History at Yankee Stadium
By Bill Francis
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 also surpass the legendary Babe Ruth for one of the game’s most revered records.
This past Saturday afternoon, prior to a game against the Red Sox, the Yankees held a special ceremony to honor the 50th anniversary of Maris’ memorable then-record single-season feat. As part of the on-field celebration, the bat Maris swung to hit his 61st home run, as well as the 61st home run ball, were hand-delivered from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum that morning to be a part of the festivities.
The Cooperstown institution currently contains over 38,000 three-dimensional artifacts representing all facets of the game, from its inception in the mid-19th century to the present. The Museum’s collection, both on exhibit and in storage, includes over 1,900 bats and 6,600 baseballs.
The on-field ceremony included members of the Maris family, including his wife Pat, daughters Susan and Sandra, and sons Roger Jr., Kevin, Randy and Richard; Mickey Mantle’s sons David and Danny; former Yankees teammates Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Moose Skowron, Bobby Richardson and Bob Cerv; Sal Durante (fan who caught Maris’ 61st home run); and Frank Prudenti (the Yankees bat boy in 1961).
“My family and I are happy to be back in New York to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Roger’s 61 home runs,” said Pat Maris prior to the game. “Roger was proud to wear the Yankee pinstripes and play for the great New York Yankees.
“In 1985, Roger passed away from cancer and my family will always be grateful Mr. Steinbrenner retired Roger’s No. 9 before he died, because it meant so much to him. We wish to thank the Steinbrenner family, the Yankees organization and the fans for honoring Roger today.”
Prior to the start of the Maris ceremony, in which Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter walked from the dugout to the infield to hand the bat to the Maris family and Durante walked on the field holding the ball he had famously grabbed five decades ago, members of the current Yankees team began entering the dugout. Soon Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia and Joe Girardi, among others, were asking about the bat and ball in the big black case, intrigued by a fellow Yankee’s once famous exploits. A few even wanted to touch the bat for good luck.
The Yankees wouldn’t need much luck on this day, pounding their longtime rivals, a team fighting for its postseason life, on national television by a 9-1 score, Freddy Garcia tossing six scoreless innings for the win.
Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.