Seidemann: Happy Mother’s Day Roger Maris


From the other side of the bench

by David Seidemann

Issue of May 14, 2010/ 1 Sivan 5770

I was just two in 1961, the year that saw one of the most exciting battles in baseball history. The New York Yankees had two players chasing the home run record of the “Bambino,” George Herman Ruth.

The Babe, as he was known, held the season record for 60 homers. Poised to surpass it in 1961 was the town-favorite Mickey Mantle, the well-spoken movie star outfielder. Vying against him for the record was Roger Maris, a young kid from the Midwest whose low-key personality was almost the antithesis of Mantle’s.

Mantel was the classic swinger on and off the field. He was known to party heartily after and in-between games. Maris, by comparison, was an altar boy. When Mantle’s behavior would threaten his on-field performance, Maris would go out of his way to save Mantle from his own self-destruction. Mantle was a crowd favorite and the media darling. Maris seemed bothered by the attention and, at times, was actually booed by the hometown fans for having the audacity to challenge Ruth and Mantle. After all, if someone was going to break Ruth’s record, it had better be Mantle.

The baseball lords themselves were uneasy about the prospect of Ruth’s record being broken. The season had expanded to 162 games from the 154 games played during Ruth’s era. At least behind closed doors they prayed that neither Maris nor Mantle would hit more than 60 home runs in their first 154 games of the season. And if 60 was surpassed in games 155 through 162, the commissioner of baseball had already decided that an asterisk would be placed by the record, indicating that any home run after 60 was accomplished in more games than Ruth played in.

Most baseball historians believe that the baseball gods never wanted to have to deal with the whole asterisk issue and that even in 162 games neither Marris nor Mantle would break the single-season home run record of 60.

While the media and the fans lauded Mantle, Maris got the short end of the bat. Maris and Mantle managed to forge a deep relationship. They seesawed back and forth the whole summer until Mantle suffered an injury. The prize was then Roger Maris’. When game 154 ended Maris was stuck at 59 home runs. The baseball gods gave a slight sigh of relief as Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a 154 game season was safe.

Maris ended the season with 61 home runs and was embraced by the Yankee faithful. Ruth’s fans were happy that Maris didn’t break Ruth’s record in 154 games. Mantle’s fans consoled themselves by saying that if Mantle wasn’t injured he would have broken Ruth’s record. And the baseball purists could employ the use of the asterisk with a clear conscience.

For close to 30 years the asterisk stood by Maris’ name. It was removed by baseball commissioner Fay Vincent only after Maris’ death in 1991. Maris never knew that the record was his, free and clear of any qualification only to be broken by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, in the 1990’s, and by Barry Bonds in 2001. Most baseball fans, mindful of the steroid era and the possible use of them, still believe that Roger Maris continues to wear the home run crown.

But it really doesn’t matter. Some say Ruth still owns it. Others say Maris broke the record with or without an asterisk. And others will tout the (perhaps tainted) accomplishment of the newer champions.

To me however, a more profound lesson is the way Maris carried himself. He and Mantle rooted for each other; Maris withstood the pressure and stayed true to his innocent out-of-town roots. Maris never knew that the asterisk was removed and that his accomplishments no longer came with a qualification. He was, for the record books, the undisputed home run king only after he died.

Another Mother’s Day is past us. What our mothers have done for us is immeasurable. I am sure we have thanked them along the way. However, I wonder if we placed an asterisk by their accomplishments by failing to give them full credit for what they have done. And then one day they are gone and they can no longer bat cleanup for us. And then one day we get smart and realize that we would still be in the minor leagues without them and we remove the asterisk from all of the home runs they hit for us.

It probably wouldn’t have changed Roger Maris if he knew the asterisk was removed from his record. It probably won’t change our mothers if we remove asterisks from their accomplishments. But it would have changed baseball fans for the better and it would change all of us children for the better if that asterisk is removed. Then our champions can be given full credit and honor for their achievements — while they are still alive to celebrate their accomplishments with their adoring fans.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein. He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at