Roger Maris’ son re-lives memories in Cooperstown

July 16, 2014
Roger Maris Jr. holds up a copy of the New York Mirror from the Hall of Fame archive detailing his father’s 61st home run. (Milo Stewart Jr./NBHOF)

More than 50 years since he memorably entered the baseball record books, the name Roger Maris still evokes memories of a simpler time, an era when he and his Bronx Bomber teammates dominated the sport.

On Wednesday, Roger Maris Jr., the son of the slugging outfielder, had the opportunity to tour the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum with a group that included his wife, two daughters and a number of his wife’s relatives from the Upstate New York area.

“I was up in Utica, N.Y., for the Boilermaker Road Race, my daughter, Jazz, ran the 15K on July 13, and then we just came back from the Thousand Islands, so I obviously wanted to show the kids Cooperstown,” Maris Jr. said during a break in the mid-morning trip. “They’ve never been to the Hall of Fame, so this was a place everybody wanted to come see the baseball history and family history. You’ve heard about Cooperstown since you were a kid, everybody hears about it, so just being able to be here at the Hall of Fame is special.

“I was here 23 years ago for a wedding in Utica and made a quick jaunt over to the Hall of Fame,” added Maris Jr., who has lived in Gainesville, Fla. since his father retired from the game. “I was very surprised. I thought, at that time, that Cooperstown was going to be a big, big place, but obviously that wasn’t the case. It’s a quaint little town, a beautiful little place, just a great place to come.”

Roger Maris ended his 12-year league career – spent with four teams, most notably the Yankees – in 1968. He finished with two American League MVP awards (1960-61), 275 home runs, a member of seven pennant winners and the winner of three World Series titles. Maris died of cancer in 1985 at the age of 51.

Most memorably, on Oct. 1, 1961, Maris socked a fourth-inning solo home run off Tracy Stallard, his 61st round-tripper of the season, to not only give the Yankees a 1-0 victory over the visiting Boston Red Sox but it also surpassed the legendary Babe Ruth for one of the game’s most revered records. Today, Barry Bonds’ 73 round-trippers in 2001 is the new single-season standard.

“We feel my dad is still the record holder,” Maris Jr. said. “We feel he did it the right way.”

Over the years, many have made the case for Maris’ election to the Hall of Fame.

“From my dad’s standpoint, this is where the greats of the game resided,” Maris Jr. said. “Anybody who plays the game wants to be in that Hall of Fame and be considered as one of the game’s best. He’d be honored to be in.”

Two artifacts from Maris’ playing career that he donated to the museum in 1973 are the bat and the ball that were part of the famed 61st homer in 1961.

“I don’t know this for sure but I’ve heard the stories that we (three brothers and two sisters) were playing with the ball when we were kids before we gave it to the Hall of Fame,” Maris Jr. said with a laugh. “We actually played around with some of that stuff as kids. It’s kind of funny because back then it was not that big of a deal.”

According to Maris Jr., baseball will always be an important part of his family’s legacy. One of his daughters, Brie, even spent last summer interning with the Yankees.

“Growing up around it as a kid, your dad is playing every day during your childhood, you’re pretty much into it one way or another,” Maris Jr. said. “When he hit 61 I was only three, so I have no memory of that. But I have vivid memories of dad playing with the St. Louis Cardinals his last two years. We’d live there in the summertime. We would go to the baseball games, go to the park early with dad, and run around the field.

“St. Louis, being a great baseball town, was very special and dad loved playing there. It was a good ending to his career,” Maris Jr. added. “He always said that if you’re a baseball player in New York City and you’re doing well, there’s nothing better. But in St. Louis, even if you’re not doing well, they still love you.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum