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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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Fame: "It's good and it's bad. It's good being famous, but I can't do the things I like anymore. Like bulling with the writers. I like to go out in public and be recognized a little. Hell, I'm proud to be a ballplayer. But I don't like being busted in on all the time, and now when I go out, I'm busted in on all the time."

Cheers: "I don't tip my cap. I'd be kind of embarrassed to. I figure the fans who cheer me know I appreciate it."

His current plight: "I'm on my own all the way, and I'm the same me I was, and Mickey is, too. Once in a while, maybe, it makes me go into a shell, but most of the time"—pride stirs in his voice—"I'm exactly the same as I was."

Pressure: "I don't feel a damn thing once the game starts. I honestly don't. But before the game, and afterward, the writers and the photographers and the questions. That's pressure. That's hard. In the game it's the same as always. I've been taking my swings. I've had some good swings, but I've fouled some good pitches back. I'm not losing any sleep or anything like that, but I'm damn tired, and when the season ends, I'm going right home and rest."

Ralph Houk, the manager of the Yankees, won a silver star and a purple heart in Europe during World War II and so is familiar with pressure. Of Maris he said, "I'd say it really got bad for him in Minneapolis [in late August]. I'd say it began, you know, real bad when we were out there," Houk paused. "Some funny things happen," he said. "Remember at the Stadium when the Indians knocked out Whitey Ford in the second inning? I was worried. Whitey's leg was bothering him, and Ford is a hell of a Series pitcher. So when the game was over I started figuring what I'd tell the writers when they asked me what was wrong with Ford. You know something? Nobody asked."

Ford himself, a worldly young man, added, "It's the damnedest thing. All my life I've been trying to win 20. This year I win 24, and all anybody asks me about is home runs." Ford's tone was pleasant, a trifle puzzled but not angry.

When the Yankees arrived in Minneapolis on that August trip, Maris had 51 homers and Mantle 46. Both were comfortably ahead of Ruth's record pace, and both had to share uncomfortable amounts of attention.

A chartered bus appeared in front of the Hotel Radisson well in advance of each game to carry the Yankees to Metropolitan Stadium. The downtown area of Minneapolis is compact, and the bus served as a signal to hundreds of Minneapolitans. As soon as it appeared, they herded into the hotel lobby. "Seen Rog?" they asked. "Where's Mick?" Enterprising children posted a watch on the eighth floor, where many of the Yankees were quartered. When Maris or Mantle approached the elevator, a child scout would sprint down eight flights and shout to the lobby, "Here they come." (Fortunately for the child scout, the elevators were unhurried relics of a more leisurely time.)

What followed in the lobby was the sort of surge one associates with lynchings. Maris and Mantle survived that first day because they are powerful men, but the next, tipped off by a friendly bellman, they began leaving the elevator on the second floor and taking a back stairway to the street.

Nothing much happened the first night in Minneapolis, except that Camilo Pascual of the Minnesota Twins became the father of a son and pitched a four-hit shutout. But a day later Mantle hit his 47th, lifting a slow curve over the leftfield fence.

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