Roger Maris relayed true feelings to The Post after breaking the record
Roger Maris relayed true feelings to The Post after breaking the record

Roger Maris relayed true feelings to The Post after breaking the record

Deed done, Bambino caught, pressure off. A Brooklyn kid named Sal Durante delivered the precious baseball to Roger Maris right after Maris’ 61st home run gave the Yankees a 1-0 season-ending victory over the Red Sox and Maris a passing lane to impersonate Babe Ruth. . The weight of the world suddenly lifted, Maris said to Durante, “Sell it, kid. See what you can get for it.”

Maris, as tightly wound as a ball of twine for weeks, was actually smiling. The newspaper men had followed him, gathered before games and after games and peppered him with questions. This was not Maris’ style, never. He preferred to be left alone to do his work. His hair fell out. He heard boos and blamed the media jackals.

So that night, October 1, 1961, newly crowned as the single-season home run king, Roger Maris went to dinner at Joe Marsh’s Spindletop Restaurant on 49th Street and Seventh Avenue, the heart of Manhattan’s theater district , dressed in the style of the nines. Only after eating for days did he devour a shrimp cocktail, a steak the size of teammate Yogi Berra’s catcher’s glove (medium), a mixed salad with French dressing, a baked potato, two glasses of wine and a slice of cheesecake .

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His table companions, all delighted to see him laughing again, were his wife, Pat; their closest friends in New York, Julie and Selma Isaacson; and Milton Gross, the sports columnist for The New York Post.

Roger Maris swings
Roger Maris had dinner with The Post after he hit the home run record.
Getty Images

Yes. In the season’s happiest moment, he ate with the enemy, though Gross wasn’t, midway through a two-decade tenure at The Post in which he was known for his work ethic, grave comments when he saw sports wrong and relentless fairness . He had written empathetically about Maris’ plight, while many other reporters took, shall we say, different angles.

(True story. A reporter from Time magazine asked him point-blank one day, “So you’re playing on the road, huh?” Maris replied, “I’m a married man.” “So am I,” said the reporter. , “but I’m playing on the road.” Maris looked at him and didn’t do what he probably wanted to do, but simply said, “That’s your business.”

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Gross marveled at Maris’s appetite and asked if he had skipped breakfast. “I couldn’t eat,” explained Maris. “Pat and I went to mass at St. Patrick’s and then we went straight to the stadium.”

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The next afternoon, Gross wrote in The Post — front page, jumped to the back page: “He seemed completely at ease, and yet he wasn’t because his name is the most celebrated name right now. Say Kennedy, Khrushchev, Maris and you said it all. His face is the mirror of fame. He can no longer hide as a faceless athlete from Hibbing, Minn., Fargo, ND, or Kansas City.”

However, after weeks of looking like a doomed man, Maris finally admitted his true feelings when Gross refilled his wine glass and Pat offered him a match so he could light a cigarette.

“That was the greatest experience of my life,” Maris admitted.

However, even then, he could not give himself completely to the moment.

“It has to be because I wouldn’t want to go through that again for anything. Relax? I haven’t developed yet. I’m just starting to relax. A lot of it is still a little fuzzy.”

What wasn’t clear to Maris or his companions was the enormity of the season. Maris and Mickey Mantle had a two-man attack on Babe Ruth’s cherished record of 60 home runs throughout the year before Mantle came down with a hip abscess. Maris howled at his table at Spindletop that it wasn’t just the newspapers who had tried to drive a wedge between Maris and Mantle.

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“Last winter I was at home and I was joking with my daughter Susan,” Maris said. “She’s just a little girl, not yet four years old. I asked her, “Who is the best baseball player in the world?” “Mickey Mantle,” she says.”

Roger Maris
Roger Maris
Focus on sports via Getty Images

Then Maris called for control; she wanted to rush to Lenox Hill Hospital to visit Mantle and Bob Cerv, with whom she had shared an apartment that summer, before visiting hours ended. Before he could, a teenage girl walked up to the table, asked for Maris’ autograph, then added, “Would you put the date on it too, please?”

“What date is it?” Maris asked.

“The date,” said his friend Julie Isaacson, “is the one where you do what no one else has ever done.”

The next day, Milton Gross summed it up for everyone at that table.

“Commissioner Ford Frick,” he wrote, “may have the asterisk.”

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