NEW YORK (AP) — Fifty years have passed and others have since broken the season home run record. To the families of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, Maris’ 61 in 1961 remains the legitimate number.
“The family feels that it’s his record, also knowing that is arguable with a lot of people,” Roger Maris Jr., said Saturday before the Yankees culminated a season-long commemoration of the Maris-Mantle home-run chase with a ceremony at Yankee Stadium.
Among those attending were Maris’ wife, Pat and six children, along with two of Mantle’s sons and 1961 Yankees Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Moose Skowron, Bobby Richardson and Bob Cerv.
“I think there needs to be a distinction,” Randy Maris added when asked whether steroid allegations in recent years should cause his father’s achievement to be considered the record. “Unfortunately, I think MLB turned an eye to that era. We’re baseball fans first and foremost. After the strike in ’94, we wanted to see baseball come back, and, obviously, with (Mark) McGwire and (Sammy) Sosa, that was a phenomenal year.
“We appreciate everything Mark did, respecting my dad and stuff like that,” he said. “But it’s got to be noted. Since they started drug testing, where are the numbers now? So, there’s got to be some kind of distinction.”
That sentiment was shared by Mantle, according to his son, David.
“Dad always felt that Roger should be in the Hall of Fame, too,” David said, “and he always felt, just like we do, that Roger is still the single home run leader for one season with 61 home runs.”
“We obviously remember the stories that dad would talk about,” Danny Mantle added. “He always said that Roger hitting that 61 home runs was the greatest feat he had ever seen.”
The race between Maris and Mantle to break Babe Ruth’s then-iconic mark of 60 home runs, set 34 years earlier, dominated the 1961 season and gave rise to a mistaken impression that the teammates did not get along. That was dispelled in the movie “(asterisk)61′” and both Maris and Mantle’s sons spoke of the close friendship the pair shared.
“They had a great relationship,” Randy Maris recalled. “They were like brothers. Whenever they got together, it was practical jokes. They were both midwestern guys that just had a great time together and loved being around each other. I saw it when dad passed away. Mickey took it like he lost a brother.”
Former Yankees teammate Cerv also recalled the friendship, revealing that Mantle, who had a reputation for drinking and womanizing, asked to room with Cerv and Maris, who were sharing an apartment in Queens in 1961.
“Mantle came to us and said, ‘Hey, can I room with you?’ And we said, ‘Well, we’ve got rules,’” which elicited roars from reporters, aware of Mantle’s reputation for enjoying life. “And he stayed there all summer long and kept the rules.”
The on-field ceremony prior to New York’s game against the Boston Red Sox included a $10,000 donation by the Yankees Foundation to the Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo.
Daughters Susan Maris and Sandra Maris-Fallo joined Pat, and Roger’s four sons, Roger Jr., Randy, Kevin and Richard, along with David and Danny Mantle, Frank Prudenti, the Yankees’ 1961 bat boy and Sal Durante, who was 19 years old when he caught the record-breaking drive off Tracy Stallard into the right field stands on Oct. 1, 1961.
“Even though I knew there was a shot at 61 home runs, I always wanted to catch a baseball, so that was my main objective to get to the game and to try to catch a baseball,” Durante said. “I didn’t take my eye off that ball for a second. I jumped up on my seat, and if I didn’t jump on my seat, I would have never caught that ball, because I’m not a tall guy. That ball knocked me right into the row behind me.
“The second biggest thrill that day for me was to meet Roger. I offered him the baseball, and he said, ‘No. You keep the baseball and make yourself some money.’ That’s the kind of guy Roger was, very thoughtful, generous man. I met him a couple of times after that, and he was the same way.”
Wearing white gloves, Derek Jeter brought onto the field the bat Maris used to hit the record-breaker. Durante brought the ball onto the field, also using white gloves. Both items were on loan from the Hall of Fame.