Roger Maris Biography

Athlete (1934–1985)
American baseball player Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961 to break the single-season record held by the legendary Babe Ruth.


Born on September 10, 1934, in Hibbing, Minnesota, Roger Maris was a multisport star in high school before becoming a professional baseball player. In 1961, Maris hit 61 home runs to break the 34-year-old record held by the great Babe Ruth. The New York Yankees retired his No. 9 and the Roger Maris Museum opened in Fargo, North Dakota, shortly before his death in December 1985.

Early Years

Roger Eugene Maris was born on September 10, 1934, in Hibbing, Minnesota, but spent much of his childhood in Fargo, North Dakota. He starred in football and track for Shaney High School, and while the school didn't have a baseball team, he developed considerable skill in the sport by playing American Legion ball. Maris was recruited to play football by University of Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson, but he instead signed with the Cleveland Indians out of high school.

Baseball Career

Roger Maris made his major league debut in 1957 as an outfielder for the Indians. He was traded to the Kansas City Athletics halfway through the following season and finished with 28 home runs, then earned his first All-Star selection the following year.

Dealt to the Yankees after the 1959 season, Maris blossomed into a bona fide star in the Big Apple. He slugged 39 home runs, led the American League with 112 RBIs, won a Gold Glove for defensive excellence and was named the league's Most Valuable Player in 1960. Amazingly, it was just a prelude to an historic season.

Maris got off to a slow start in 1961, but he blasted 11 home runs in May and another 15 in June, leaving him on pace to reach the single-season record of 60 set by the legendary Babe Ruth in 1927. A quiet, private man, Maris grew tired of discussing the record on a daily basis with reporters, and his hair fell out due to increasing pressure. Complicating things was baseball's expansion from a 154-game schedule to 162 games that year, prompting Commissioner Ford Frick to declare that a new home run record would be affixed with an asterisk in the record book if not achieved during the first 154 games.

Maris wound up with 59 home runs during that allotted time frame, but he tied Ruth in game No. 159 and launched one final blast at Yankee Stadium on the last day of the season to etch the No. 61 into baseball lore. He also finished with an AL-best 141 RBIs and led the majors with 132 runs scored, and claimed his second consecutive Most Valuable Player trophy.

Maris compiled 33 home runs and 100 RBIs, and was named to the All-Star team for the fourth consecutive year in 1962, but he never again reached the heights of his incredible '61 campaign. Traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in December 1966, he batted .385 with seven RBIs in the 1967 World Series to help the Cardinals win the championship, then hung up his spikes after St. Louis lost a close World Series the following year.

Post-Playing Career

Maris devoted his time to running an Anheuser-Busch distributorship in Gainesville, Florida, after retiring, but he was gradually drawn back into the baseball spotlight. On July 21, 1984, his No. 9 was permanently retired by the Yankees. That same year, the Roger Maris Museum was opened in the West Acres Mall in Fargo.

Maris died of lymphatic cancer in Houston, Texas, on December 14, 1985. Six years later, a committee headed by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted to eliminate the asterisk that became synonymous with his record. Although Maris has since had his No. 61 surpassed by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, a trio of sluggers notoriously connected to baseball's steroid era, he is considered by many to be the true single-season home run king.

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