SI Vault
William Leggett
April 24, 1967
Roger Maris, erstwhile Yankee problem child, played gung-ho baseball for his new team and set the mood as the Cardinals raced through a wild first week
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April 24, 1967

A Roar For Roger In St. Louis

Roger Maris, erstwhile Yankee problem child, played gung-ho baseball for his new team and set the mood as the Cardinals raced through a wild first week

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Thus last Tuesday evening, with a chill in the air, bands playing and horns tooting, Roger Maris rode in an open convertible along the left-field line toward home plate in Busch Memorial Stadium for his debut as a Cardinal. He waved to people in the stands as they shouted his name, but he held his breath continued for the reaction when he would be announced formally. When the big ovation came, he tipped his cap and scrambled awkwardly from the car to join the lineup of teammates on the first-base line. As he trotted to right field a few people in the bleachers waved to him, while others hollered encouragement.

Maris came to bat in the first inning with runners at first and third and Juan Marichal pitching for the San Francisco Giants, which is just about as much pressure as any newcomer needs. He hit the ball to third and, although the run did not score, he advanced the runner from first to second. In the second inning the Giants shifted the infield against him by putting three men between first and second. They were saying, "There's the challenge, Roger, baby. Be a hero. Hit the ball through it or over it." Maris never even stepped from the batter's box. He tugged at the black golf glove on his right hand and went to work. "It surprised the heck out of me to see it," he said later. With the count 1-1 he tried to bunt up the third-base line, but fouled the pitch off. In trouble now with a 1-2 count, he lashed at Marichal's next pitch and punched the ball into left field for a single, but—oops—Jesus Alou, the Giant left fielder, moved slowly on the ball and Maris kept right on going and into second with a double. The biggest opening-day crowd in Cardinal history cheered. He bounced out his next time at bat, and then, in the sixth inning, the Giants threw the shift at him again. Maris pushed a bunt up the third-base line, beat it out, and a delighted man in the Stadium Club in left field kept hollering, " Roger Maris bunted for a hit! He bunted for a hit!" After that inning, when Roger went to his position in right field, the fans in the bleachers stood and applauded. He had showed them something and they liked it.

Two nights later the Cardinals got in an inning and a half of their second game of the season before it was rained out. With the rain Maris lost a clean single he had gotten in the first inning off Don Drysdale. In six at bats against Marichal and Drysdale he had collected three hits, which is not what those two are paid $100,000 each for. "The people were cheering for me, Maris said afterward, in some wonderment. "It's strange hearing it. Different. I enjoyed beating the shift, because it gave us a chance for runs with Orlando Cepeda coming up behind me, but I'm really happy because it's been such a long time since I've heard a good reaction. I guess, too, that when I beat the shift it made me realize that they hadn't seen me when I was young and first came up, and the things I could do then."

That should have been enough for Roger Maris and Cardinal fans, but on Friday night he put on a batting show that will long be remembered. He walked to the plate in the first inning with Curt Flood on first. A banner hanging in back of home plate read, "Welcome, Roger Maris." Earlier one had been draped over the fence in right field that said, "Beat the Dodgers, Roger," and before the game he had caught fly balls in practice and waved to the fans. Little waves, done with his back to the infield so only those in the bleachers could see. With Flood leading off first and the count 0-2 against him, Maris pounded the ball over Lou Johnson's retreating body in center field and to the fence 414 feet away for a triple. It set up a three-run inning. The next time up Maris singled and then scored on a double by Orlando Cepeda. But it was on his third time to the plate that Maris showed something many people thought he had lost long ago. Flood was on base again, and Maris pushed a ball into short left center. Flood went to third, and Maris could have stopped at first, but he has always been a smart base runner. Realizing that the Dodgers figured he would hold with a single, Maris put his head down and went on toward second. Ten feet from the base he went into a headlong slide and easily beat the throw from the outfield. Gene Michael, the Dodger shortstop, was obviously startled. He caught the throw, looked around slowly and—peekaboo—there was Roger Maris.

That double did it. The applause that had grown louder with each of Maris's successes became thunderous. Cups and torn paper spilled out onto the warning track in right field and the bleacherites were hollering at him through popcorn-cone megaphones. Whistles blew and people waved. Sportswriters in the press box looked at each other and then out at him, as if to say, " Maris, do you know who you are and what you're doing?" Maris made only one small gesture, for there was no way he could answer the applause. Standing on second base he put his hands on his hips and looked around the park just for an instant.

After the game Maris tried to explain the head-first slide. "I don't know why I did it," he said. "There was plenty of time for me to slide feet first. I don't ever remember doing it that way before. There must of been a reason for it, but I don't know what it was."

On Saturday Maris picked up two more hits as the Cardinals beat the Dodgers again, 13-4, and on Sunday he drove in three runs against Houston. All the Cardinals were hitting—the team average was .371, and on Saturday they had batted around in the fifth inning—but the kid with the biggest and newest toy was Roger Maris. "I made the first and last outs in that inning," he said later. "That's something I don't remember doing before, either, but the fans didn't boo me. The whole thing this week has been better than I thought it could be. When I went through the thing about retiring I said to myself, 'This is the only thing I know.' When you quit you lose a lot. My wife came here with the kids this week to see me play. Before, the only time they ever got a chance was when the Yankees went to Kansas City.

"I'm happy, and when I'm happy my wife is happy. I know that this week here meant an awful lot to her, just as it has to me. I'm crazy about this ball club, and so far I'm crazy about this city."

The city didn't seem to object too much to Roger Maris, either.

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