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Roger Kahn
October 02, 1961
When he hit his 59th home run of the season in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium one night last week, Roger Maris stood one swing away from baseball's household god, George Herman Ruth. For the entire previous month, as he pursued the magic mark of 60, Maris lived under suffocating, unrelenting pressure—pressure such as no ballplayer has ever had to endure, not even Babe Ruth himself. Throughout most of that month Roger Kahn, on assignment from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, was an unobtrusive but constant observer of Maris' triumph and trials. Here is his story.
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October 02, 1961

Pursuit Of No. 60: The Ordeal Of Roger Maris

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After hearing five or six, Maris said to the A.P. reporter, "This is driving me nuts."

"That's my next question," the reporter shouted. "They want to know how you're reacting to all this."

During the next week at Yankee Stadium, Maris hit No. 54, a fierce liner to right center off Tom Cheney of Washington, No. 55, a high drive into the bleachers off Dick Stigman of Cleveland and No. 56, another drive into the bleachers, off Mudcat Grant, another Indian. Mantle also hit three, and this week, which ended on September 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 right field. "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 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?"


"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?"

Maris looked uncomfortable. "Listen," he said, "I like a lot of the writers. But even so, they are No. 2. No. 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."

A bad press

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