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Roger Maris Croatian-American baseball player snubbed by Baseball Hall of Fame
By Marko Pulji | Published  12/20/2007 | Sports | Unrated
Roger Maris one of the greatest players not in the Hall of Fame
Nick Coleman: Heroic Maris honored a game now debased by drug scandal

By Nick Coleman, Star Tribune

Last update: December 18, 2007

Roger Maris
Baseball's report about player use of steroids and growth hormones was issued last Thursday, the 22nd anniversary of the death of one of the greatest players not in the Hall of Fame.

Maybe he'll get there now. Baseball needs him.

Roger Eugene Maris died of lymphoma on Dec. 14, 1985, at 51, and is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Fargo, N.D. There are two 61s carved into his granite gravestone: One for the number of home runs he hit in one unforgettable season; the other representing the year in which he accomplished that record feat as a member of the New York Yankees.

"61 in 1961": Those numbers should be engraved on a Maris plaque in Cooperstown, New York. But only the bat and the ball from Maris' record-shattering home run are in baseball's Hall of Fame.

That's a dirty shame. Then again, baseball has gotten comfortable with dirty shames.

Maris still holds the American League record for homers in a single season. But he has been passed up by three National Leaguers whose accomplishments now look as unnatural as their oversized heads.

Barry Bonds, who hit 73 homers in 2001, is under indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice charges in a steroids investigation.

Sammy Sosa, who beat Maris' mark three times, was not named in the Mitchell Report but is believed by everyone but the Tooth Fairy to have used steroids.

And Mark McGwire, the first to shatter Maris' record (in 1998), refused to answer questions in front of a congressional committee investigating the scandal. "I'm not here to talk about the past," he said.

But a player's past is exactly the issue when anyone is honored in the national pastime's Hall of Fame.

Baseball needs heroes, and the best it might be able to do right now is to find a gem from 1961. Compared with the juicers, Maris was the Last Boy Scout.

The only juice Roger Maris was on was orange juice.

Born in Hibbing, Minn., Maris was a straight arrow who shunned the womanizing, the boozing and the bright lights that his Yankee teammates chased.

As he closed in on the home run record established in 1927 by Babe Ruth, his life became a living hell full of threats, Bronx cheers and nasty innuendoes. The stress was so bad that his hair fell out in clumps. Baseball, he said later, "was never fun again."

Baseball snobs say his career wasn't worthy of Cooperstown. But that tired argument overlooks Roger's importance to the game, the enormity of his 1961 accomplishment and the strength of character it took to achieve it. It also overlooks the fact that today's home run records are totally tainted.

"He never used nothing," says Larry Sweeney, 74, who played with Maris at Fargo Shanley High School and on an American Legion team that won the 1950 state championship (Sweeney still has an ancient Ted Williams model bat he and Maris shared on that Legion team). "With all the drug use these modern guys have done, it's a travesty that Roger is not in the Hall. It's just a shame that they can't figure out a way to get Roger in."

Maris was AL MVP twice (one of only two double winners not in the Hall of Fame). He also won a Gold Glove for his stout work in the outfield, played in seven World Series and four All-Star games, and had his No. 9 retired during a 1984 ceremony -- a year before his death -- in which the Yankees finally acknowledged his status: Maris, they said, was "A great player and author of one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of major league baseball."

He earned $42,000 the year he broke Babe Ruth's record.

Baseball has not done right by Roger: While steroids turned baseball locker rooms into (the memorable phrase of a Los Angeles Times writer) "the plush equivalent of crack houses," the Hall of Fame kept ignoring Maris, despite a 2005 resolution by the North Dakota Legislature stating that baseball could start cleaning up its image by electing him to Cooperstown.

(Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, who saw Maris hit his 61st homer, said the same during a recent stop in Fargo).

But the last time the veterans committee voted, Maris only got 15 of the necessary 62 votes. The next vote is not scheduled until 2009.

They should move that up in a hurry. Right now, baseball needs a Boy Scout who made his mark the old-school way.

The hard way.

Nick Coleman -

Formatted for CROWN by Marko Pulji
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