Yankees honor Roger Maris’ 61 homer season

Fifty years have passed and others have since broken the season

home run record. To the families of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle,

Maris’ 61 in 1961 remains the legitimate number.

”The family feels that it’s his record, also knowing that is

arguable with a lot of people,” Roger Maris Jr., said Saturday

before the Yankees culminated a season-long commemoration of the

Maris-Mantle home-run chase with a ceremony at Yankee Stadium.

Among those attending were Maris’ wife, Pat and six children,

along with two of Mantle’s sons and 1961 Yankees Yogi Berra, Whitey

Ford, Moose Skowron, Bobby Richardson and Bob Cerv.

”I think there needs to be a distinction,” Randy Maris added

when asked whether steroid allegations in recent years should cause

his father’s achievement to be considered the record.

”Unfortunately, I think MLB turned an eye to that era. We’re

baseball fans first and foremost. After the strike in ’94, we

wanted to see baseball come back, and, obviously, with (Mark)

McGwire and (Sammy) Sosa, that was a phenomenal year.

”We appreciate everything Mark did, respecting my dad and stuff

like that,” he said. ”But it’s got to be noted. Since they

started drug testing, where are the numbers now? So, there’s got to

be some kind of distinction.”

That sentiment was shared by Mantle, according to his son,

David.

”Dad always felt that Roger should be in the Hall of Fame,

too,” David said, ”and he always felt, just like we do, that

Roger is still the single home run leader for one season with 61

home runs.”

”We obviously remember the stories that dad would talk about,”

Danny Mantle added. ”He always said that Roger hitting that 61

home runs was the greatest feat he had ever seen.”

The race between Maris and Mantle to break Babe Ruth’s

then-iconic mark of 60 home runs, set 34 years earlier, dominated

the 1961 season and gave rise to a mistaken impression that the

teammates did not get along. That was dispelled in the movie

”(asterisk)61”’ and both Maris and Mantle’s sons spoke of the

close friendship the pair shared.

”They had a great relationship,” Randy Maris recalled. ”They

were like brothers. Whenever they got together, it was practical

jokes. They were both midwestern guys that just had a great time

together and loved being around each other. I saw it when dad

passed away. Mickey took it like he lost a brother.”

Former Yankees teammate Cerv also recalled the friendship,

revealing that Mantle, who had a reputation for drinking and

womanizing, asked to room with Cerv and Maris, who were sharing an

apartment in Queens in 1961.

”Mantle came to us and said, ‘Hey, can I room with you?’ And we

said, ‘Well, we’ve got rules,”’ which elicited roars from

reporters, aware of Mantle’s reputation for enjoying life. ”And he

stayed there all summer long and kept the rules.”

The on-field ceremony prior to New York’s game against the

Boston Red Sox included a $10,000 donation by the Yankees

Foundation to the Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo.

Daughters Susan Maris and Sandra Maris-Fallo joined Pat, and

Roger’s four sons, Roger Jr., Randy, Kevin and Richard, along with

David and Danny Mantle, Frank Prudenti, the Yankees’ 1961 bat boy

and Sal Durante, who was 19 years old when he caught the

record-breaking drive off Tracy Stallard into the right field

stands on Oct. 1, 1961.

”Even though I knew there was a shot at 61 home runs, I always

wanted to catch a baseball, so that was my main objective to get to

the game and to try to catch a baseball,” Durante said. ”I didn’t

take my eye off that ball for a second. I jumped up on my seat, and

if I didn’t jump on my seat, I would have never caught that ball,

because I’m not a tall guy. That ball knocked me right into the row

behind me.

”The second biggest thrill that day for me was to meet Roger. I

offered him the baseball, and he said, ‘No. You keep the baseball

and make yourself some money.’ That’s the kind of guy Roger was,

very thoughtful, generous man. I met him a couple of times after

that, and he was the same way.”

Wearing white gloves, Derek Jeter brought onto the field the bat

Maris used to hit the record-breaker. Durante brought the ball onto

the field, also using white gloves. Both items were on loan from

the Hall of Fame.