Maris jersey from historic 1961 season lands in Cooperstown

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Janey Murray

Roger Maris’ 1961 campaign remains one of the most celebrated seasons in baseball history.

A historic donation from one of Maris’ biggest fans will help tell the story of that season for all time in Cooperstown.

On Oct. 7, 1961, Maris homered in Game 3 of the World Series. The Yankees had started off the 1961 Fall Classic with a win before the Reds evened things with a victory in Game 2.

With both teams vying to take a series lead, Game 3 was tied at 2-2 going into the ninth. Maris stepped to the plate to lead off the frame and promptly drove a pitch from right-hander Bob Purkey to right field for a home run, giving the Yankees their first lead of the game.

Yankees lefty Luis Arroyo tossed a scoreless ninth to close out the victory, and the Yankees won the next two games in commanding fashion to secure the title for New York.

It was a fitting ending to a historic season for Maris, who slugged a then-major league record 61 homers in the regular season while tallying 141 RBI and capturing his second consecutive AL MVP Award.

Now, thanks to a donation from author and former MLB executive Andy Strasberg, a Yankees home jersey Maris wore during his remarkable 1961 campaign and during the 1961 Fall Classic has made its way to Cooperstown.

The jersey was also worn during games in the 1962 season, then used during a Sept. 28, 1962, routine at Yankee Stadium that was later aired on NBC’s The Tonight Show. Maris’ Yankees teammates Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard joined Johnny Carson for a routine that aired Oct. 5, just four days after Carson officially took over as the show’s host from Jack Paar.

Though Strasberg didn’t acquire the jersey until later in life, his relationship with Maris was formed at a young age. As a child growing up in White Plains, N.Y., Strasberg was a diehard Yankees fan. When Maris was traded to New York from the Kansas City Athletics in December 1959, Strasberg quickly latched onto him as his favorite player.

“All my friends growing up were, without exception, Mickey Mantle fans, and I did not want Mickey as my favorite player,” Strasberg said. “I was going to be 12 years old, and I read an article in Sport magazine that talked about how Roger Maris rejuvenates the Yankees, and he was described as being an unselfish player, a team player and a family man. I’m sure that those labels have been used for a number of players, but that resonated with me, because I was the perfect age. So I started to follow him.”

During the 1961 season, Strasberg’s parents still required him to attend Yankees games with a chaperone, so he only made it to a few games that year. By 1962, however, he was allowed to go by himself – and he took full advantage, attending 40 games that season and arriving at Yankee Stadium as early as possible in hopes of getting a chance to talk to Maris.

“As it turns out, when he got out of his car and he walked across 157th street, I couldn’t say anything,” Strasberg said. “I was frozen, because here was my guy. I figured the best way to communicate with him would be to write him a note. I started that process where I would hand him a note as he walked across the street while other kids were asking for autographs. After a while, he kind of looked for it, and it became a routine.”

Though Maris was traded away to the St. Louis Cardinals in December 1966, Strasberg maintained a relationship with his favorite player in the years to come, attending his games when the Cardinals played the Mets at Shea Stadium, writing him letters and even reconnecting with him at MLB’s Winter Meetings many years later.

Strasberg collected all different forms of Maris memorabilia over the years – but when he learned that the Maris jersey was available, he knew he had to have it.

He finally got his hands on it in the early 1980s, trading a long list of items from his collection in exchange for the jersey.

Strasberg promised the Maris family, who he kept in touch with after Maris passed away in 1985, that every piece of Maris memorabilia in his collection would ultimately go back to them. But the matter of who the jersey would go to among Maris’ six children was more difficult to decide.

“Roger Maris Jr. called and said, ‘That’s going to present a problem, trying to divide up the jersey with six children,’” Strasberg said. “And then he said, ‘I think we’ve got a solution. We would like you to donate it to the Baseball Hall of Fame so that everybody can enjoy it.’ I give the credit to Roger Maris Jr. He is the one that gave me the green light, and I was thrilled. It’s more than appropriate.”

So, in 2021 – the 60th anniversary of Maris’ storied 1961 season – Strasberg sent the jersey to Cooperstown, where it is now on exhibit on the Museum’s second floor, in the Timeline display dedicated to the 1950s and ’60s Yankees dynasty.

“The most wonderful thing has happened, and that is, now it can be enjoyed and viewed at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown for everybody to see,” Strasberg said.

Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series