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Pursuit of No. 60: The Ordeal of Roger Maris
Roger Kahn
September 26, 1994
This 1961 SI Classic recalls how the Yankee slugger endured the relentless pressure—on and off the field—of chasing Babe Ruth's home run record
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September 26, 1994

Pursuit Of No. 60: The Ordeal Of Roger Maris

This 1961 SI Classic recalls how the Yankee slugger endured the relentless pressure—on and off the field—of chasing Babe Ruth's home run record

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Even if they chose to, reporters could not "protect" Maris because Maris is being covered more intensely than any other figure in sports history. Not Ruth, or Dempsey, or Tilden, or Jones was ever subjected to such interviewing and shadowing for so sustained a period. No one can protect Maris; he must protect himself. But to do this, he would have to duck questions and tell hall-truths, and both are contrary to his nature. Such is his dilemma. Obscurity is the only cure.

Maris talks softly and clearly, but he is not a phrasemaker. He is not profound. He is a physical man, trying to adjust to a complex psychological situation. This day he is wearing a tomato-colored polo shirt, and he is smoking one of the cigarettes he is paid to endorse.

He is asked what word he would use to describe all the attention he has received.

He thinks for a moment and says, "Irritating. I enjoy bull sessions with the guys [reporters]. But this is different, the questions day after day, the big story. I say a guy [Hank Soar] missed a few. I've always said it. Now it's in the papers, and it comes out like I'm asking for favors. I'm saying"—a touch of anger colors his voice—"call a strike a strike and call a ball a ball, but in the papers it appears like I'm looking for favors."

About the people he meets?

"Mostly they're inconsiderate. The fans, they really get on me. Rip me, my family, everything. I like to eat in the Stage [a New York deli], and it's got so bad I can't eat there. I can't get a mouthful of food down without someone bothering me. They even ask for autographs at Mass."

Now he is talking more easily, going from topic to topic at the drop of a word. Like this:

Babe Ruth: "Why can't they understand? I don't want to be Babe Ruth. He was a great ballplayer. I'm not trying to replace him. The record is there, and damn right I want to break it, but that isn't replacing Babe Ruth."

Old-timers, generally: "It gets me sore, they keep comparing me to Ruth, running me down, and I'm not trying to be Ruth. It gets me damn sore."

Money: "I want enough for me and my family, but I don't really care that much for money. I want security, but if I really cared about money, I'd move to New York this winter, wouldn't I? That's where the real money is, isn't it? But I'm not moving to New York."

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