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Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero

Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero

3.9 26
by Tom Clavin, Danny Peary

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Tom Clavin and Danny Peary chronicle the life and career of baseball’s “natural home run king” in the first definitive biography of Roger Maris—including a brand-new chapter to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his record breaking season.

Roger Maris may be the greatest ballplayer no one really knows. In 1961, the soft-spoken man


Tom Clavin and Danny Peary chronicle the life and career of baseball’s “natural home run king” in the first definitive biography of Roger Maris—including a brand-new chapter to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his record breaking season.

Roger Maris may be the greatest ballplayer no one really knows. In 1961, the soft-spoken man from the frozen plains of North Dakota enjoyed one of the most amazing seasons in baseball history, when he outslugged his teammate Mickey Mantle to become the game’s natural home-run king. It was Mantle himself who said, "Roger was as good a man and as good a ballplayer as there ever was." Yet Maris was vilified by fans and the press and has never received his due from biographers—until now.

Tom Clavin and Danny Peary trace the dramatic arc of Maris’s life, from his boyhood in Fargo through his early pro career in the Cleveland Indians farm program, to his World Series championship years in New York and beyond. At the center is the exciting story of the 1961 season and the ordeal Maris endured as an outsider in Yankee pinstripes, unloved by fans who compared him unfavorably to their heroes Ruth and Mantle, relentlessly attacked by an aggressive press corps who found him cold and inaccessible, and treated miserably by the organization. After the tremendous challenge of breaking Ruth’s record was behind him, Maris ultimately regained his love of baseball as a member of the world champion St. Louis Cardinals. And over time, he gained redemption in the eyes of the Yankee faithful.

With research drawn from more than 130 interviews with Maris’s teammates, opponents, family, and friends, as well as 16 pages of photos, some of which have never before been seen, this timely and poignant biography sheds light on an iconic figure from baseball’s golden era—and establishes the importance of his role in the game’s history.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Maris remains an enigmatic figure notwithstanding the attention he received in large part for his 1961 home run season. Prolific writers Clavin and Peary reveal a complex and private individual, making plain not only his underappreciated talent in all aspects of the game but his humanity and love for family and friends. There is no greater praise than being a "gamer," and Maris was that and much more. This book's ultimate contribution may be its indictment of irresponsible reporters and image makers who failed to accord a hero his due. Without question an entertaining book for ball fans, but general readers of biography may also enjoy understanding the life of one who achieved greatness despite adversity.
From the Publisher
“ This is a wonderful, definitive biography. What an extraordinary, misunderstood life of a true American hero who didn’t want to be one. This is a remarkable work that belongs in every baseball fan’s house.”—LARRY KING

“The authors paint a splendid portrait of the Roger Maris I knew very well and the Roger Maris I wish I knew better.”—TIM McCARVER, 21-year major leaguer and Emmy-winning FOX baseball analyst

“The amazing thing about the man who broke Babe Ruth’s record was how little he resembled Babe Ruth. Introverted, troubled, shy, Roger Maris was more like a next-door neighbor than any home-run king, any Sultan of Swat. His struggles to wear the heavy overcoat of fame and notoriety are fascinating. Tom Clavin and Danny Peary show us why it didn’t fit. Terrific work.”—LEIGH MONTVILLE, author of the national bestseller The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth

“Forty-nine years later, Roger Maris remains the authentic single-season home-run king. Perhaps too little, certainly too late in recent years, he has been venerated and vindicated. Better yet, in these pages, he is appreciated."—BOB COSTAS

“Here, finally, is the book that Roger Maris deserved. With deep and dogged reporting, Tom Clavin and Danny Peary have done more than rescue his reputation. In this definitive portrait, Maris acquires a meaning beyond the home-run record. He’s forced to straddle a fault line in American culture, one that separates the stoic from the glib, and authentic heroes from those merely famous. This is fine and fascinating stuff.”—MARK KRIEGEL, columnist for FOXSports.com, author of Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich and Namath: A Biography

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OCTOBER 1, 1961


The first, taken from behind and near the Yankee dugout, was of Roger Maris making solid contact over the plate on a 2-0 fastball by Tracy Stallard. The left-handed pull hitter is exhibiting his much praised swing with extended bat and arms parallel to the ground, his left hand turning over, his right leg straight and left leg flexed, his right foot pointing toward third base and his left one perpendicular to the ground, his muscles in his face, neck, and upper arms tense, and his hips rotating.

