By Andrea Winkjer Collin, Editor, North Dakota Horizons
North Dakota's Roger Maris created a stir every time his New York Yankees played ball that year. 50 years ago yesterday, on September 9, 1961, he hit home run #56 against then-Cleveland Indians and future Minnesota Twins pitcher "Mudcat" Grant. Excitment continued to build that he would beat the long-held season homerun record of the legendary Babe Ruth, which had stood for 34 years.
Those following Maris would be teased for an entire week -- it took him until September 16 to hit Homerun #57. But the homeruns kept coming, and on October 1 -- the very last game of the season -- on his second time "at bat" -- Maris hit homerun #61. The following website has more information on each of Maris's homeruns during the 1961 season: www.baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats12b.shtml.
I was a little young to remember this (the first big baseball event I recall was when the Minnesota Twins made it to the World Series in 1965 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was in sixth grade.) But I know my Grandpa Septon, an avid Yankees fan, would have been beside himself!
Maris, whose birthday is today, still holds the American League record for season homeruns. I am not alone in believing he still is the legitimate major league baseball homerun king, considering the steriods-driven era in which Bonds, McGwire and Sosa all hit more than 61 in a single season.
Regardless, the legacy of Roger Maris continues to resonate in North Dakota. Since his death in 1985, a cancer center in Fargo has been named after him and is funded in part by an annual golf tournament that brings many celebrities to Fargo every June. Proceeds from this tournament have raised more than $1.5 million that also supports Fargo's Hospice of the Red River Valley and Maris's alma mater, Shanley High School. He is also buried in Fargo.
The Roger Maris Museum, (at right) located at Fargo's West Acres Mall, which we featured in the Fall 2004 issue of North Dakota Horizons, has been renovated. For those who haven't visited it lately, it is worth another stop.
Celebrations observing this anniversary are planned at Yankee Stadium at a pre-game ceremony on September 23. Fargo has had several events this year already, and willl have a "61 for 61 Home Run Walk" on September 25, and a another three-day fundraiser that begins on the 22nd.
Another bit of excitement for Fargo this year has been the enrollment of Maris's grandson, Richie, at North Dakota State University this semester!
It's not only his baseball accomplishments, but also the sterling character of Roger Maris that continues to bring pride to all who follow major league baseball -- and especially those of us who have ties to North Dakota!
Happy Birthday, Roger Maris, and thanks for the memories!