Roger Maris - # 9 NY Yankees, Croatian Baseball Legend
Seventy years ago today, Roger Maris (originally Maras) who
broke Babe Ruth's home run record of 60 was born in
Hibbing, Minnesota to Croatian parents on September 10,
1934. His father, who worked for the Great Northern
Railroad, moved the family to North Dakota in 1942, where
Roger and Rudy, his older brother by one-year, grew up.
The Maris brothers played sports and attended Shanley High
School in Fargo, North Dakota. It was in the 10th grade
when Roger met Patricia, his future wife, at a high school
Roger played baseball in the American Legion program during
the summers, since the North Dakota high schools with the
cold weather did not have a program. He led his American
Legion team to the state championship. With his excellent
speed, Roger was a standout in football as well. In one
game against Devil's Lake his senior year, he scored four
touchdowns on kickoff returns to set a national high school
Roger was recruited by legendary coach Bud Wilkinson to
play for the University of Oklahoma, but with a
professional baseball contract looming, Roger gave up his
scholarship at the University of Oklahoma to pursue a
career in baseball. He signed a $15,000 contract to play
for the Cleveland Indians organization.
Roger spent four years in the minor leagues playing for
Fargo-Moorhead, Keokuk, Tulsa, Reading, and Indianapolis
before making it to the major leagues.
During his first year in the major leagues, Roger hit 14
home runs and drove in 51 RBI's for the Cleveland Indians.
Midway through his second year, Roger was traded to the
Kansas City Athletics and finished the season with 28 home
runs and 81 RBI's. Roger received attention and in his
third year, was elected to the 1959 All-Star team.
After the 1959 season, Roger Maris was traded to the New
York Yankees. In 1960, his first season with the Yankees,
Roger led the major leagues with 27 home runs and 69 RBI's
by the halfway point and was again named to the All-Star
team. An injury sliding into second to break up a double
play caused him to miss 17 games. However, Roger still
finished the season first in RBI's with 112, second in home
runs with 39 (one behind Mickey Mantle who led the majors
with 40), won the Gold Glove Award, and was named the
American League's Most Valuable Player. He also hit 2
World Series home runs, but it would be for the following
year that he would be most remembered.
In 1961, Roger and teammate Mickey Mantle received national
attention as they chased the single season home run record
of 60 set by Babe Ruth in 1927. Although Roger got off to
a slow start hitting only 1 home run in April, he quickly
made up ground hitting 11 home runs in May and 15 home runs
in June. The two Yankee sluggers went back and forth
leading the majors in home runs during the summer. Roger
became the first player in history to hit 50 home runs by
the end of August. Mantle had 46. The Yankees continued
to win and were playing to sellout crowds both at home and
on the road. An unfortunate illness to Mantle in
September caused him to miss games at the end of the
season, but he still finished with a career high 54 home
Roger tied Ruth on September 26th, hitting his 60th home
run of the year. Then, on October 1, 1961, the final day
of the season, Roger hit his 61st home run, against the
Boston Red Sox, to set the new home run record. The
Yankees won the game 1 to 0 on Roger's home run, and went
on to win the World Series that year. Roger was named the
Most Valuable Player in the American League for the second
straight year, as he led the league in home runs and RBI's.
Roger and Mickey also set the home run record for
teammates hitting 115 home runs between them.
In 1962, Roger hit 33 home runs. He also drove in 100
RBI's and was selected to the All Star team for the 4th
straight year. Mickey hit 30 home runs, drove in 89 RBI's,
and was named the league's Most Valuable Player that year.
The Yankees repeated as World Series Champions.
In 1963, Roger missed almost half of the season with
injuries playing in only 90 games, but still hit 23 home
runs and drove in 53 RBI's and the Yankees returned to the
In 1964, Roger hit 26 home runs and 71 RBI's and the
Yankees again won the pennant and a trip to the World
Roger sustained a wrist injury in 1965 and was only able to
play in 46 games for the Yankees. After the 1966 season,
the Yankees traded Roger Maris to the St. Louis Cardinals,
where he played his last two years.
In 1967, Roger helped lead the Cardinals to the World
Series, where he then homered and drove in a Cardinal
record 7 RBI's as St. Louis won the World Series.
In 1968, Roger helped the Cardinals return to the World
Series and then announced his retirement. In all, Roger
Maris played in seven World Series in the Sixties (1960,
1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1968), hitting six World
Series home runs and driving in 18 World Series RBI's. He
finished his career with 275 home runs.
On July 21, 1984, in a ceremony in Yankee Stadium, the
Yankees retired Roger's number (#9) and erected a plaque in
his honor paying tribute to his achievements.
Roger Maris died on December 14, 1985 of lymphoma cancer at
the age of 51.