The second picture, taken from the front, was of Maris one breath later. With, surprisingly, still-seated fans behind him, he is completing his pivot, releasing the bat with his left hand, and watching with hopeful eyes the flight of his historic home run into Yankee Stadium’s packed right-field stands.

But even the award winners among them missed something quite extraordinary that took place seconds later. Fortunately, one of the greatest, if most neglected, visual metaphors in sports history would be preserved on celluloid.

Having completed what his bedridden Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle always called the “greatest sports feat I ever saw,” the new single-season home-run champion dropped his bat and ran down the baseline. He rounded first at the same time nineteen-year-old Sal Durante held up the 61st home-run ball in his right hand; another ecstatic young male fan leaped onto the field; and the clearly dejected Red Sox pitcher concocted an upbeat postgame response to the media (“I’ll now make some money on the banquet circuit!”).

As he neared second base, Maris suddenly escaped dark shadows and moved into the bright, warm sunlight. Just like that, he had finally found a slice of heaven after a long season he’d sum up as “sheer hell.”

In Roger Maris’s version of hell, he was the prey in a daily media feeding frenzy, lost his privacy, shed some hair, received hate mail by the bundle, experienced vicious heckling from even home fans, and, having arrived in New York from Kansas City only twenty-two months before, was treated by the Yankees organization like an outsider, an ugly duckling in a pond of swans. His blow on the last day of the season was a telling response to all that nonsense.

Maris ran as he always did after a home run—head down and at a measured pace, exhibiting nothing offensively ostentatious or celebratory, nothing to indicate he was circling the bases one time more in a season than anyone else in history. He was pounded on the back by joyous third-base coach Frank Crosetti as he came down the homestretch. Crossing home plate, he was greeted by on-deck batter Yogi Berra, then batboy Frank Prudenti, and, finally, the anonymous Zelig-like fan. Then he made his way into the dugout—at least he tried to. Several Yankees formed a barricade and turned Maris around and pushed him upward so he could acknowledge the standing ovation.

He reluctantly inched back up the steps, stretching his neck as if he were a turtle warily emerging from its shell. He dutifully waved his cap and gave his teammates a pleading look, hoping they would agree that he had been out there too long already. They urged him to stay put and allow the fans to shower him with the adulation that had been missing all year. So he waved his hat some more and smiled sheepishly.

The television camera zoomed in, and everyone could see that during his sunlit jaunt around the bases, he had, amazingly, been tranformed. With the burden of unreasonable expectations suddenly lifted and the knowledge that not one more dopey reporter would ask, “Are you going to break Babe Ruth’s record, Rog?” the strain in his face and haunted look in his eyes had vanished. He no longer looked double his twenty-seven years and on the verge of a meltdown.

Baseball fans would, in their mind’s eye, freeze-frame forever this image of the young, cheery innocent with the trademark blond crewcut who had just claimed sports’ most revered record. For that one moment Maris believed all the bad stuff was behind him. For that one brief moment, he felt free. In reality, it was the calm before an even more vicious storm. He couldn’t know that the press would not back off and the fickle, media-manipulated fans who had rooted against his breaking the record in 1961 would boo him in 1962 for not breaking it again.

Having come from a small town where privacy was cherished and celebrity was nonexistent, Maris was mystified that the media and the fans actually wanted to know anything about him. As Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times observed, “Roger Maris was about as well equipped for fame as a forest ranger.” It was true to form that he revealed far less about himself in Roger Maris At Bat, the autobiographical book he wrote with veteran reporter Jim Ogle after the ’61 season, than in Slugger in Right, an obscure, semiautobiographical novel they wrote the following year about a troubled young Yankee right fielder named Billy Mack.

