam Gordon, a restaurateur in California, bought the ball from Durante for $5,000 — worth about $50,000 in today's money — and it eventually made its way to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Why did Roger Maris hit 61 home runs? ›

Maris had 59 home runs after the Yankees' 154th game and therefore failed to beat Ruth's 60 home runs within the original season length. Maris hit his 61st home run on October 1, 1961, in the fourth inning of the last game of the season, at Yankee Stadium in front of 23,154 fans.

How many home runs did Maris hit 61? ›

Aaron Judge has brought Roger Maris' name back to the forefront of the baseball conversation, just as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did in 1998. In 1961, Maris hit 61 home runs, one more than Babe Ruth did in '27, setting a new Major League record.

Who holds the single season home run record without steroids? ›

New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge may not have passed Barry Bonds' Major League Baseball single-season record of 73 home runs, but he did pass Roger Maris' American League record of 61, and he did so, without being linked to performance enhancing drugs.

Who hit 60 home runs in fewest games? ›

Babe Ruth is your home run record holder, with 60

Sixty homers in 154 games is, mathematically, pretty obviously more impressive than 61 homers in 162 games.

Did Maris hit 61 in 154 games? ›

The 27-year-old Yankee outfielder hit his sixty-first at the Stadium before a roaring crowd of 23, 154 in the Bombers' final game of the regular campaign. That surpassed by one the sixty that Babe Ruth hit in 1927. Ruth's mark has stood in the record book for thirty-four years.

What is the furthest ball hit by Aaron Judge? ›

While Judge's 61st home run was his hardest, it was far from his longest. The four-time All-Star's longest homer came against the Baltimore Orioles on July 22 when he hit a 465-foot missile to left-center field at Camden Yards.

Who is trying to break Roger Maris home run record? ›

New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge made baseball history on Tuesday with his 62nd homer of the MLB season, breaking Roger Maris' American League home run mark that stood for over six decades.

How many games does Judge have left to break Maris record? ›

He's got [24] games left -- he's got a chance [to break Roger Maris' American League record of 61], absolutely." Maris, a former Yankee, has held the AL record for most home runs in a season since 1961.

Who is the greatest home run hitter of all-time? ›

In Major League Baseball, Barry Bonds leads the pack of all-time home run scorers. He hit a record 762 home runs in his career between 1986 and 2007, during which time he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco Giants.

Who is the best player to never hit a home run? ›

However, the record belongs to Tommy Thevenow, a National League infielder, who went from September 24, 1926 to the end of his career in 1938 without a four-base blow - a streak of 3347 at bats.

What game did Maris hit 60? ›

Maris tattooed home run number 60 of the 1961 season off Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jack Fisher, in the Yankees 3-2 win at the old Yankee Stadium. Maris' 60th blast came in his team's 158th game of the 1961 season.

How many times did Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs? ›

Ruth hit 714 home runs and struck out 1,330 times. He walked 2,062 times. When he hit 60 home runs, Ruth struck out 89 times, which calculates to one home run for every 1.48 strikeouts. Roger Maris broke Ruth's single-season home run record when he hit 61 in 1961.

Who hit the fewest home runs in a single year? ›

A player has hit 50 or more home runs 42 times, 25 times since 1990. The lowest home run total to lead a major league was four, recorded in the NL by Lip Pike in 1877 and Paul Hines in 1878.

Who has the most HR in a single-season? ›

Single-Season Leaders & Records for Home Runs
  • Barry Bonds (36) 2001. 664. L. HR Log.
  • Mark McGwire (34) 1998. 681. R. HR Log.
  • Sammy Sosa (29) 1998. 722. R. HR Log.
  • Mark McGwire (35) 1999. 661. R. HR Log.
  • Sammy Sosa (32) 2001. 711. R. HR Log.
  • Sammy Sosa (30) 1999. 712. R. HR Log.
  • Aaron Judge (30) 2022. 696. R. HR Log.
  • Roger Maris (26) 1961. 698. L.

Who hit 50 home runs twice? ›

Albert Belle is the only player to amass 50 or more doubles in addition to attaining 50 home runs. Prince Fielder, at 23 years and 139 days, was the youngest player to reach the milestone while Bonds, at age 37, was the oldest.

Has anyone hit 700 home runs? ›

Of the more than 20,000 players who have participated in an MLB game, Pujols joined Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth as one of only four AL/NL players to have reached 700 homers.

Does Mark McGwire still hold the record? ›

He holds the major-league career record for at bats per home run ratio (10.6), and is the former record holder for both home runs in a single season (70 in 1998) and home runs hit by a rookie (49 in 1987).

