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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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During the next week at Yankee Stadium, Maris hit number 54, a fierce liner to right center off Tom Cheney of Washington; number 55, a high drive into the bleachers off Dick Stigman of Cleveland; and number 56, another drive into the bleachers, off Mudcat Grant, another Indian. Mantle also hit three, and this week, which ended on Sept. 10, was the last in which Mantle fully shared the pre-and postgame pressures.

As a young ballplayer, Mantle had been almost mute in the presence of interviewers. "Yup" was a long answer: "maybe" was an oration. But over the years he has developed a noncommittal glibness and a fair touch with a light line. "When I hit 48." he told a group one day. "I said to Rog, 'I got my man. The pressure's off me.' " (The year Ruth hit 60, Lou Gehrig hit 47.) Such comments kept Mantle's press relations reasonably relaxed, but Maris, three years younger than Mantle, 10 years younger a star, had to labor. Maris insists that such laborings had no effect on his play, but others close to him are not so sure. "Those daily press conferences didn't do him any good," remarked one friend.

Two days before the Yankee home stand ended, a reporter asked Maris about the fans behind him in rightfield. "Terrible." Maris said. "Maybe the worst in the league." He recounted a few unprintable remarks that had been shouted at him and, under consistent prodding, ran down the customers for 10 or 15 minutes. The next day, after reading the papers, he said to an acquaintance, "That's it. I've been trying to be a good guy to the writers, but I quit. You heard me talking. Did I sound like the papers made it look?"

"No."

"Well, from now on I'll tell the writers what pitch I hit, but no more big spiels."

"Because one or two reporters roughed you, are you going to take it out on everybody now?"

Maris looked uncomfortable. "Listen," he said, "I like a lot of the writers. But even so, they are Number 2; Number 1 is myself. I got to look out for myself. If it hurts someone else, damn it, I'm sorry, but I got to look out for myself more than I have."

Maris hit no homers in the doubleheader that concluded the home stand and afterward committed the only truly graceless act of his ordeal. "Well?" a reporter said to Maris, whose locker adjoins Elston Howard's.

"He hit a homer, not me," Maris said, gesturing toward Howard. "Mr. Howard, tell these gentlemen how you did it."

"If I had 55 homers, I'd be glad to tell the gentlemen," Howard said pleasantly.

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