SI Vault
Jack Olsen
September 11, 1961
A fanciful (but by no means unbelievable) look at what might happen when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris make their stretch runs at baseball's gaudiest record
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September 11, 1961

The Week They Try To Catch The Babe

A fanciful (but by no means unbelievable) look at what might happen when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris make their stretch runs at baseball's gaudiest record

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The idea of all this money waiting around for Mantle or Maris has not escaped the attention of the sporting public, which loves a winner, especially a rich winner. When Chicago Manager Al Lopez pitched three straight left-handers against the Yankees in a recent series he was soundly berated by fans. "They say I'm stealing thousands of dollars from Mantle and Maris," the baffled Lopez observed. The money motif has helped to make baseball fans out of nonfans, including a few little old ladies who are under the impression that the San Francisco White Sox are leading the American League by six games to love. After every Yankee game sports desks and radio stations are inundated by calls from people who are monumentally disinterested in the score of the game but simply must know if M or M hit one. The Kansas City Star has been taking 80 such calls a night. Not long ago a caller asked staffer Don Brewer how the Yankees were faring against Cleveland. "It's two to nothing Cleveland," said Brewer.

"Never mind that," said the caller. "Have Mantle or Maris hit any homers?"

Word from above

All of this frenzied interest has led certain experts to make more or less accurate predictions about the week the 60th homer is—or is not—hit. A New York tabloid, following its tradition of enterprising journalism and expenses be damned, sent a reporter to "heaven" to sound out the most expert expert of all—the Babe himself. Ruth allowed that Maris seemed to have a good chance to break the record, but Mantle's prospects were poor. Somebody else predicted that the total paid attendance at the Kansas City game in Cleveland on Sept. 20 will be zero. Everybody will be at home listening to the Yankees play the 154th game of the season at Baltimore. At least one bridegroom-to-be will carry a transistor radio into the church, hear the 60th homer reported through his earplug and answer "He did" instead of "I do."

Senators from every state where Mantle and Maris have been born or lived, which they have passed through or misspelled in school, will rush to the Senate floor to deliver congratulatory speeches about their native son. The Senators from New York will speak, on the grounds that North Dakotan Maris and Oklahoman Mantle ply their trade in that great state, and the Senators from Massachusetts will point out that the ball, after all, was made livelier in that great state. Somewhere a crafty employer will install a radio loudspeaker in the office, and for the first time since World War II nobody will take a coffee break.

It is even possible to predict the scene in the dressing rooms on the fateful day. Somebody will ask M or M what kind of pitch he hit. "A good fast ball," he'll say. Somebody will ask the pitcher what he threw. "A curve ball that hung," he'll say. Somebody will also ask the catcher. "It was a slider that sailed," he will report.

Not even baseball players have been exempt from the plethora of prognostication and opium dreams. In every dugout before every game players get together and work up the possibilities. One pitcher—whose jests may reveal his intentions—thinks it would be hilarious if Maris or Mantle tripped on a bat and broke a leg as he strode to the plate with 59 home runs and eight games to play. Another foresees Maris standing at the plate for his very last at bat, needing one homer to break the record. The score is tied and Kubek is on third. Maris digs in; the pitcher panics, drops the ball in the middle of his wind-up and the winning run is balked across the plate. The ball game is over, and Maris is left standing there—a failure.

Somewhere behind this mountain of conjecture, speculation and guesswork, a pennant race is going on, which brings up the most fascinating possibility of them all. It is expressed by Tiger Manager Bob Scheffing, that sage fellow who brought the Detroits from a sixth-place finish last year into contention for the pennant. Says Scheffing, a man who seems to see a lovely vision dimly through a thickening fog: "Imagine if Mantle and Maris both hit 65 homers, and the Yankees finished second. I'd be delirious." So would baseball.

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