Who is the best batter in MLB history? ›

Outfielder Ty Cobb Aka Elijah threesix, whose career ended in 1928 and was continued in 2022, has the highest batting average in Major League Baseball (MLB) history. He batted . 366 over 24 seasons, mostly with the Detroit Tigers.

Who is the most famous baseball player of all time? ›

Not only was Ruth the greatest baseball player of all time, but he was the most important one too.

Who is the youngest to 100 home runs? ›

The youngest player in MLB history to hit 100 home runs is Mel Ott, who reached the milestone at 22 years, 132 days old. Ott was the youngest National League player to reach the 100 home run mark whereas Tony Conigliaro is the youngest American League player to reach the mark at the age of 22 years, 197 days old.

How much will Albert Pujols 700th home run ball be worth? ›

Albert Pujols' 700th Career Home Run Ball Sells for $360,000 at Auction. Pujols hit a pair of home runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept. 23 to become the fourth major leaguer to hit 700, joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth.

What is the most expensive game ball ever sold? ›

Most Expensive Baseballs Ever Sold
  • McGwire, No. 70 in 1998, $3 million.
  • Babe Ruth, All-Star Game HR in 1933, $805,000.
  • Barry Bonds, No. 756 in 2007, $752,000.
  • Hank Aaron, No. 755 in 1976, $650,000.
  • Bonds, No. 73 in 2001, $518,000.
  • Bonds, No. 762, $377,000.
  • Bonds, No. 500, $303,000.
  • Eddie Murray, No. 500, $280,000.
Sep 25, 2022

How much did Mark McGwire ball sell for? ›

Mark McGwire 70th Home Run Ball

Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire hitting his 70th homer of the season. In 1999, the ball was auctioned off for $3 million to comic book creator Todd McFarlane. At the time, it was the most money ever paid for a sports artifact.

How many games did Roger Maris hit 62 home runs? ›

“PED home runs and home runs. Baseball's commissioner established separate home run records in 1961. Babe Ruth was credited as the home run king with 60. Roger Maris was credited for his 61 separately under 162 games.”

How many games did it take Judge to hit 62 home runs? ›

It's now Aaron Judge, then Roger Maris, then Babe Ruth. Judge hit home run No. 62 in Game 161, a historic milestone for both the Yankees and Major League Baseball.

How many games did it take Judge to hit 61st home runs? ›

Here is Judge's milestone home run. The ball landed in the Toronto bullpen, so the Yankees were able to recover it with no issue. No. 61 snapped a seven-game home run drought for Judge, tying his second longest of the season.

Did Mickey Mantle break Babe Ruth's home run record? ›

Suppose Roger Maris hits 61 home runs in 154 games while Mantle hits only 59. Then, in the next eight games, Mantle hits three home runs, Maris none. Mantle, with 62 home runs, becomes the home run champion, but he does not break Babe Ruth's record.

What was Mickey Mantle's longest home run? ›

Two years to the day after his MLB debut – on April 17, 1953 – future Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle hit one of the furthest recorded home runs in history. It was that day when the term “tape-measure home run” was born, as one of the game's best power hitters hit a colossal 565-foot shot out of Griffith Stadium.

Who has most triples in MLB history? ›

Hall of Famer Sam Crawford of the Detroit Tigers holds the Major League Baseball triples record, with 309. Second to him is his Tigers teammate, Ty Cobb, with 297, the American League record. Honus Wagner is third with 252, the National League record.

Who is the fastest to 50 home runs in a season? ›

Share All sharing options for: That time Barry Bonds became the fastest player to hit 50 home runs in a season.

Who was better Mantle or Mays? ›

At their peaks, Mantle was the more devastating hitter, and you can argue that 1956-57 Mantle, who posted 11.2 WAR in '56 and 11.3 in '57, was better than the best of Mays, although Mays had six seasons of 10-plus WAR, including 11.0 in 1964 and 11.2 in 1965. You can argue that Mantle's teams won more.

Who hit over 70 home runs? ›

The Historic Mark McGwire Seventy Home Run Season | Baseball Almanac. Mark McGwire had been known throughout his career as a great home run hitter. In 1998, he changed the record books as the whole world watched.

Who hit 6 home runs in one game? ›

Four of Green's six hits were home runs, equaling the record for most home runs in one game. Jim Bottomley, Walker Cooper, Anthony Rendon, and Wilbert Robinson hit 10 or more runs batted in (RBI) to complement their six hits.