By all accounts, through 1961 Maris was considerate of reporters who needed copy and was regarded by teammates and opponents alike as one of the most quiet, shy, and decent people they had ever met. So it was all the more unjust that he would have the dubious distinction of being the first ballplayer that a large segment of the press went after, almost as savagely as the white press had attacked African-American heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson half a century before. Unprotected by the Yankees, he was the guinea pig for a new breed of hip, no-holds-barred reporters who wanted to flex their muscles and show they had the power to destroy a star player’s reputation and his psyche.

That he accepted the brutally negative and often untruthful things written about him in 1961 and later years, rather than trying to make peace with the press in exchange for favorable coverage, eventually stripped him of his enthusiasm for baseball and cost him a legitimate shot at being selected to the Hall of Fame. He was too stubborn, too self-destructive, and too true to himself—and a bit too self-righteous—to compromise when he believed he was wronged. “When I think I am right,” he declared in Roger Maris At Bat, “there is no man who is going to tell me that I am wrong unless he can PROVE IT to me. As long as I know I am right I’m going to put up an argument regardless of the consequences.”

“The fact is,” said his wife, Pat Maris, “that his combination of shyness and outspokenness confuses people who do not know him very well.”

How did Roger Maris get that way? Surely he was the product of both family and the part of the country where he was raised. Yet even there he stood apart.

© 2010 Tom Clavin and Danny Peary

Meet the Author

Tom Clavin is the author or coauthor of sixteen books. For fifteen years he wrote for The New York Times and has contributed to such magazines as Golf, Men's Journal, Parade, Reader’s Digest, and Smithsonian. He is currently the investigative features correspondent for Manhattan Magazine. He lives in Sag Harbor, New York.
Danny Peary is a sports and pop culture historian who has published twenty books. His movie, television, music, and sports articles and interviews have appeared in such publications as FilmInk, Movieline, Satellite Direct, OnDirect TV, TV Guide, TV Guide-Canada, Cosmopolitan, The New York Times, The Daily News, The Boston Globe, Sports Collectors Digest, The Soho News, The Philadelphia Bulletin, Films in Focus, Films and Filming, Slant, L.A. Panorama, Memories and Dreams, The East Hampton Independent, and Country Weekly. He is the New York correspondent for the Australian magazine FilmInk and a contributing editor for brink.com  He lives in New York City and Sag Harbor, New York.

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Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is truly a must read for all baseball fans. An excellent look at a misunderstood hero. A great nice guy that few people ever knew.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this was a wonderful thing to read...really liked it..anyways thanks for your time....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The family history of Roger Maris was very detailed. The reader can see very clearly how family relations formed the character of Maris. This was a very detailed and well presented story of the person and the player Roger Maris.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Roger Maris is a distant cousin of mine, and I would realy like to learn more about him. I am too young to have seen any of his games. However, research proves that the man who beat Roger's record in 1999 was on steroids, but they counted it anyway. Sooo unfair! In the rule book of baseball, druggs cannot be used in any way to improve personal abillities. I would know, I grew up with the game.Anyway, please tell me if this book would be helpful to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Epic get it!
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Alvinmc More than 1 year ago
Having watched the Yankees in the 60's on tv, I was a fan of both the M&M boys in the quest to break Babe's record. I later was fortunate to see Maris play with the Cardinals. he was a great outfielder and it is tragic he did not make the HOf, especially considering the players now who likely will. great book!!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. Outstanding and entertaining book. Very well done- It's not full of long descriptive box scores (thank goodness!), but rather tells the story behind Maris and let's us in on his upbringing. I enjoyed learning more about the behind-the-scene dramatics of the Yankee clubs in the 50's and 60's. Great insights into the games on the field, but also off the field.
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DrTQ More than 1 year ago
The story of Roger maris who broke Babe Ruth's record and earned the rath of Yankee fans. A complete analysis of his life from the human as well as from the athle. Ahero in hi time.tic side. A great Yankee, even a greater human being who endured the hardships of greatness and family discord. An excellent novel for young athletes to absorb. A remarkable man
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