Harvey Frommer / Yankees
Yankee Stadium, Opening Day 1961 and More
By Harvey Frommer
freezing rain on Opening Day April 17, 1961 only 1,947 hardy souls
showed up. Whitey
Ford got the Yankees off to a good start blanking
Just 9-19 in spring training, l8-15 as the season got into full swing, the Yankees in their first 33 games managed only 34 homers. But that would change.
When Roger Maris joined the team in a 1960 trade, he was just another player added to the roster. He had not come up through the Yankee farm system. “The Mick” -- who had blasted 52 homers in 1956, some of them mighty shots -- was the favorite of the Yankee fans. The talk had always been that if anyone would break Babe Ruth’s single season record mark of 60, it would be the "Commerce Comet."
10 games in 1961, Roger Maris was homerless. On May 17th he
first Stadium homer of the season off southpaw Pete Burnside of
July 1, 1961, the Senators led the Yankees 3-0, when a
Mickey Mantle shot, a few feet left of the
456-foot sign in left field, put the Yanks on the scoreboard.
JOHNNY BLANCHARD: Roger Maris had the locker next to mine. When he was popping those long ones out of the park, I had to get out of my own locker because 20, 30 writers would flock around him, and they would sift into my locker space. Roger was an introvert and did not like all the bright lights. That was what gave him the reputation of being nasty. But he was not.
By the end of July, Maris had forty home runs. That placed his record six ahead of Babe Ruth’s pace. The "Sultan of Swat" had set his record of 60 homers in a 154 game season. But this year Major League Baseball had added two expansion teams to the roster and eight games to the schedule. Accordingly, Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled that if Maris broke Ruth’s record, an asterisk would be placed next to the solidly-built Yankee's name in the record books.
While all the focus
seemed to be on Maris that
'61 season, other Yankees had big moments, too, but none as big as
Maris would have. On July 26, the man they
Sub" hammered his third and fourth straight home runs at Yankee Stadium
powering a 5-2
August 4th Maris clubbed home run number 41 at the Stadium
Camilio Pasqual of
ROGER KAHN: I had a freelance assignment for Sports Illustrated for a story on Maris. He was fine, just a few little outbursts of temper. There were times when he got 50 reporters around him asking the same question. He’d answer them but he was annoyed.
One day after he finished an interview he turned to Elston Howard and said: "I'm just sick of all these questions, all this attention.”
And Howard told Maris: “If I had 55 home runs, questions would not make me sick.”
In the clubhouse, Maris would tell Mickey “I can't take it anymore, I just can't.”
And Mantle would say: "I'm telling you Roger, you've got to take it."
When it got to the point where he could not “take it,” anymore, Maris would retreat to the training room or sit at a huge oak table in the center of the clubhouse smoking Camels, sipping coffee while playing for hours with a contraption trying to manipulate a steel ball through a 40-hole maze.
He was the
talk of the town, the big news in the
CHUCK: My dad and I came
up by subway from
The "Day" was not enormously sponsored like it is now. And unlike today where a “Day” for a player is given after his career is over, Ford got his in the midst of one of his great years where he ended up with 25 wins.
The gifts, considering the money the ballplayers were making then, were pretty big deals to them. But they were no big gifts, really. There were things like patio furniture, movie cameras, color TVs, a trip to somewhere.
After all the other gifts had been given out, Mel Allen said: “Whitey, we’ve got one last surprise for you.”
Out of one of the bullpens comes a car pulling an eight-foot tall Life Savers package, peppermint, blue and white, of course. It drives up. It stops. Out pops Luis Arroyo who had saved Whitey so many times. He gives Whitey a big hug. Even from the upper deck, you could see the look of surprise and happiness on Whitey’s face. We all went crazy.
PAUL DOHERTY: According to most reports, Whitey was very pleased with all the accolades and gifts but anything but happy over the “Life Saver” gimmickry that he thought a big tacky.
Meanwhile, fame’s relentless spotlight continued to bear down on Roger Maris especially since Mickey Mantle, hobbled by injuries, managed to hit but one home run from September 10th on. Without Mantle as contender for the home run title and with the Yankees having clinched their 26th pennant, it was truly show time for Roger Maris.
And the rest, as they say, is history and oral history.
Coming this fall:
About the Author: One of the most prolific and respected sports journalists and oral historians in the United States, author of the autobiographies of legends Nolan Ryan, Tony Dorsett, and Red Holzman, Dr. Harvey Frommer is an expert on the New York Yankees. He wrote for Yankees Magazine for 18 years, and has arguably written more books, articles and reviews on the New York Yankees than anyone. In 2010, he was selected by the City of New York as an historical consultant for the re-imagined old Yankee Stadium site, Heritage Field. A professor in the MALS program at Dartmouth College, Frommer was dubbed “Dartmouth’s Mr. Baseball” by their alumni magazine. He lives in Lyme, New Hampshire with his wife Myrna Katz Frommer.
His The Ultimate Yankee Book will be published fall 2017. Pre-order from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Yankee-Book-Beginning-Today-Essential/dp/1624144330
“As a lifelong Yankees fan, I was devouring every last delicious new detail about my beloved Bronx Bombers in this fabulous new book.” —Ed Henry, author of 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story
A link to purchase autographed copies of Frommer Sports Books is at: http://frommerbooks.com/