"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

I Can See Clearly Now…

Fifty years ago, Roger Maris chased Babe Ruth’s home run record. Of course, he eventually broke it.¬†When he did, this is what the great Leonard Shecter wrote in the New York Post:

Great events of history are over swiftly. A ball, even if it’s the first in the long and noble history of baseball to be hit for a 61st home run, takes only a few heartbeats of time to be propelled from home plate to the outfield seats.

For those who were at Yankee Stadium yestrday, some 24,000 people, it was over all too quickly. It would have been better if the ball leaped in exaltation, turned int he air and wrote a saucy message (like WHEEE!) against the blue sky, dipped nobly and shed a tear over the monument to Babe Ruth in center field.

…Maris swung his most vicious swing and the ball rose in a great arc toward right center field. In years to come millions will swear they were at the Stadium the day Maris hit the home run heard round the world but none among them will be able to say it was less than a perfect home run.

The ball was outlined sharply, whitely, against the sky as it came to the outfield. There were puffs of white clouds in the sky but it was as though they parted to let the ball fly by. It landed perhaps six rows back, about seven seats and a narrow aisle to the right of the bullpen, well to the left of the 344 foot marker. A home run in Babe Ruth’s day, too.

“I was up there wheeling,” Maris said after he had paid his homage to the commercial gods of television. He was calm, in control, the way the President is probably, when he strides into a huge room to face 800 reporters.

This wasn’t the same Maris who jiggled nervously for weeks waiting for the ax to fall on the 154th game. It wasn’t the same Maris who lost sleep, even tufts of his hair in the unbearable pressure cooker of the publicity as he made the run at the 154th game home run record.

It was a Maris who seemed a foot taller now that a terrible load had been taken off him, now that he had the 61 home runs, now that the season was over.

…The people got to their feet and clapped their hands as Maris ran. It wasn’t so much a cheer as it was applause, the kind you get from an audience which has been moved by a great performance.

…The applause and his teammates brought him back out of the dugout, cap off, his hair looking, in the bright day, blonder than it is. He waved his cap once, twice, tried to retreat, was pushed back by the players.

“I thought they wanted me to stay out there all day,” Maris said.

Perhaps they, who have had to get the base hits, understand best the magnitude of Maris’ accomplishment. Put it this way. It’s difficult to hit 61 home run the way it was difficult to run the four minute mile before anybody else had done. Others may now hit 61 but you have to put Roger Maris up there with Roger Bannister. It’s been a great century for Roger.

3 comments

1 William J.   ~  May 20, 2011 10:57 am

24,000 people were attendance...think about that the next time someone tries to insist then, not now, was the golden age of baseball.

In 2003, I wound up meeting Sal Durante's father (the guy who caught the ball) in physical therapy. As soon as he said his name, I knew exactly who he was, which made him light up (he had to be at least 80 years old). So, while I opened and closed clothes pins to help mend a broken hand, he told me stories about all the things that had happened to his son because of the catch. Was a pretty cool experience.

2 BronxToCT   ~  May 20, 2011 11:48 am

My wife, who's not really a baseball fan but gladly tolerates my and my daughter's obession with all things Yankee, was actually in attendance, an 9-year old at the time. She never fails to bring it up when the opportunity presents itself -- and, I guess, who can blame her?

3 Alex Belth   ~  May 20, 2011 1:23 pm

from the same article, talking about Maris in the locker room after the game...

"Next to him stood a young man name of Sal Durante, who yesterday was struck by a kind of only-in-America fame. Durante, a 19-year -old truck driver caught the historic ball and already he looked as harried as Maris had in his worst days."

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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