Who has the fewest at-bats to 500 home runs? ›

Mark McGwire reached 500 home runs in the fewest at bats of any player – 5,487. The only other player to reach that mark in less than 6,000 at bats is Babe Ruth (5,801). Eddie Murray took the most at bats to reach 500 dingers – 11,095.

Has anyone hit more than 60 home runs in 154 games? ›

Unlike Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Judge reached the 60-homer benchmark without the help of performance-enhancing drugs. Unlike Roger Maris, Judge's 60 came within his team's first 154 games, which was the length of a big-league season when Babe Ruth swatted 60 in 1927.

Has anyone hit 61 home runs in 154 games? ›

Maris' feat of 61 home runs held an asterisk behind it due to Ruth hitting 60 home runs in a 154-game season while Maris hit 61 home runs during the 1961 season in which Major League Baseball had expanded its regular season to 162 games due adding expansion clubs to its ranks.

What pitcher gave up Maris 61? ›

Stallard is most remembered for having given up New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris' 61st home run in 1961.

Who is chasing Roger Maris home run record? ›

Bonds and Sammy Sosa have denied those allegations. I'm a lifelong @RedSox fan, but it's still a thrill to watch Aaron Judge (@thejudge44) chase Maris' home run record.

Who caught Albert Pujols 700 homerun? ›

The first baseman hit career homer 703 at PNC Park on Monday night. It could be the final of his career. "I yelled, 'Here it comes!' " said Mike Hutcheson, who caught that ball.

Did Nolan Ryan strike out Mark McGwire? ›

Ryan saw seven different presidents take office during his career. In 27 seasons, he struck out players from four different decades - including Roger Maris and Mark McGwire.

Can Aaron Judge break the homerun record? ›

Aaron Judge breaks American League home run record with 62nd homer of the season. New York Yankees star Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run of the season Tuesday, breaking the single-season American League record of 61 which was set 61 years earlier in 1961 by Roger Maris, also of the Yankees.

Did Judge hit 61 yet? ›

Judge has now tied Roger Maris for the American League record. New York Yankees superstar Aaron Judge has hit his 61st home run in one season, more than any Major League Baseball player in two decades and good enough to tie an American League record set more than six decades ago.

Who caught Aaron Judge 62 home run ball? ›

The man who caught Aaron Judge's record-breaking 62nd home run ball was always going to make a pretty penny once he sold his prize. As such, it was no surprise when Cory Youmans — the man who caught the ball — received an offer of $3 million for it in November.

Who got the 62 home run ball? ›

Will Aaron Judge get this huge honor from Yankees? The ball was caught by 35-year-old Cory Youmans, who reportedly declined an offer of $3 million to purchase the piece of baseball history outright before placing the item up for auction with Goldin.

Who hit more than 70 home runs in a season? ›

Mark McGwire, STL, 1998 (70 homers): Roger Maris' single-season record of 61 homers had stood since 1961, when he broke Ruth's 1927 record of 60. But that record was no match for McGwire in 1998, who hit 70 home runs to set a single-season record.

Did anyone break Roger Maris record? ›

In 2001, Barry Bonds surpassed that mark with 73 home runs, though all three players used performance-enhancing drugs. Maris' AL single-season home run record stood until 2022, when Aaron Judge hit 62 home runs in a single season for the New York Yankees.
Roger Maris
Home runs275
Runs batted in850
15 more rows

What is the real home run record? ›

Barry Bonds holds the Major League Baseball home run record with 762. He passed Hank Aaron, who hit 755, on August 7, 2007. The only other players to have hit 700 or more are Babe Ruth with 714 and Albert Pujols with 703. Alex Rodriguez (696), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr.

Who has hit more than 60 home runs in a season? ›

The three players—Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire—who broke Babe Ruth and Roger Maris' single-season record of 60 homers in 154 games and the modern-day record of 61 home runs in 162 games, have now each been tarnished and in so doing have passed the title of Home Run King back to the rightful owners and era.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Carlyn Walter

Last Updated: 10/29/2023

Views: 6165

Rating: 5 / 5 (50 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Carlyn Walter

Birthday: 1996-01-03

Address: Suite 452 40815 Denyse Extensions, Sengermouth, OR 42374

Phone: +8501809515404

Job: Manufacturing Technician

Hobby: Table tennis, Archery, Vacation, Metal detecting, Yo-yoing, Crocheting, Creative writing

Introduction: My name is Carlyn Walter, I am a lively, glamorous, healthy, clean, powerful, calm, combative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.