Maris, Known for Homer Mark, Hit First Ones With Tribe
By Craig Gifford
When Roger Maris hit his then-record 61 home runs in 1961, it came out of nowhere. Few people saw the kind of power Maris displayed that season coming. That especially includes the Cleveland Indians who had him on their team just three years earlier.
Maris, who is best known for breaking Babe Ruth‘s record 60 homers in a season, got his start with the Tribe. On April 16, 1957, the 22-year-old right fielder received his first taste of the major leagues. After four seasons in the Indians’ minor league system, Maris was finally ready for the big show. He showed a little pop in his bat as a first-year player, but nowhere near the show he would put on four seasons later.
As a rookie, Maris belted 14 home runs in 116 games and 358 at bats. He’d hammered eight more long balls in 50 games when Cleveland decided to trade the 23-year-old on June 15, 1958. At the time, Maris has demonstrated decent power, but hit for a low average. In their deal with the Kansas City Athletics, the Indians received first baseman Vic Power and shortstop Woodie Held. Both contributed to the Tribe for several years, but neither had a memorable year, the likes of Maris’ 1961.
Kansas City kept Maris on its roster through the 1959 campaign, when they traded him to the Yankees – the club Maris is best known for playing on. The soon-to-be record setter hit a mere 19 taters in 1959. His career took off with the Bronx Bombers.
In 1960, the season before his record-achieving year, Maris collected a fine 39 homers and league-leading 112 RBI. Both were by far career highs and led maris to the American League MVP award. . The assumption was the 25-year-old had finally developed into very-good, to star-caliber player.
Then, 1961 hit. Maris steadily hit the longball throughout the year. He finally broke the record on the final day of the season, Game number 163. For a while, the new mark had an asterisk next to it. Ruth’s record, which had stood since 1927, was set in a 154-game season. The asterisk was eventually taken away. Controversy or not over the record, Maris did plenty in 1961 to earn his second consecutive MVP nod.
To this day, many still consider Maris’ mark to be the true home run standard-bearer. Players the likes of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire have each since surpassed Maris’ 61 homers. However, all three are shrouded in assumed or known (McGwire) steroid use. Many fans do not see their home run numbers as real, as Maris’ was.
After the record-breaking year, Maris never again came close to 61 big flies in a season. His next three years were his best, hitting 33, 23 and 26 homers, respectively. After the 1966 season and with Maris seemingly slowing down, New York traded him to the Cardinals. Maris played his final season in St. Louis in 1968, retiring at age 33 after 12 seasons. Despite the then-record season, two MVP trophies and four All-Star Game appearances, Maris did not quite have the numbers to get into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. He had nice numbers, but in the end was not great. He knocked 275 home runs for his career and his batting average was a pedestrian .260.
Though not in the Hall, Maris will always be remembered. The home run record has always been a hallowed one and fans of the game remember him fondly for holding it for 37 years. The only fans who may not have been truly excited in 1961 were those in Kansas City and Cleveland, who may have hoped Maris was breaking the famed record in their team’s uniforms.
Maris may have had a quick and unmemorable run in Cleveland, but he had a very memorable, if not great, MLB career.