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Sunday, Oct. 1, 1961, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y. Bottom of the fourth, nobody on, one out, no score. Roger Maris of the Yankees steps to bat for the second time in the final game of the season. Tracy Stallard, a 24-year-old righthander for the Boston Red Sox, delivers a fastball—"a strike, knee-high on the outside of the plate," he would say later.
Maris swings and everybody knows the ball is gone. In the melee in the right-field stands, Sal Durante, a teen-ager from Brooklyn, emerges with the home-run ball and becomes a footnote to history. Maris slowly circles the bases to a standing ovation from the crowd. Yogi Berra, the next batter, shakes his hand, as does the bat boy and an ecstatic fan who has leaped out of the stands. Maris disappears into the dugout, comes out again, doffs his cap and smiles. On the last possible day he has broken Babe Ruth's "unbreakable" record and hit 61 home runs in a season.
Wednesday, March 23, 1977, Perry Field, Gainesville, Fla. Roger Maris, beer distributor and 42-year-old father of six, stands in the Yankee dugout watching his old teammates prepare to play a spring-training game against the University of Florida. George Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees, approaches. "Hey, Rog," he says, "where's the beer?" Maris laughs and shrugs his shoulders. "You should have asked me earlier," he says.
Steinbrenner chuckles, but then his smile fades a bit. "You know, you're a hard guy to get a hold of, Roger," he says. "You're hard to get to New York for just one day."
There is a pause. Maris' smile continues, but it is artificial now, as though propped up with toothpicks. Steinbrenner is referring to the annual Old Timers' Game, an event Maris has never attended since he left the Yankees in 1966. Maris has refused to visit Yankee Stadium for any reason.
"Why don't you come?" Steinbrenner says in a softer voice.
Maris stares out at the field. "They might shoot me," he says.
Steinbrenner's voice becomes solemn. "I'm telling you, Roger, you won't ever hear an ovation like the one you'd get if you'd come back to Yankee Stadium."
Maris looks at the ground. "Maybe," he says without conviction, and the conversation is over.
After all these years, the man who hit more home runs in a season than anyone else still has not recovered from the emotional turbulence of the summer of '61. Hounded ceaselessly by an aggressive sporting press and by fans who lusted for the long ball. Maris proved himself in adequate to the vast demands of public relations. It is uncertain whether anyone could have been adequate.