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Maris' sons believe he should be in Hall

ROGER MARIS 50 Home run seasons: 1961, 61

ROGER MARIS
50 Home run seasons:
1961, 61
Photo Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library

Roger Maris is more revered and beloved now than he was 50 years ago today, when he had room-service breakfast in midtown with his wife, paced and smoked for a couple of hours at Yankee Stadium and then made history.

The thing is, his family believes the late Yankees slugger still is not as big as he deserves to be. His children think he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

He never will be forgotten for having hit his 61st home run on Oct. 1, 1961. But the results of Hall of Fame voting suggest he never will be enshrined.

"I think him hitting 61 was actually a curse," his son Randy said before a ceremony honoring his father's achievement at Yankee Stadium last week, "because everybody says he was a one-year guy. What about those two MVPs?"

Randy and his brother, Roger Jr., point out that Maris had been the Most Valuable Player in 1960 before he won the award again after his phenomenal '61. They mention that of the 12 Hall-eligible players who have won back-to-back MVP awards, Maris and Dale Murphy are the only ones not in Cooperstown.

"I always hear that he hit .260 and he hit only 275 home runs," Roger Jr. said. "There are guys in the Hall of Fame who hit below .260. There are guys in the Hall of Fame with half of his home runs. I don't hear about the back-to-back MVPs. I don't hear about him winning two RBI crowns. In the third year, 1962, he was one of the most dominant players in the game. Three years in a row, he was pretty much as good as any player in the game, and arguably the best."

The sons also cite Maris' three championships and strong defense, saying he would have won more than one Gold Glove had Al Kaline not played the same position. Mickey Mantle's son David said, "Dad always felt Roger should be in the Hall of Fame, too."

There is no denying the "fame" part, 50 years later. Phil Pepe, a first-year beat writer in 1961, said he experienced a surge in Maris interest this year during interviews and appearances connected with his book, "1961*, The Inside Story of the Maris-Mantle Home Run Chase."

"The reason is that people are reacting to what came after that," Pepe said, referring to the taint of steroid scandal on Barry Bonds and other home run hitters who have surpassed 61.

Other players have entered the Hall with controversial credentials. Bill Mazeroski, who was outpolled by Maris eight times in Hall voting, made it through the Veterans Committee on the strength of his glove and one big home run. Also, no less an authority than Ted Williams wrote in a 1995 book, "I would be inclined to think that Maris deserves to be in the Hall of Fame."

Then again, Maris numbers' don't overwhelm those of Don Mattingly (.307, 222 home runs, nine Gold Gloves), who has not been elected. Maris never received more than 43.1 percent of the Hall vote.

"I don't think he's a Hall of Famer," Pepe said. "I don't think a guy should be in on the basis of one season or one game. Otherwise, why isn't Denny McLain in? Roger was a very, very good ballplayer. But was his career better than Vada Pinson's or Dale Murphy's or Don Mattingly's? I don't think so."

What Maris does have is a retired number, a plaque in Monument Park and a place in baseball lore that is still standing a half-century later.

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